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.

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.

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.

 


 

 

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.

 

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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