inspiration, Joe Biden, leadership, politics, travel, Uncategorized

Joe Biden and me

Back in the day when biglaw was  my professional home, I was a road warrior.  United Airlines loved me – I still have one of those ‘million miler’ logos on my membership card.  And I was a global services member which elevated my travel still further.  It was heady, I admit.  I share this only to put the story in context.  Why would I be in first class flying from Frankfurt to the US?  Why would someone with a carnation in his lapel come on board to welcome me into my seat and thank me for traveling with United?  I’m tellin’ ya – crazy..

Our flight was delayed for reasons that were not made quite clear.  Unclear that is, until Joe Biden, John Kerry and Chuck Hegel came on board.  They had been in Afghanistan and there was a problem with their plane.  So they were flying United.  And here I am, in seat 1A, one of only two people who had been pre-boarded trying to look  as bemused and nonchalant as possible.  John Kerry walks by, nods at me and sits behind me in 2A.  He immediately gets on his cell phone and calls…Ted Kennedy who was in Texas campaigning for Obama.  In a toneless and enthusiastic voice, he sang ‘Happy Birthday’, joked a bit and said his good-byes.  I thought that was so touching, and was debating the appropriateness of turning around and saying something; Kerry put his sleep mask on and remained stationery and inert throughout  boarding, take-off, etc…

Chuck Hegel recognized me, but couldn’t place the face.  Andy and I had seen him and his wife a few times at the movies.  He took his seat, took out reading material, and after take off, engaged a bit with the gentleman next to him.

Not Joe – Joe sat in his seat to eat, but beyond that was up and talking with everyone.  He was carrying a copy of the magazine ‘Country Home’ and told me that Jill told him he’d be in trouble if he didn’t come home with an opinion about some proposed redecorating project.  He laughed, he kibbitzed, so comfortable in his skin, so untouched by the mantle that he wore.  It was the most intimate and delightful flight of my hundreds.  Thanks to Joe.

When we landed at Dulles, we met again at baggage claim and he asked his Secret Service guys to grab my bag too.  As we walked out, my husband and son were there, Matt’s eyes wider than usual.  Joe asked if I wanted a Starbucks, and I declined.  I wanted to get home.  And so did he.  It was a courtesy.  Of course, Matt couldn’t believe I turned down the offer.  In retrospect, neither do I.

Yes there were times too, when Joe and I were on the same train heading to or from Union Station in his days as a Senator.  He knew everyone in his ‘usual’ car, every ticket collector, their families, their stories.  You could feel his affinity for others – and you just wanted to be around the guy.

Why write of this now?  Yesterday’s emotional tribute to him at the Capitol affected me.  To hear bipartisan, emotional appreciation for someone – for anything – was a moment’s balm during these unnerving times.  Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that it would be because of Joe.

And know what?  It doesn’t even feel presumptuous calling him by his first name.

C.S. Lewis said, “For what we see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing:  it also depends on what sort of person you are.”  Hey Joe, thank you for the time I got to stand with you.  Best.flight.ever.

discretion, friendship, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, training, work life

Sometimes I Get The Message

There was a comment waiting for me this morning that was posted on my “About Me” page.  It was from a manager with whom I used to work at the firm.  She moved on to greater professional opportunities years ago, and we keep in tacit touch on LinkedIn.  And though I remember her in detail, from her reluctant smile, that once shared lit up her entire face to her ardent wish to ‘do the right thing’ for her department – I never really expected to receive such a gift.

“Mimi, I saw this recently and thought of you.  So many times as a leader I reflect on your teachings and I am so very thankful to have them in my toolbox.  Thanks for the Lollipop and for the ones I’ve received because of you.”

And she forwarded along this Ted video.  And I cried (no surprise there).

www.ted.com/talks/drew_dudley_everyday_leadership.html

And the bottom line to all of this?  Be transparent, bring joy, offer people the best you have and if you can’t give them your best, certainly don’t bring them your worst.  Sometimes the farther one travels up the professional food chain, the more likely it is to see people getting by with the most off-hand and dismissive of efforts – after all, there is so much one has to do (yes, this is sarcastic).  I am humbled and honored that Vivia took the time to send me this.  I am appreciative of the reminder that this is really what it’s all about – period.  And my lollipop of choice?  Tootsie pops, hands down.

anxiety, discretion, humor, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, mindfulness, training, work life

Overthinking

“Child, child, do you not see?  For each of us comes a time when we must be more than we are” — Lloyd Alexander

Well the last few weeks have brought with them a frenetic level of activity reminiscent of earlier chapters in my life.  Facilitating training sessions at two law firms; attending a national convention where I will be moderating a panel  on effective communication between leaders in practice offices and their counterparts at ‘headquarters’; discussions on employee engagement at another company and then back to another professional services firm to chair forums on a number of issues all rolling up under the header of ‘organizational dynamics’.  Ok, stop yawning – I find this stuff pretty fascinating, and the people I meet as a result, even more interesting and engaging.  It’s the people – I’m just so damn drawn to the people.

So somewhere around the end of May or June, things may slow down a bit once more. Some things haven’t changed – the more I have to do, the less I sleep and the more I perseverate.  For those of you who have not been ‘gifted’  with this talent, I’ll describe it quickly.  It starts with a benign thought, like “I hope I can pull all this together in time”, and from there it blossoms into a profusion of peripatetic petals (it is spring and Cherry Blossom time here in DC after all) that fall all over my mind, covering the synapses, neurons and pathways with layer upon layer of resistant ground cover.  Thought loses all rhyme or reason, and I spend an inordinate amount of time getting in my own way.  Do I know that I really should get out the leaf blower?  Of course I do – I’m just too busy looking at the magnificent mess I have created.

Now this talent of mine exists in direct counterpoint with another ability that I really do have about many, many issues.  When my sons were younger, they maintained their rooms as temples to the God Of Who Cares.  Somehow the word ‘messy’ really doesn’t do their efforts justice – neither does ‘unhygienic’.  Once a week, I would expect them to make some effort to return their rooms into something livable, for I really didn’t want them contracting some weird bacteria that is only found in the Amazon and the soles of filthy socks.  Their disregard drove Andy crazy – he’s  the kind of guy who feels that everything has a place and there’s a place for everything – and if not, toss it out.  So as he would get increasingly exorcised, I would become calmer.  And my mantra through those years was “If this is going to bother you in five years honey, then I will invest in this issue with all the emotional energy I can summon.  But if this isn’t going to matter five years hence, then I’m letting it go”.

Hypocrite – thy name is Mimi.

You see I really believe that little mantra – I do.  I just don’t apply it with as much conviction when it comes to my own efforts.  So in short – I become my own pain in the butt.  Somebody needs something from me – ok, let’s jump into hyper-drive, over-think it and deliver with everything I’ve got.  And then collapse and chastise myself for all that excess worry and emotional self-flagellation.  Oh, and then start the whole process again…because after all, this is different.  It’s about someone else’s needs.  I have to be better this time, right?

Last night though – somewhere between Carson Daly and the 2:30AM news on ABC – a memory came to the fore and I think as a result, I am going to try to teach my foolish self what I already know.

Years ago, after one back surgery or another, I lost the use of my arms.  Truly.  I could raise one arm high enough to bring a utensil to my lips, the other only far enough to scratch an inch near my waist.  The surgeon wasn’t alarmed (of course, they weren’t his arms) – neurological effrontery can make for some pretty lousy retribution.  I was petrified.  All of a sudden elements of daily self-care were elusive to me.  Andy would wash and dry my hair (with enormous affection and limited expertise – we will not conjure any thoughts of how I looked during this time), I drank coffee through a straw, modifications were made.  The doctor was sure my range of motion would return – he had no doubt, so I believed him.  My anxiety became more reflective of the ‘when’ not the ‘if’, and immediately became more manageable.  In five years, this would not be an issue for me – I knew that.  My thoughts became less frantic, I began to clear away the disorderly mess that had become my thought process.  And yes, the doctor knew what he was talking about.

Which brings me back to this moment.  In five years it will matter to me that I gave my best to others – period.  I won’t get there by letting my worry trump my determination.  Let me re-phrase – I may get there, but I will be have depleted essential elements of the thoughts I need to be happy.  Today, I’m going to follow the advice of Steve Martin – “I’ve got to keep breathing.  It’ll be the worst business mistake if I don’t”.

I hope this makes you smile – and if by chance you identify with any of this – I hope it helps you breathe.

 


 

 

friendship, humor, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, love, mindfulness, parenting, Uncategorized, work life

I’m Listening – What Do I Hear?

Russ Towne (russtowne.com) who pens the glorious “A Grateful Man” was prompted by a friend to respond to a question that grabbed my attention.  “What do you know for sure?”  His responses were pure Russ, written with candor and beauty, simplicity and reflection.  And I began asking myself the same question – and would submit that it’s a reasonable query to pose to ourselves from time to time.  I will admit that my answers didn’t arrive with the same eloquence or confidence; nor do I know if this represents an all-inclusive list.  Nonetheless here goes..

– I know for sure that I still love loving my husband.  I also know for sure that he drives me crazy sometimes, while I on the other hand, I never affect him in that way.  I know for sure that he is the anchor to my kite and were it not for him I’d probably be getting stuck in the trees like a wayward balloon.

– I know for sure that my adoration of my children knows no bounds and I know for sure that they know it and probably don’t fully get it.  I know for sure that parents screw up all the time, and children grow up in spite of us and not because of us.  To reflect tremendous self-congratulatory aggrandizement for their successes as fantastic people is folly and a little narcissistic.  This is their time.  And I am grateful to be along for the ride.  Let’s remember that I’m the sap who cries when we say good-bye to each other despite living ten minutes apart.

– I know for sure that at different times in my life I have let disappointment and anger have more power over me than I realized at the time.  And the only person who suffered from its toxicity was me.

– I know for sure that my life continues to be enhanced by the people who enter my world  – and also those who exit.  Some people need to stay for a little while, and that’s ok.  Some people will be here forever and that’s a gift.  Last I looked, one can’t suffer from having too much love in their life – for however long.

– I know for sure that I’m at a point in my life where I’m wondering what my next contribution will be.  I need to listen harder to my heart, for it’s definitely speaking.  We don’t spend enough time paying attention to its messages.

– I know for sure that if there hadn’t been a black-out at the Super Bowl last night I wouldn’t have fallen asleep and missed the best part of the game.

– I know for sure that the silence that announces the arrival of snow always makes my eyes fill.  It is one of the most peaceful calming sounds in the world.

– I know for sure that I want another puppy (honey are you reading this?).

– I know each day offers me the chance to say ‘Thank You’ – for the ridiculous number of gifts that are in my life.  And I also know I don’t say ‘thank you’ enough.

– I know for sure that for all the articles about leadership, for all the seminars I’ve led on management, motivation, employee engagement, etc – none of it means a damn thing if a person loses his/her character.  Save the HBR studies for another day – as you shimmy up the food chain, hold tight to your sense of integrity and honor.  You will be remembered for little else.

– I know for sure that I can out-happy dance anyone I know.  Not because I’m such a good dancer, but because I have lost enough, found enough and love enough to know how to celebrate all of it.

And finally, I know for sure that there is nothing I can be sure of – except this moment in time.  And this moment in time – in the quiet soft rhythmic beating of its longing – is perfect.

 

friendship, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, mindfulness, motivation

I Loved The Shoes, But They Didn’t Fit

In my other life, I wore heels everyday.  Work days, weekends – it mattered little.  I also drove a Jeep Cherokee.  I loved feeling like I could see things that I would otherwise never notice.  I traveled tall.  My shoe collection was legendary and even Casual Fridays involved four-inch heels that I would walk in endlessly – back and forth, staircases, multiple floors, the streets of DC and every other city I needed to be in.  I was a physical example of over-compensation.

Never mind that my back would curse my name each morning when I got dressed.  “Ha” to those who wondered how my stride was even remotely normal and not some mincing step more analogous to those who have had their feet bound.  I rarely wear them any more, but believe me, when I do I’m painfully reminded that they don’t fit my life.  One of the step-sisters insisting that Cinderella’s glass slipper really did fit.

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And this is why I won’t be going back to the barn.  As much as I delighted in warming my face against a horse’s flank, found comfort and connection picking dirt out of their hooves, brushing their tails and singing to them.  No matter that I felt love for Elmo and developed a woman-to-woman understanding with Valentine.  And as much as I enjoyed chatting with my rider yesterday, a young woman with a smile that was bright enough to change the weather – the metaphorical shoes didn’t fit.

Honestly, it’s too fresh to recount.  Suffice it to say, I don’t take kindly to being yelled at, belittled or demeaned.  I don’t enjoy other people commenting about the unkind nature of any diatribe – especially when it’s directed at me, because I fall silent and don’t commiserate.  Let me stress – neither the rider nor the horse were in any jeopardy – this was just about me and the instructor.  As plebian as it sounds, I bore the brunt of her irritation and/or she just simply didn’t like me.

If I had a thicker skin, perhaps none of it would matter.  If I believed that personal attacks are a profoundly effective way to get someone’s compliance, I might have been fine.  Unfortunately, I’ve been there done that, and have a higher expectation of those in charge – regardless of the environment where they bear that mantle.  I’ve had my confidence rended and discarded, spent years trying to find those shreds and re-form them into something resembling me.  Perhaps that is why I counsel leaders with a conviction that is so fierce.  Anyway, let’s just say, the shoes didn’t fit.  And that reality hurts.

“If I turn my gaze away from you, dear Earth, please do not feel hurt.  I will come back and kiss you again.” — Rumi

None of this has deterred me from my wish to spend my days in a way that substantively helps others and nurtures my soul.  Hopefully the equine rescue farm will be better.  Some connections to Walter Reed may help me in my hopes to work with wounded warriors.  Perhaps I can also figure out what I should do with my blog, as this first year of posting  comes to an end.

But right now, I want to turn away from the day.  I need to do battle with the self-doubts that are speaking in full-voice about all that I am not.  It’s a short-lived pity party I promise – and I hope you don’t mind not being invited – I rarely serve anything, and the conversation is hardly lively.

And yet, before I left I made sure to kiss Elmo and Nyles and Val – give them carrots and whisper in their ears that which I wanted them to know.  That they were doing great things, with grace and patience and kindness.  And I was so happy that they had come into my life albeit for this short, but meaningful time.

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anxiety, discretion, friendship, humor, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, love, management, mindfulness

Tell It To Me Straight

248331366923238052_jpHEv0sP_cEveryone I know insists that they want to hear the truth.  I’m not sure everyone I know is being completely honest about this.  In fact, I think that most people prefer to hear selective truths.  I’ll go so far as to suggest that we all filter certain realities just so we can wrap our heads around their implications.

– I believe that my bathroom scale is digitally confused and vindictive – swinging wildly between two weights – one I can live with, the other requiring that I eschew food for the next year.

– I believe we’re all a little neurotic.

– I believe that I’m really not getting shorter, rather the units of measurement have changed since I was a young girl and no one told me.

– I believe that the answers to global warming, cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and world peace are moment’s away from being discovered.  And by this I mean, short moments.

– I believe in miracles.  It all depends on your definition of ‘miracles’.

– I believe that continuing to nest even after your kids have grown, married and established homes of their own, is absolutely fine.

– I believe it’s still ok to keep a pair of sneakers in the garage even though I’ve been married for decades and adore my husband.

– And I absolutely believe it’s ok to cry at Hallmark commercials.

On a more serious note, my reality includes the belief  that every dog has its day – and I’m not talking about canines here.  Somewhere along the way, people who intentionally demean or devalue others will be subject to a painful lesson or two.  Whether they get anything out of it or not, is something else entirely.  Given that this reality developed early in my professional career (perhaps as a way of dealing with a perverted boss who routinely made sexual overtures, comments, etc),  I encourage leaders to read this as a cautionary reminder.  If you surround yourself with people who tell you only what you want to hear, and not what you should hear, and agree to follow directives that are questionable and potentially ill-conceived, you will become a person that even you would not want to follow.  If you can’t effectively develop your people, you’re not a leader.  And of course when the day comes when you realize that people are following you because they are paid a lot of money to do it, you will understand that core values have flown the coop, along with respect, loyalty and collaboration.  Yes, I’m still passionate about this.  I’ve been in too many conversations with too many people lately who are feeling the effects of uninspired  oversight.

I realize I just broke one of my unwritten rules – not to write about leadership or management anymore.  My apologies.  I guess I believe that reality can be adjusted every once in a while to accommodate that which is scratching at your heart.

And at the end of the day, I believe that there are very few pure truths – though admittedly there are some.  What I feel when enveloped in a hug, the way I can make Andy laugh until his stomach hurts, the way the ‘I love you’s’ from my kids can grab me by the throat.  The tender velvet of a horse’s nose, the reality that gravity and I are really no longer friends, the magnificence of a cardinal posing in a fir tree.

Regardless of what you choose to accept or deny, I do believe that ultimately life has a way of working itself out.  I may not be around to see it, I may not participate in the moment – but believe me – today I choose to accept the reality that everything is going to be just fine.

IMG_0042

discretion, friendship, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, love, motivation

An Oldie But A Goodie

“1.  Name the five wealthiest people in the world.

2.  Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.

3.  Name the last five winners of Miss America.

4.  Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.

5.  Name the last half-dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

6.  Name the last decade’s worth of World Series winners,

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday.  These are no second-rate achievers.  They are the best in their fields.  But the applause dies.  Awards tarnish.  Achievements are forgotten.  Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here’s another quiz.  See how you do on this one:

1.  List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.

2.  Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.

3.  Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.

4.  Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.

5.  Think of five people  you enjoy spending time with.

Easier?

The lesson:

The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money or the most awards.  They are the ones who care.” — Charles Shultz

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Enough said.

 

humor, leadership, life lessons, mindfulness

Swinging? Like On A Star?

Ok, at last check there have been over 19,000 hits on this little blog o’ mine, and I am beyond amazed that there are more than three people following me on a regular basis (well, seven if you include all the kids..um…eight counting my sister…ok, my sister-in-law and parents-in-law – that’s eleven).  I feel a responsibility to you – to be as honest as I can be and with any luck, be occasionally interesting.  If something tickles your inspirational fancy – all the better – it makes my day.

But there’s something going on in the media which is so blatantly flawed and untrue I feel it only right that I try to set the record straight – at least among my friends. You’re welcome to share this with whomever you choose, or just keep it entre nous – your call.

Every news channel, newspaper, e-magazine, etc is referring to Virginia and Florida as “swing states”.  Friends, I’ve lived in Virginia for twenty odd years now.  There is nothing ‘swinging’ about Virginia.  Nothing.  Nada.  Nil. If anything, we would take umbrage at the intimation.  Forget that whole ad campaign “Virginia Is For Lovers” – we’re as much for love as any other state (except Hawaii which is all about love).   We  have a lot of Civil War battlefields, Jefferson’s home (ok, there may have been some swinging going on there, but who’s here who can provide any specifics on that?), a couple of good amusement parks and some great wineries.  Arguably one could go zip-lining in the Shenandoah and you might swing a little if you choose to do that.  We have big malls, strip shopping centers, a lot of geese (who by the way are monogamous), farms and some gently rolling hills.  The swings in our playgrounds don’t even go very high (or low).   I have some friends who have experimented with ‘swinging both ways’ – but none of them live in Virginia.  They’re in DC and Maryland.  We don’t even do much swing dancing here.  Most of us don’t know how to do it (although my in-laws are quite good at this).

And Florida – really?  Have any of you been to Florida lately?  Of course not, it’s the summer – who goes to Florida in the summer?  And those people who live in Florida through the summer aren’t allowed out of their houses, for they’ll keel over from the heat if they venture forth.  Yes, DisneyWorld is there – and when I visited with the boys twenty-five years ago, some of the rides did swing a bit.  Save for that and the disruptions of hurricane-force winds, there is nothing moving in Florida, let alone swinging.  Wait, I’m wrong – golf clubs – yes, there are golf clubs swinging in Florida.  Is that what we’re talking about here?  And if so, what the heck does that have to do with any reportage about the election?  Does either candidate want to golf?  No one’s asked me, but I wouldn’t think now is a good time.

Sigh…this is but one of the many reasons why I’m a political neophyte.  If I think the terminology is strange and incredibly inaccurate, you can only begin to imagine what I think of the theatrical productions.  This is why I stick with Broadway – things really swing there.

humor, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

You Want To Talk Leadership? Talk To The Hand.

I realize that I’m opening Pandora’s box here and as such as I write this not without a some anxiety.  But I’m so vexed by and tired of the iterative articles about leadership, management, developing a vision and motivating people who I’m going to take the risk.

Stop reading these books.  Stop looking for a blueprint that is going to provide you with the path towards the outstanding development of people.  And definitely move away from any books which offer you ‘ten steps’ to a better anything.  Ok, here’s the one caveat to this whole mini-rant – if you find all of  this redundancy interesting, have at it.  Just don’t expect it to add to your tool kit, complement your style and/or turn you into an outstanding leader. And you know what?  There’s really nothing all that new under the ‘how to’ sun.

 

“Hypocrite”, you say – and you’re right.  I offer consulting services about these very topics.  I speak to groups about leadership and team engagement (though I admit that I am not your run-of-the-mill consultant and build programs that are hardly boiler-plate and mildly irreverent).   I’ve read more books than Doan’s has back pills.  And I come away with a different perspective.  If you want to be a great leader of people, learn about yourself  and the people around you first.  Do the obvious – build trust – be consistent, do what you say you’re going to do, engage people in dialogue, watch what they’re doing every day and ask for input.  Provide feedback – informal, formal – whichever,  as long as it’s consistent and regular.  No excuses – find the time.  Give people work that is going to help them expand their minds and their abilities.  Trust that they will do it well and if they struggle,  jump into the gosh darn fray and help them figure it out!  Credit the efforts of others and learn to be generous.  Set the bar high and make sure you’re hitting regularly and owning it when you miss.  Share information – often.  Problem solve out loud and encourage your team to understand how you think.  Not that much is confidential and the more you consider too ‘sensitive’ for others, the narrower the views you offer of the organization’s direction, which further compromises peoples’ understanding and ownership of their jobs.  Get over yourself and get into your people.  Reward accountability with more substantive responsibility.  Praise in a way that matters to the person.  Counsel in private.

And – if you’re going to be in charge of a department, a company, a branch office, etc, find yourself a leader you admire in your organization and ask them to actively mentor you.  Tell them you want him/her to call you on your mistakes, help you exceed the basic criteria and guide you in the nuance and delicacy of effective communication.  Role-play tough conversations; have someone read your draft performance reviews to make sure they’re substantive and meaningful.  And if you want to read a book – do so!!  Read biographies of the outstanding leaders in history (preferable those written by great writers so you don’t nod off), read poetry and essays about the human condition.  Read articles from futurists and pragmatists.  Read humor – it keeps us humble.  Expand your world view.  It’s bigger than your organization.  Practice being true to yourself and those around you.  Fall down.  Get up.  Ask for a hand.

 

To me these are the real lessons.

And the real lesson is for the C-level folks who are putting people into managerial positions and giving them how-to seminars to attend or provide in-house training and consider their jobs well done by doing so.  You’re not going to groom anyone for anything that way.  I left the firm as the culture I adored began to erode.  Whatever it now is, it is not something  for which I would evangelize.  Word is that there are vestiges of its value system, but time is moving the organization forward into a bureaucratic behemoth that is sacrificing much of its identity for newer, slicker and more expedient.  Times change, companies do what they need to do.  So it goes.  But what doesn’t change is the need for outstanding leadership and we have got to stop thinking that a ‘how to’ book or a lecture is the ultimate answer.  Get busy with the practice and doing and trying.  Organizations need to make effective mentorship a yearly objective for which executives will be reviewed and compensated.  That’s how you deepen the bench.  That’s how you strengthen your team.  You won’t find it on page 128.

discretion, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, work life

Thoughtful Thursday

Oh Al I swear, you’re a genius!  Even before ‘multi-tasking’ became part of the social lexicon, you were decrying its effectiveness.  Good on you big guy, and lucky for the woman you were kissing in the car.  Better to pull over and focus.  A taboo idea I know – doing one thing at a time and getting it right.

When I was at the firm, he who juggled the most balls in the air without dropping any, won.  Yes, there were migraines, emotional short-circuits, missed anniversaries and birthdays – but man, could people juggle conference calls, client meetings, intra-office drama, toggling between dual monitors in their offices while checking Blackberries and texting on their iPhones.  Conversations – if that is what one chooses to call them – were stolen in the Starbucks line, or in fifteen minute intervals, or checked in a box.

You’re right – balls got dropped.  Perhaps not the ones that determine the size of a year-end bonus, and most assuredly not those that would compromise the zealous representation of one’s clients.

I spent a lot of time with people who had dropped the other stuff along the way – without thinking that the ramifications would be so profound.  The parent who routinely watched her daughter play in a sports tournament while emailing on her iPad and chairing a conference call and genuinely fretting because she and her child weren’t close; the husband who couldn’t reconcile the wonderful woman he had married with the raging, angry alcoholic she had become – for she had never shown any signs.  The affair that grew over time because neither person was ever home long enough for intimacy and friendship to grow roots there – though they insisted they tried.  They didn’t intend for this to happen.  The thrown blood clot that resulted from excessive time on planes and trains.  The pseudo-friendships that ended up defining one’s inner circle because there was no time to cultivate genuine loving relationships, and the resulting  isolation and loneliness that prompted yet another script for antidepressants.  The young associate who wept in my office upon discovering that this brass ring for which she had sacrificed much was not what she thought it would be and didn’t want to ride the carousel anymore – but for the enormous debt, mortgage and car payments.

No signs?  Really?

I didn’t judge it then, I’m not judging it now.  I do find the sincere disbelief…well, surprising.  We all struggle to do the right thing in the face of competing demands and increasing competition.  But what do you want to win?  And who are you kidding if you think that everything you are juggling has equal weight and heft, allowing you to balance it all equally?  The reality is that those weights change and morph according to time and circumstance.  Sacrifices will be made and balls will drop – that’s the reality.  There is also this inalienable truth – you have to decide what to focus on, what values you will only compromise so much and how to give the people you love the best of who you are.  Maybe you should focus on that kiss.

friendship, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management

You Want It All? Be Careful What You Wish For

By now all of you have heard about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article in The Atlantic ‘Why Women Can’t Have It All’.  Apparently this one article boosted The Atlantic’s circulation to record numbers, and the public response has been remarkable and passionate.  Slaughter makes certain recommendations which I heartily endorse – company policies that are more parent-friendly, family leave that is more flexible, etc.  But here is my very ungracious perspective – get over it.  If you define having it all as being the best parent, spouse, adult-child, employee, friend simultaneously, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.  I do think you need to re-think what it means to have it all, and perhaps if considered through a different lens, you may feel differently.

I have not met a highly successful business person who hasn’t given up something significant in their trek up the mountain.  I have seen young associates (men and women) sacrifice eight years of their lives in a bid for partnership.  Billable hours are budgeted at a high number, the expectations that you will also involve yourself in firm activities (recruiting, timely submission of needed administrativia, required continuing ed credits, showing your social ‘fit’ – it takes a lot of time.  Perhaps you squeeze in a wedding and a honeymoon.  You return to a peer group that is constantly jockeying for the inside position (I think that pun is intended).  You have to quickly get your rhythm and get moving, competing at the level of the thoroughbred you’ve been assured you are.  One in four attorneys abuses some substance, divorce rates are second only to those of doctors.  They have the money (in Big Law you get paid a lot of money to gallop on that track), they can even step aside to have a baby and take a generous maternity leave – but one day the call is heard to return to the galloping horde.  This is not solely a professional services phenomenon – career development is a competitive, challenging, time-consuming, energy-sapping commitment.

One of the women who works in the hair salon I go to told me that she had cut her hours to three days a week.  She’s a divorced mom with two teenage children and felt that they need her more during their adolescence than ever before.  No one pressured her to do this – her personal value system led her to this choice.  (The hair salon is a post for later this week – but it’s magical – I go in with a Pepe LePew stripe and come out with blond highlights).

Some people give up their social skills.  Their ability to develop relationships is stunted by years and years of isolated work and limited meaningful interaction.  To me – that’s an irreparable, life-altering sacrifice – though I know many people who have lost their interest in and concern for other people over time.  Their focus has been so precise and narrow, they have fallen behind in their personal growth.

In my world,  I was more successful than I ever imagined I would be (ok, so it wasn’t on Broadway, but I didn’t have the talent for that anyway – or the ego strength).  I made it to the C-suite, fought for an equally sized seat at the table (no comments about my feet not touching the floor please), raised children who so far have not dipped into the therapy fund I set up as soon as I knew that they were going to have me more for a mom.  I married a wonderful man who brought with him my wonderful third son (and another therapy fund).  And I made choices…I chose not to have a job that was going to require that I travel all over hell and creation until my kids were away at school.  I found mentors who could guide me through the dissonance of having conflicting wants and needs.  All those mentors were men – an interesting topic in and of itself.  I chose my family more often than not – though there were some baseball games I missed and I always felt that I could be doing more.   I called my parents every day – and eventually they knew my secretary who in turn would call to give them a heads-up if my 9:00AM call was going to be late.  And there’s the segue..

You need a rock solid support system willing and able to pick up the balls that you need to drop.  And you will drop the ball sometimes.  In days past, nuclear families lived in close proximity to each other, back up was ready and available, there were additional arms and meals and hugs.  When I moved to DC, I had to create a safety net, and it always had holes.

I want women to achieve their goals, dream big dreams, reach on their tip toes.  I also feel that having it all – all at once – is asking for a Roman feast that looks magnificent on your plate, and is impossible to eat in one sitting.   Perhaps we can have it all if we define this concept in more digestible bites.  And then we might even have room for dessert.

friendship, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, mindfulness, motivation

Thankful Thursday Thoughts

 Today may very well be the day when you choose to open your eyes to one new experience, thought,  and/or moment in time, that you previously  hesitated to see.  Today you may break free from the ties that have bound your senses and enhance your life a gazillion-fold just by untying those figurative binds that have precluded you from reaching, daring, touching another soul in need.  That’s what makes today so magical – anything can happen.  And I hope you let it happen.  And then I hope you tell me what your day brought you in return.