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.

How We Carry The Day

Another early morning finds me sitting in the office atrium, catching up on the day’s rhythm, seeing if I can match the beat.  The energy is too slow, involving shuffling instead of stepping, a resignation in the bend of the head.  Clearly I am not going to be a helpful dance partner.  I need to carry the day differently…which propels me towards an entirely different train of thought.  How to carry the day.

Should it be carried gently as a sleeping baby in your arms, held with acute awareness of its inestimable preciousness?  Or with abandon?  Tossing the day up in the air with delight, watching it return to your hands gleefully anticipating the breathlessness of being thrown higher again and again.

Perhaps it should be carried over your shoulder, as one carries shirts fresh from the dry cleaner?  Protected in plastic that provides the security that they will make it home spotless and pressed (assuming you don’t fall into a puddle).

Do you hold the day like a briefcase – holding so tightly to the handle that your fingers ache, secure that no one will be able to take it from you?

Or

Like a well-worn handbag held casually and almost mindlessly – its weight comfortable in your hand, its contents familiar (save for the occasional forgotten lipstick and dollar bill at the very bottom of the bag).

How do you carry the day?

Held tightly against you like a cell phone to your ear, doing all you can to make sure that no one can hear what you are attending to?  Protectively guarding your privacy despite being in the middle of all this humanity??

Do you carry the day with confidence or trepidation?  Delight or dread?  Is it one more parcel to hold along with too many others to effectively juggle?  Do you push it away as a stroller or a shopping cart, keeping control of the direction by keeping a certain distance between you and it?  Is it pulled along like a rolling suitcase, casually unaware of its contents (for after all it is always behind you).

Do you balance the day like an overly full cup of coffee that is thisclose to spilling over, taking mincing, tentative steps to avert sartorial disaster?

I suppose different days require different handling.  Today my  arms are at my sides, keeping questionable rhythm with my feet.  Today perhaps the day itself will carry me.

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A View From The Lobby

Whenever I have a meeting – of any kind – I’m early.  It’s my definition of being on time.  I was facilitating a meeting yesterday morning, and with the rain pummeling the house, I decided to give myself more than enough time to get downtown.  What does one do then with an hour to kill?  Head into the open, skylit atrium with a cup of coffee, review your notes and then watch the world go by.  Another olio from yours truly…

Rather than look like I’m just sitting there ogling people, I make notes, raising my eyes subtly to take in the action (Actually, I like to think I look surreptitious – I have a hunch I’m not so graceful).

–  A guy walks by wearing a grey cap, striped sweater, wire-rimmed glasses…he looks like he could be a student at GW, but for the absence of a backpack.  He’s so intently texting that he slams right into the corner of one of the metal (heavy, wrought iron) chairs.  Unfortunately, said corner  is of a particular delicate height and I wince for him.  He lets out a “oooph” – a restrained exclamation if ever I heard one, and gingerly walked into the coffee shop.  Those of us sitting nearby all look up with sympathy and even a little amusement (that’s what you get when you don’t watch when you walk and text).  Ok, the women look more amused then the men.

–  The skylights which are supposed to welcome all the natural light look like they are bearing the traces of a really good cry.  It’s that kind of day.

–  Beige lady – I swear this is a beige lady.  Beige hair, outfit, shoes, necklace, purse…urban camouflage.  Her posture is perfect, her strides are long and her heels strike the floor with emphasis.  She covers a lot of ground with maximum efficiency.  A person on a mission, confident, hyped, ready.  She comes out of the coffee shop holding two Red Bulls.  I feel for the people with whom she’s working today.

–  Choices, choices..a man in biking shorts and a heavy sweat (or rain-soaked) checks out his options at the coffee shop.  Grabs a yogurt.  Puts it back.  A box of Special K.  Shakes his head and places it back on the shelf.  Granola bar?  Uh uh.  This is a small Au Bon Pain, there are limited choices.  He looks conflicted.  Ah!! He grabs a an apple turnover. I like this guy.

–  Cross-body bags with cross-body briefcases is not a great look.  People look like pack animals heading up Everest.  And the puce thermal lunch bag?  Um, I vote ‘no’.

–  Why does no one smile?  I must be missing the memo.  This feels like a very unhappy place, with questionable elan (but this is DC after all, we don’t pride ourselves on elan or fashion sense – or any sense at all for that matter).  I am on a crusade to get people to smile.  I consciously smile at everyone – the garage attendant, the vanilla-outfitted girl who passes my table with vacant eyes, the maintenance person who traverses the perimeter of the atrium scrupulously checking for…something.

I’m not talking maniacal smiles here – just a small smile that someone could choose to ignore or return without fear of a Jack-Nicholson-in-‘The Shining’ reaction.  So far I’m 5 for 6…wait, 6 for 7 – not bad.  Each moves along in his/her own moment, which is totally cool.  I’m not looking to create memories here.  I just want to break this wall of impassivity – see if there’s any light behind those shuttered eyes, as if there is too much risk in letting someone see any emotion at all.

And I want to know all their stories – where do you work?  Do you like what you do?  What’s on your mind this morning?  House?  Condo?  Tent?  Pets?  Kids?  Partners?  What could change this moment from one that has merely passed to one that is fantastic?  Are your shoulders bowed from the weight of your backpack or the weight of your woes?

Why fuchsia lipstick?

They need music here – something to lift these sagging commuter spirits,  to imbue the morning with the hint of the possible, the funny, the sublime or even the stuff that really matters.  Time for me to head to the elevator with the guy who looks like Stubby Kaye when he was in “Guys & Dolls”.

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.

 


 

 

The Relentless Drops Of Water

 

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“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth.  This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness” — Lao Tzu

I love this quote.  I love thinking that relentless softness can erode what appears intractable and immoveable.  The visual of solid ground acceding to the dampening of the earth, redefining its crags and layers of stubborn solidity by the insistence of water, becoming a rivulet and ultimately a stream.

And then there’s the old water torture visual (drops falling rhythmically and slowly on one’s forehead) which is far more reflective of my state of mind at the moment.  And may I say?  The drops aren’t particularly doing much except making me feel like I’m getting a dent in my head.

Over the past two years, I’ve been contacted by executive recruiters asking about my interest in C-level positions – law firms, professional service firms – and I’ve never considered pursuing the inquiries.  Last week I did, and yesterday I withdrew my candidacy.  It was the drops you see.  The persistent drops – “Do you have the chops to do this again?”   “You don’t have the chops to do this again”  “Do you want to do this again?”  “Wanting is irrelevant – what if they find me too old (that’s illegal and I’m way too immature, but…), too irreverent, too out there, not out there enough”  “But do you want to do this again”  “I want parts of it and I don’t want parts of it”  “That’s no answer, Mim”  “Can you repeat the question?”…and so on.

And so it went until I was desperately seeking a xanax or at least someone to turn off the faucet.  Oh, did I mention that I have a skosh of a problem calling a plumber when I really need one (figuratively speaking of course)?  “My family will think less of me for walking away”  “They will not, you doof”  “Yeah, they will”  This is ridiculous.  I am ridiculous.  Full stop.

I write Andy and the boys, send an email to two of my dearest friends.  Aaron writes back first – “You’ve earned the right to be whatever you want to be…therapist, elephant hygienist..” (I love that kid).  Paul chimes in next – “I think you should get re-accredited to be a therapist”..and paraphrasing here, ‘so happy you will pursue what you want’ (I love that kid too).  Andy, oh Andy – with his platitudes and deft application of the cliché, rejected both and just reminded me that who I am makes him proud enough.  ‘Do what you want, and if you don’t know what that is just yet, that’s ok too’ (I don’t feel that it is, but may I say that he’s a rock star).  And my friends..”I’m so happy you said no;  I didn’t want to have to share you with that many people” (she’d never have to).  “You made the right decision – besides, I think you should write a book!”  And here I sit, with a different type of water – the kind that traces down one’s cheeks, gracing each wrinkle, tickling my jaw as they meander down my neck.

How bewildering to be in my renaissance and discover that I am still arguing with these voices of doubt?  How breathtaking to realize that with a little effort, I can change a path that has been shaped by years and years of the drip, drip, drip, drip of my own design?  I am changing the flow, I am going to try to be more purposeful with this one life I have.  Remember my passion, follow my fascinations, remember that it was my sense of integrity and what I believe to be right that prompted my decision to turn around and re-route.

There’s a place for me – little, idiosyncratic, idealistic, sometimes-savvy me.  I’m not sure where just yet, and I have to be okay with that for now.  For with absolute certainty I can tell you, within me there’s a river.

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