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, 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

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.

anxiety, discretion, humor, inspiration, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation

Good Morning Monday

“[T0day] is a new day.  You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.” — Emerson

By Sunday night, the glow of the weekend begins to fade and the anticipation of another week begins.  Stomachs get tight, hands begin to rub temples and the list of all that needs to be done begins to grow into an unwieldy paper dragon flying around in your head wreaking all sorts of havoc on those synapses which had fired so calmly for two days.

 

I admit, I obsess – more often than not about the things I ‘should’ be doing with little regard for anything that I already did.  It doesn’t make for many internal feel-goods, I must say.  More importantly though I make myself crazy (with a nod to the reality that I’m already a garden-variety nut).  When I was working full-time this was just an accepted form of doing business.  Everyone had lists that seemed to procreate at night, so the next morning there were even more items than when you left.  A year later, I’m still a work-in-progress.  Learning to align what is important to me  with that which really has to happen is a tough assignment.  And it’s one we all have to assimilate at one point or another or we’re denying ourselves the one thing we know we have – right now.  Now, don’t dismiss me with the thought that I have no idea what’s on your plate, the pressure you’re under, how hard you have to drive yourself.  Not true – I do know.  I also know that you are far more important than anything you’ve got going on today.  And if you don’t at least try to take a bit of care of yourself today, at some point you won’t need to consider tomorrow.

So if you’d be so kind as to put one thing on your list this morning – and place it first.  YOU.  Find a little space today for you.  Close your office door for ten minutes (if you have a door).  Stay off of email for a few minutes and stretch your legs.  Let the call go to voice mail.  Not for so long that you begin to sweat and itch.  Just long enough to let your body catch up with your mind.  Long enough to close your eyes and smile with the delight that for ten little minutes you were unencumbered.

Happy Monday everybody..

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.

inspiration, leadership, management, motivation, training, work life

The Education Politic

Yesterday the University Of Virginia Board Of Visitors reversed its decision and reinstated Teresa Sullivan as the school’s President.  The Washington Post provided front page coverage about the closed-door political nonsense that fueled her immediate suspension and the passionate populous reaction that drove her reinstatement.  The bottom line?  Ms. Sullivan is a leader that faculty, students and alumni want to follow.  The paper quotes one department chair – “You can move fast, or you can move incrementally.  But it doesn’t matter unless people follow you…People follow her.”  I have often said, one of the biggest failures in leadership is the hubris to think that you never have to change your position and turn around to see who’s there.  Your perspective on your team must be as comprehensive as possible.  You have to move around.

Ms. Sullivan’s misstep rested in her immersion in the U-Va culture without keeping on eye on the education politic – the Board.  Her dismissal was orchestrated behind closed doors, by people who rued her patience and thoughtful approach to issues.  They were looking for sweeping change – in what areas I don’t know.  In my view, such dramatic action would have resulted in the Board creating a scapegoat as well – I don’t think she could have won regardless of her approach.

This is a bit of an attenuated way of writing about why every constituency associated with the University passionately advocated for her return.  Here are but a few of the takeaways that  I think are worthy of consideration…Rather than clean house upon arriving, she asked her team to give her eighteen months to prove herself and for them to prove themselves in return. She traveled solo from campus event to campus event, alumni fundraiser to alumni fundraiser, sporting event to sporting event.  She involved herself in truly understanding the needs of the student, the faculty and the alumni –  her informal and consistent communication was welcome.  Sullivan’s efforts to maintain transparency included reports that weren’t filled with fluff, outreach that was personal and consistent and worked to establish a “relationship-centered presidency”.  Of no less importance, she honored her commitments and had a ‘set of rules’ that were easy for her team to get behind (i.e., no surprises, don’t filter bad news, if the going gets tough make sure everyone is aware of what’s happening and finally “people and time are our greatest resources; don’t waste them”).

She established and maintained trust.

There is no doubt Sullivan has vision and strategy.  Her professional experience is as impressive as her degrees.  But none of this would really matter if she hadn’t fostered the trust and confidence in the people she served.  Leaders serve. Such a concept suggests a different approach to people, strategy and vision than that which we typically consider in any for-profit environment.  Her weakness was in not learning how to bob and weave, and one can’t minimize the need for that kind of facility.  As Sullivan notes, “There are aspects of administration, they’re like a chess game…You’re looking forward three or four moves.”  Apparently Theresa Sullivan was looking forward – and probably around her as well.  She just wasn’t paying attention to the knife in her back.  I think her approach should resonate with every leader; I think it probably won’t.  I  wish there were term limits on department heads and leaders in companies – and their tenure was predicated upon votes from more than a board and/or shareholders.  I believe it would foster an urgent review of what it takes to really have unanimous support.  For U-Va?  Today is a good day.

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

Taking Chances With Success

Hi all…please join me out here on this branch..careful, I don’t want you to fall as you consider just how much you’re willing to ante up at work.

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times this past Sunday about Dov Seidman, CEO of the company LRN.  The mission of LRN is intriguing to HR nerds like me – helping companies “inspire principled performance in their operations”.  Pretty cool, don’t you think?   He has written a book (which I have not yet read) titled, “How:  Why How We Do Anything Means Everything”.  In short, he has taken his company in a surprising and challenging direction – developing a form of self-governance that boldly eliminates many of the sacred cows that few have ever dared to sacrifice.  He threw out the org chart, eliminating titles (but for his).  The structure is as flat as possible, with authority and decision-making viewed as part of their shared, collaborative mission.   There are no titles; performance reviews for each employee are completed by a personally selected group of reviewers and a mentor. Self-evaluations include perspective on performance as well as a score.  Employees are “trust[ed] to weigh the feedback they collect into their own ratings”.  All of these scores are published internally.  Vacation time is unlimited – presuming that people will be candid and plan their time off with an appreciation for their colleagues and the good of the organization.  Management committees do exist, though my sense is that there are a very discreet few.  In an effort to reflect his commitment to transparency, Seidman opened his own review for comments from anyone who wanted to offer his/her views, and published his own assessment along with all the others.

He feels that empowering employees is a hierarchical phenomenon, and fuels supervisory power rather than individual initiative and commitment.  His approach is to give each employee as much ownership over their career as possible.  After completing a study of companies world-wide, he acknowledges that few companies are practicing self-governance.  And, he admits that the process within his own organization is far from complete, and has been “enlightening, frustrating, nerve-racking, authentic and urgent”.

There are many companies that give lip service to such ideology, and place questionable value on walking the walk defined by their mission statements.  Whether you are a department head, chief officer, vice-president, king…doesn’t matter.  What do you think about the pros and cons of such a daring premise?  Could you do it?  Would you do it?  What would it take for you to step out on a limb and try something totally new to see if it flies?  I am most  impressed by Seidman’s efforts to be authentic in the workplace, to ensure that his personal philosophy is in sync with his professional environment and do more than shake the tree, but actually climb.

 

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

We Should Never Graduate

A friend of mine posted this quote on Facebook yesterday (an old friend of recent re-acquaintance).  I couldn’t walk away from my own thoughts about its implications, and my complicity – in both positive and negative ways  – over the years.  You know me well enough to know that I have yet to transcend my own limitations, unable to keep my mind still long enough to even utter a mantra;  I am not about to denounce a material world which has afforded my family a comfortable lifestyle, and some accessories which make my sloppy outfits look well-considered.  In other words, before you jump up in defense of capitalism and financial success as a social definitive – sit down.  I’m not arguing with you.

I am however, absolutely passionate about my belief that learning is a lifelong exercise, and organizational leaders are in the position to educate all the time.  I’ll go a step farther – they have an imperative to educate.  And with that in mind I have got to ask you – what are you teaching?  Does your department, company, organization commit to moral management or success-at-any-cost?  Are you developing people’s abilities to complement their career progression or are you focused on the immediate needs which you find critical to meet?  Are we defining our own personal success primarily by the amount of money we make (with the caveat that we are earning what we need to and perhaps a bit more)  or are there any other markers that we value as much?  More importantly, do we inculcate that philosophy to the people that we are charged with developing and growing?

What are the stories of compassion that balance the perpetual theme of acquiring stuff?  How well-rounded are the people we know and work with?  Where do the paths of wisdom and management-speak meet?  I may not be articulating this well – I am trying to avoid the cliché of saying that we all do the right thing everyday, and instead suggest that compassion, morality, critical thought are as essential to the development of a thriving workforce than any other issues of which we speak.  And it takes thought and planning and commitment to the larger theme of lifelong education.  Challenging our children, our friends, ourselves to consider where we are placing our priorities as we enter in and out of the chapters of our lives.  That to me, is what reading the whole book is all about.

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

Which Way Wednesday – You Choose

I love this story, having heard and read it many times before.  You probably have too.  The imagery put me off a little at first – using wolves as the metaphor for our two inner selves.  I associate wolves with aggressiveness,  fearlessness and a very hostile reaction to Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, despite my awareness that they are also nurturing, protective and inclined to stay with their pack.  So retrospectively – it seems the analogy is perfect, doesn’t it?

We choose everyday.  Certainly in the law firm environment in which I worked, I saw far more self-serving behavior than anything else.  The intensity of the competition, the race to be the best, the ego needs that demanded assuaging, the unspoken reality that you ‘eat-what-you-kill’.  The challenge – which was honestly fun to accept – was choosing to remain part of the firm’s collective conscience.  Did I do this perfectly?  Absolutely not.  Was the lure of inferiority nipping at my heels – you’re kidding, right?  This is me.  Of course it did.  And did I act at times out of anger?  Yes although probably more in a passive aggressive way, because in that regard I’m wrapped pretty tight.

This isn’t about me though – it’s about you.  Do you realize the elements within you that aren’t aligned – the ‘ fight’ if you will for emotional sustenance, attention and control that wrestles within you?  Certainly it is far preferable to feed the goodness, cultivate it, share it – make it the stronger part of who you are, so that you look upon the end of each day as one you lived well.  Sometimes though, we do feed the wrong elements of our being – do you know when you’re doing it?  When at work?  At home?  How does it reinforce the perception that others have of you?  Thoughts for a Wednesday morning, considerations for a lifetime?  Choose well today my friends and make it a good day.

 

anxiety, inspiration, leadership, life lessons, management, mindfulness, motivation, training, work life

Stress Much?

Whenever I used to frown, my mom would say “Don’t do that, your face will stay that way.”  She was right – the picture above is a self-portrait.  That’s not true – I only mildly resemble a sharpei.  But you do get my point.  Depending upon the success of my nights in the arms of Morpheus (I love that line), I can wake up with a start, my brain flitting through the worries du jour, the have-tos that I neglected to do the day before (which I realize diminished their importance as obligations) and the ‘should have dones’ that didn’t even register.  Once I have coffee, all bets are off and I wave the white flag because my mind begins to travel at a speed that has yet to be measured scientifically.  Perhaps I have a bionic brain – the thoughts fly with the speed of sound, I just don’t necessarily get anywhere.

I’ve reached the point though where I can laugh at this (btw, in the picture above I am laughing – can you tell?).  These exercises in self-flagellation are futile, and bear nothing like those scenes in “Fifty Shades Of Grey” where ostensibly everyone is enjoying the experience far more than me, and their vocalizations don’t resemble my “Oh damn” or “I can’t believe I forgot to do that – you dummy”.  Sometimes I say things even worse, but no need to repeat them here.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  We know better.  We know it is better to step back, breathe, prioritize and discard the non-essential.  I’ll go a step farther – we also know this is learned behavior, and as such can be ‘unlearned’.  I think there is something self-reinforcing in experiencing this kind of stress.  In a convoluted way it reminds us that we’re important, our contributions matter – within the circle of our life, our actions are critical to keeping the cosmic wheel turning.  Is that enough of a motivator to keep stressing ourselves out?  Um…no.  Because in the final analysis, our ‘musts’ are not about fundamental survival, coordinating organ transplants (unless you’re an organ transplant doctor, in which case I apologize) or responding to life or death situations.  We are creating this level of pressure in our own minds.  It isn’t until the you-know-what hits the fan that we realize that we’ve been stressing over things that are overblown in our own minds.

We are making ourselves slightly crazy.  And our sanity rests to a large degree in our perception of how big our requirements loom.  If we accept that every routine day is  inevitably disrupted multiple times, some things don’t go as planned and other events are out of our control.  So be it.  Perhaps we can gain some control over what we choose to get exorcised about.  Maybe today we can start our day differently – committing to ourselves that as involved as we are going to get in our day, we are not going to let it gain zombie-control over our life (my understanding is that once you give a zombie control of anything, they pretty much grab the whole enchilada).  When our tendency is to over-react to the problems in front of us, instead we will create some distance so that we can look at them for what they really are.  One challenge at a time, fix it and move on.  Maybe we can honestly acknowledge the days that seem to pass without asap incidents or increases in blood pressure, for there are those too – and it doesn’t mean you’re not a diligent, capable and important.

Just try it and let me know how it goes.  Let me know what happens when you take a step back instead of running directly into the fray.  If I have any success with this, I’ll let you know too.  Unless I am attacked by a zombie, in which case all bets are off.

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

What’s Love Got To Do With It? Probably Everything

I don’t think anyone gets to hit their thirties without carrying some baggage.  The twenties are a period where we practice at adulthood, and when we screw up (as we are all wont to do), we have the most reasonable explanation in the world – “I’ve never been an adult before, this whole on-your-own thing is new to me.”   Basically the twenties are life’s Mulligan (no I don’t play golf, but my husband does and I love the idea that someone can get a do-over  just by asking for it).

The blessing and curse of growing up is the amount of luggage you need to carry.  The smaller suitcase from childhood holds irrational insecurities, the first glimpses of the unfairness of life and the undergarments of self-doubt (has to be underwear, cause it’s light and carrying something too heavy is very tough on a child’s back).  The valise packed to capacity with the hurts of adolescence, the pain of unrequited love and the romance of love that involves back seats (unless you’re from NYC – no back seats available because no one drives), passed notes in class and hallways, whispers and every love song written with your love in mind and promises that typically get broken.  The passionate belief that you know who you are and the equally jarring awareness that you have no idea what-the-hell-you’re-talking-about.  By the time we enter our late teens and early twenties, we’re probably carrying at least one  suitcase, a couple of carry-ons and a backpack.  And that’s presuming that life hasn’t over-burdened us.  I won’t belabor the decades that follow, for each brings another piece of luggage with a personalized I.D. tag.  I’m not even sure if we get a pair of wheelies.

At the end of the day, we’re all juggling an awful lot of baggage.  Whether you are a life partner, friend, or a supervisor of other people – recognize this fact.  I have had the unparalleled joy of working with bosses who picked up a suitcase for me on occasion, so that I could bust through a challenge that I was struggling to successfully meet.  I have been the supervisor who happily let my colleagues know where they could store their luggage so that they had freedom of movement and a chance to feel lighter.  Sometimes they never came back to claim their stuff – and that was just fine with me.  I have also had bosses who  intentionally opened my baggage to see if they could add to its weight (I’ve since bought some luggage locks) – or gave me one more piece to hold.

So from where I sit this morning (in the kitchen at the round table, btw) after a tough night with little sleep and the vulnerability that comes from feeling a little too uncomfortable, I think how lucky I am that my husband helps with my luggage.  How much I try to help him lighten his load.  There is a point in all of our lives when we realize that we’re holding on to more than we need to – and if you have people around who can help you unpack a little, sort through the worn out stuff that no longer fits and discard that with historic expiration dates – offer up a thank you and just think how much lighter you feel.  Happy Wednesday my friends – smile.