Category Archives: Attitude

Rising to the occasion—we can do it!*

*If we really have to…and yes…we really have to.

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit the US in full-force, KitKat and I—like others around the world—went into “stay-at-home” mode. With additional time on my hands, I figured “There’s a blog post in all this…” However, I couldn’t figure out what to write about. I know that, compared to a lot of other people dealing with this situation, I’m very, very fortunate. Because—in addition to those who are literally dying from this pandemic—there are many others who are living through incredibly stressful scenarios. To name a few:

  • Going to work each day in healthcare without adequate PPE.
  • Being stuck in their homes with an abusive partner.
  • Not being at the hospital bedside of a loved one struggling with COVID-19.
  • Providing “essential services” at close to minimum wage and putting oneself at risk.
  • Facing sudden unemployment with no emergency savings.
  • Trying to work while supervising school for small children in a too-small apartment.
  • Small business owners struggling to keep their business alive despite being deemed “non-essential.”
  • Having a compromised immune system and being terrified to go outside or get necessities.
  • Being homeless with no way to protect oneself from illness.
  • Living alone and facing incredible loneliness.
  • Not being able to visit one’s elderly parents for risk of infecting them.

Actually, the last one of these is the only one that applies to me, but that’s a story for later. KitKat is dealing with a couple of these challenges as well, but both of us are relatively lucky as far as these things go. After living in this Brave New World of Global Pandemic for a few weeks, however, a theme has emerged that I’d like to touch on. It’s about resiliency.

You’ve probably seen memes similar to this one:

The implication seems to be that today’s youth are a bunch of wussies** compared to previous generations—particularly compared to The Greatest Generation. It’s easy to see where this perception comes from when I think of some of the haircare-related memes and messages floating through my social media feed lately:

I can see the humor in these and have even “shared” a couple. However, the underlying message—Do NOT try to cut or color your hair yourself!—annoys me.

While I appreciate the skills of a good hairstylist as much as the next person, we’re not talking about doing brain surgery on yourself here. If you’re adhering to the mandate to stay at home and find you can no longer stand your gray roots, then by all means—use a box dye and color your own hair. The world will not come to an end. In fact, millions of people who can’t afford or aren’t willing to pay for in-salon color do this all the time. You can’t pick them out on the street and, as far as I know, nobody has died from it (but you might want to Google “hot roots” first). Same with cutting your own hair. Plenty of people do it. And if you don’t like the results, hair grows back. Once this pandemic is over, you may decide to continue with the DIY or you might appreciate your hairstylist even more. But either way, you’ll learn that you can survive a temporary salon shutdown—and isn’t that empowering?

I’m not using this example to pick on hairstylists. My point is: You can do whatever you need to do to get through this. Of course, you can! I believe that this generation is no less strong than the ones that came before us. We just haven’t had as many opportunities to exercise our resiliency.

Another example: Technology. I’m one of those people who can’t live without my smartphone. But you know what? I actually could if I had to. Heck, I lived successfully for 30 years without one. I know it can be done. And, while it’s certainly a nice-to-have when quarantined, it’s also possible to live without cable TV or online streaming. One of my favorite stories involves Lucky telling me how her friends in middle school pitied her because our family was ‘too poor to have cable.’ I informed her that we could easily afford cable (we had just taken the whole family on a not-inexpensive trip to China and Japan) but chose not to have it. Her mind was blown.

Another example: Cooking. Restaurants are closed and while many people are ordering takeout/delivery to support those establishments, there are others who are fretting because they don’t know how to cook. Here’s a thought: Rather than doom yourself to Kraft mac-and-cheese and frozen dinners, try cooking. It’s really not that hard and it actually gets easier with practice. Many of you have the time, so what better way to use it than developing a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life? Again, it’s not likely to kill you. Even a bad meal can usually be eaten—and you learn better from the mistakes than the successes. Julia Childs herself advised, “Learn how to cook. Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.”

Give it a shot! There’s no better feeling than know you have the ability to indulge your every culinary whim. In fact, tackling something that you find daunting is a sure-fire way to build resiliency and gain confidence in your ability to withstand challenges. And couldn’t we all use that kind of mental boost right now?

I referenced The Greatest Generation earlier. My parents were both of the GG and I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices they made. However, I don’t believe that they had some special strength imbued in them that skipped subsequent generations. I think their bravery and resilience were just qualities that they honed through use. They had to regularly flex their resiliency muscles to survive the tough times they lived through.

As I mentioned earlier, the last item in the earlier list of hardships applies to me. On March 7th we moved my elderly mother into Memory Care and the following week, her senior living community—like others around the country—banned visitors. During the window between move-out and visitor-ban, my sister and I were cleaning out Mom’s apartment when I came across some items of great sentimental value—my dad’s letters to his parents and my mother during World War II, when he was a 17/18/19-year-old serving his country. It was fun to read his letters and hear my dad’s voice in them. (My dad had suffered dementia for many years before he passed away in 2017, so this was a new glimpse into the man whose loss I had long since grieved.)

Stormy’s dad (at right) with a friend on Guam

When one thinks of a war-time letter, it’s easy to romanticize the dedication to the cause, the call-to-duty, the patriotism, etc., “Dearest Mother, tomorrow I face my greatest challenge. Defending my country against the evil threatening our very democracy. I pray that God guides my feet and instills bravery in my heart as I meet the deadly foe…” or some such noble prattle. That’s not what these letters contained. Here’s an actual excerpt from my dad writing to his step-dad about serving on Guam (where he guarded Japanese prisoners as well as “important provisions”—like beer and cigarettes):

“There was one other question you asked and that was what I did in my spare time. When I’m not on watch, I’m either sleeping, eating, laying down or sitting down. I’ve given up all forms of exercise except walking and that’s essential. When I first got here, I used to throw the ball around a little, but this climate wasn’t made for that, so I gave it up. It’s really too hot around here to do too much of anything. Don’t misunderstand me ’cause it’s not that I’ve grown lazy, just too much heat.”

My dad’s other letters likewise contained evidence of boredom. He wrote about the tedium of Navy life, exchanged comments about topics pertaining to friends and family back home, and begged for more mail to break up the dull routine. In one letter that made me smile, he asked his mom to find him a lighter because his stopped working (like many of his peers, my dad smoked cigarettes when he was young but fortunately had quit by the time I came along).

Again, I’m not minimizing my dad’s service or anyone of his generation. Harold, my mother-in-law’s partner, was a ball-turret gunner during WWII. He flew 35 combat missions over Germany, so to call him brave would be a serious understatement. Yet, I suspect his letters back home were probably as unassuming as my father’s, simply because that’s the kind of man Harold was. Heroic, yes, but modest and humble. He just did what was required of him at the time. And when it was no longer required of him, he happily went back to farming.

Both my father and Harold had hard childhoods. Both lost their own dads when they were young children. Both grew up in poverty. No doubt, these earlier life challenges helped build within them the resiliency that later served them well in dealing with the challenges of WWII.

And our time is now. We’re all being called upon to help defeat a common threat and to succeed, all of us need to do what is required. There is heroism in that, too, even if all we’re required to do is stay away from each other. By helping each other get through this crisis, we are building our own resiliency. And let’s not overlook the true heroes among us. The healthcare worker in New York City who shows up each day despite not having adequate PPE is no less heroic than Harold flying those combat missions over Germany. These brave, selfless people are serving others despite a very real threat to their health. We all owe them a debt of gratitude, and we certainly owe them the respect of adhering to social-distancing guidelines so we don’t overwhelm (or further overwhelm) our local healthcare systems.

This pandemic got me thinking of my favorite passage from the children’s classic, “A Little Princess,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The main character, Sara Crewe, contemplates whether she is actually a decent person or whether it just appears that way because she’s lived a charmed life and has never had her character tested:

“Things happen to people by accident. A lot of nice accidents have happened to me. It just happened that I always liked lessons and books and could remember things when I learned them. It just happened that I was born with a father who was beautiful and nice and clever and could give me everything I liked. Perhaps I have not really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? I don’t know how shall I ever find out whether I am really a nice child or a horrid one. Perhaps I’m a hideous child, and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials.”

If you’ve read the book, you know that after Sara says this her life becomes rather wretched—testing her in ways she never could have expected. Yet she perseveres in dealing with her new challenges without becoming “horrid” or “hideous.” She discovered—like many of us are learning now—that the only way to build resiliency is by practicing it.

**Yes, that’s how you spell it, Barbigrrrl. 🙂

The coming new year begs a new approach to politics: Can we finally move past 2016 to focus on unity in 2020?

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog about what I thought the Democrats needed to do to defeat Trump. That post was based on my career in marketing and proposed how certain marketing best practices could be employed by the DNC to strengthen their overall campaign against Trump. While writing the post, I knew it was lacking a specific course of action. However, I was interested in gaining feedback from others to further my thinking on the topic. To that end, I pushed the blog out via several channels—LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter—and as of this writing, it’s had over 500 views. (I think this is a solid number, considering it was posted to a brand-new blog I had created—one with no existing followers, SEO or paid marketing behind it.)

FBechoGiven our contentious political climate, I expected lots of push-back from my post, but I didn’t get any comments from Trump supporters. This was disappointing, since I was interested in understanding their perspective. My social following tends to include many like-minded people (what Republicans would call the DNC Echo Chamber), so it’s not surprising that I did hear from numerous liberals. They nearly all agreed with my overall assessment of the situation and expressed a similar feeling of helplessness about how to reason with people who were supporting 45 in light of so much damning evidence against him.EchoChamber

An outsider’s inside view

However, the most interesting exchange I had on the topic was with a good friend of mine who is a 40-something white, male executive. This demographic is much maligned among liberals, but I think it’s an important group to understand because they still hold the most power in this country. I was particularly interested in my friend’s view because 1) He was born/raised outside the US where he experienced being a racial/religious minority firsthand, 2) he’s been in the US for long enough to be very informed about both politics and business and 3) he’s not a citizen, so therefore didn’t vote in the 2016 election. This gives him a uniquely objective viewpoint on what’s happening in our country.

We had a very spirited conversation via text. At one point in our conversation, I texted, “…I have no respect for Trump supporters for backing someone who is 1) so stupid and 2) destroying our democracy by ignoring the Constitution and colluding with foreign powers.”

His response to that really made me think. And truthfully, after reflecting on it overnight, it caused me to reframe the problem I identified in my earlier blog. He responded (paraphrased a bit for clarity), “The difference between you and them is that they also value not having a stupid president. They also value no collusion with foreign governments, they also value the Constitution, but they value all of those things secondary to the other values, like ensuring a conservative court, etc.” His opinion was that I likely had more in common with Trump supporters than I’d like to admit. But because they placed a higher value on certain issues, and then voted based on those priorities, we now found ourselves on opposite sides of a growing chasm.

It seems elementary in hindsight, but this discussion around priorities was really a revelation to me. My friend’s view, that perhaps Trump voters didn’t endorse his full agenda but just one or two key issues that drove their voting, gave me a glimmer of hope that our country may not be as divided as I had previously thought. After all, we all prioritize in that way. In a world with too many problems to solve, we all pick and choose which battles we want to fight. It just seems that when it comes to Republicans and Democrats, we view each other’s choices very differently.

The varying levels of commitment to a cause

Let’s begin by acknowledging that there are multiple ways to support any cause and that each requires a different level of commitment. For example:

  • Vocalizing your support or opposition of an issue in conversations with peers
  • Voting for policies that support certain causes
  • Donating money toward supporting a cause
  • Volunteering time or energy toward supporting a cause
  • Taking action in their personal life related to the cause
1968_022

Young Stormy had many bunny friends, both real and imaginary.

Let’s dive into a specific example—animal rights. Personally, I like animals, both
domestic and wild. I’ve had dogs, bunnies, birds and even a hermit crab for pets. I would never personally intentionally harm an animal and I don’t like for other people to harm animals. Yet, I’ll admit that I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat regularly (as long as it comes from what I consider to be ethical farming practices). At the same time, I’m conflicted about hunting. I don’t personally hunt or like hunting. However, I don’t object to others who hunt (because the deer or duck hunters I know use the meat and it would be hypocritical of me to condemn that when I eat meat myself. However, I am disgusted by trophy hunting, which I classify as strictly killing animals for sport. Yet, while I profess to care about animal welfare, I will readily admit that I don’t regularly donate to animal rights charities because I prioritize other causes ahead of them.

You can see from this example that, although I believe in animal rights, my level of commitment to that cause is all over the place. And while I have friends who are much more dedicated to animal rights than me—they provide foster care for shelter animals and contribute time and money to related charities—I still get along fine with them. That is, they don’t condemn me for my relative lack of support of their cause.

The fact is, it’s human nature to prioritize issues that affect us or our loved ones personally. For example, I have a husband with a disability and a daughter who was adopted and is both gay and Asian. Because these people are precious to me, I tend to prioritize issues around Parkinson’s Disease, adoption, healthcare, minorities, immigrants and LGBTQ people more highly than I do many other equally worthy causes.

GhandiI think we all inherently understand that others have to prioritize their beliefs. You could take any issue Democrats collectively care about: immigration, healthcare, climate change, gun control, etc., and you would find the same varying levels of support and prioritization among voters. For example, it makes sense that the face of climate change, Greta Thunberg, is a 16-year-old activist. Her generation will have to live with devastation that won’t as directly impact your average retiree.

Liberals regularly extend slack to each other about which causes they throw their time and money behind, so long as they are all voting blue.

Yet, as a whole, Democrats don’t grant this same dispensation to Trump voters.

I’ll admit, I am 100% guilty of this. From my anti-Trump perspective, I believed that anyone who voted for Trump agreed with everything he stood for. Even though I personally have never agreed with every issue on either party’s platform but nonetheless have voted in every presidential election since I was 18.

How shared values can diverge in the real world

When my friend pointed out that, in all likelihood, Trump supporters were only concerned with one or two specific issues that they were prioritizing above all others (e.g., a strong economy or adding conservative justices to the Supreme Court), a light bulb went off. If Republic voters weren’t necessarily toeing the whole party line, then maybe there was hope?

I remembered a conversation from last spring when a Republican-voting relative of mine was diagnosed with cancer and debating where to go for treatment. His note included a little slam for his more liberal relatives: “Isn’t healthcare choice wonderful? Single payer? WTH?”

I was taken aback by his attitude, because when my husband had been given a devastating medical diagnosis years before, we had the opposite reaction. We, too, were grateful to have good insurance and choices in how to pursue treatment. But it drove home to us how awful it would be to face a similar diagnosis as one of the 27.9 million nonelderly individuals without health insurance.  

In other words, my relative and I both shared the belief that “good healthcare is important.” However, he prioritized his desire to keep his affordable employer-provided insurance above the right of everyone else to have even a basic level of insurance coverage (assuming that extending insurance to everyone would result in higher costs or decreased options for him personally). Whereas I considered us fortunate to have good employer-provided insurance for my husband—and viewed that as a privilege that shouldn’t come at the cost of others being uninsured—he considered it critical to his personal survival and worth fighting for.

In voting for Trump, Republicans may believe that “the end justifies the means,” while liberals will argue that these same individuals have “sold their soul to the Devil.” However, once I wrapped my head around the idea that most Trump voters probably don’t support everything he stands for, it changed my view of the challenge facing Democrats.

Branding is what other people think, not what “the brand” thinks

Since this started as a conversation about marketing, I want to explain a fundamental principle of branding. That is, a brand only exists in the minds of the public. It’s the sum of everything a person knows about a company: its products, its services and its messaging about itself. Most companies spend lots of money to carefully craft a brand identity that will be embraced by their customers, but ultimately, the consumer is the one who will determine whether they are successful. If the company aligns to its brand in ways that extend beyond the marketing message, chances are good that the public’s perception of the brand will be close to the company’s intention. But if there is inconsistency, the consumer will put more store in the company’s actions—what they know to be true—than in its marketing message.

And the same applies to both Republicans and Democrats.

RefFor example, while Democrats brand themselves as the compassionate party—the ones who are tolerant and care about others—many Republicans reject that branding because it goes against what they have experienced in their conversations at Thanksgiving Dinner or while scrolling through their Facebook feed. They see widespread condemnation of anyone who voted for Trump and consider the Democrat’s self-branding as the caring, tolerant party to be the height of hypocrisy.

Right or wrong, most Americans believe they are “good people”

Psychologists are aware of something called the “self-enhancement effect” which is people’s tendency to rate themselves “above average” when comparing themselves to others. While we generally cast ourselves in a positive light relative to our peers, above all else we believe that we are more just, more trustworthy, more moral than others. Consider the implications of this: If a Republican’s self-concept is that they are NOT racist, greedy or a white nationalist, how do you suppose they will react to the angry remonstrations of their family and acquaintances? In my experience, they will respond with bitter accusations of their own. The least likely reaction is that the Republican will undergo an immediate self-analysis and conclude, “Gee, you’re right. I AM awful for voting for Trump. I’m going to make amends by voting blue in 2020!”

Yet, most Democrats are just so darn angry about the situation our country is in that we WANT to blame everyone who helped put Trump in office. It makes us feel better in the short-term. However, to succeed in defeating Trump, I’m going to suggest another approach. Don’t engage in political discussions that appear to judge someone else’s priorities (even if you vehemently disagree with them). In other words, we need to resist from bashing Trump supporters. Instead, place all of your focus and attention on those who are being marginalized and help uplift them. Flip the conversation so that you’re appealing to your opponent’s self-concept of being a good person. For example, if there’s a new story that triggers your political ire, don’t launch into a diatribe blaming your brother-in-law and the other idiot voters who elected Trump. It might feel good in the moment, but it will only cause those individuals to further entrench themselves in their position. Rather, bring them into the conversation about how we as Americans can help those who are hurting.

We all prioritize our friends and neighbors—what’s happening in our own communities—above the suffering of others. It’s a human coping mechanism that allows us to function despite the many injustices in the world. But it’s also harder to ignore the plight of others when you begin to know them as fellow human beings. So, use that knowledge to get Republicans to see how Trump’s policies are harming others by personalizing the struggles of those who are negatively affected.

bfad022f-c979-422b-ba02-40f15dd94f08-HCG_OnlineAfter all, if we’re going to live in a democratic society, we have to trust in the process. That means sometimes Democratic priorities will move forward and other times Republican priorities will prevail. At the same time, we still have a duty to protect the democratic process—so keep the spotlight on Trump’s impeachable offenses and on the victims of his policies. But do it without implicating or condemning those who—in their minds—were just choosing the lesser of two evils when they voted him into office. Even if you believe they deserve that condemnation, it simply won’t move us toward the end game of getting rid of Trump. So, with the new election year just a couple of short weeks away, we need to ask ourselves: Is it more important to get Trump and his minions out of office or is it more important to “punish” family and acquaintances that voted for him?

I believe that continuing to direct anger at Trump supporters is likely to make things worse for Democrats, not better. And despite my personal feelings on the issue, that’s a chance I’m no longer willing to take. Many recent polls have found that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are troubled by how divisive our country has become, so let’s focus on fixing that problem…together. I believe that a new leader—one who doesn’t thrive off the chaos they’ve created—will naturally emerge as a result of all of us choosing to prioritize kindness and unity in 2020.


Postscript: As a strong believer in personal redemption, I wanted to suggest in this message that reframing the current political situation would allow those reading this to put aside their differences and once again reunite with estranged friends and family members this holiday season (visions of “A Christmas Carol” dancing in my head). However, I think the damage to our country— and to our individual relationships—is deeper than that and will take longer to heal. Still, much like Ebenezer’s nephew who invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner year after year, only to hear “Bah Humbug!” in response, I’ll keep trying. After all, eventually Scrooge said yes!

 God Bless Us Everyone!

 

Too much happy can make you another kind of S.A.D.

I’ve relapsed. It’s Sunday and I’m sitting on my balcony, drinking my morning coffee, lost inside my own thoughts. I’m still in my pajamas at 11 a.m. and it’s exactly what my “condition” calls for.

summer-should-get-a-speeding-ticket-quote-1Most of you have heard of “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (S.A.D.) which Wikipedia defines as “a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in the winter.” Anyone who lives in Minnesota is well-acquainted with this condition and people who live in the South have at least heard of it.

However, there’s a corresponding condition that’s been afflicting me since the days first started growing longer and that’s Seasonal Affective Disorder’s unruly cousin who settles in during the school break—“Summer Anxiety Dysfunction.”

This is brought on by the acute awareness that there are approximately only 15 weekends of potentially beautiful weather in which to pack a year’s worth of summer socializing. People start looking at their calendars in early May to plot potential gatherings: Which weekend should we have the barbecue? Which weekend should we do the pool party? Which weekend do we invite our friends to the cabin? Which weekend do we go boating?

Next, layer in the family commitments: Graduations, weddings, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day—and in my case Lucky’s, Oskar’s and my birthday. Our wedding anniversary (30 years!), my mother turning 90 and ending the summer with my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary.

As if this isn’t complicated enough, there are other events to be considered. Festivals, for example. In Minnesota, there are one or more town/city festivals every weekend, as well as art fairs, beer tastings, outdoor movies/theater/concerts-in-the-park and farmer’s markets.

And if you’ve got kids at home like KitKat, you can add in scheduling around sports tournaments and summer camps.

While these activities are mostly fun and I enjoy them, as an introvert, I reach a point where all the activity is enough to send me to my “quiet place” with a drink in hand.

At this mid-way point in the summer, I’ve already attended the following:

  • Edina Art Fair
  • Graduation open house
  • Stone Arch Bridge Festival
  • Back-to-the-50s car show
  • Shakespeare in the park
  • Fourth of July pool party with friends
  • Several boating outings
  • Cabin weekend with sister
  • More meals on a restaurant patio than I can count
  • Farmer’s market
  • Biking
  • Paddleboarding

And today, if I can motivate myself, I hope to go to:

  • Wine Meets Art at the St. Croix Vineyards
  • a concert and picnic at Lake Harriet

Then, this coming week, I’m looking at:

  • An anniversary dinner w/Oskar
  • Lumberjack Days in Stillwater
  • Yoga in the park
  • Aquatennial fireworks with KitKat

… and I’m still hoping to squeeze in yet this summer:

  • Getting my Vespa out
  • Lumberjack Days
  • Anniversary trip “up north”
  • Girls outing with my relatives
  • Getting KitKat and her hubby out on our boat
  • Uptown Art Fair
  • More paddleboarding
  • More biking
  • Outdoor worship in the park
  • State Fair
  • Renaissance Festival
IMG_3383

My Sweet Ride… Due to circumstances I can’t quite explain, I’ve only ridden this 3x over the last two summers. 😦

Whew! When you combine my weekend activities with a demanding new “day job” you can see why I’m exhausted…which brings me to my current relapse. Last weekend, we took Lucky up to see Blossom and then headed to my sister’s cabin. The girls came out and spent the day with us and there was much boating, tubing, paddling and sunning… After all that activity, I was spent… I. Was. Spent.

Consequently, while dragging myself through  the work week, I couldn’t conjure up one ounce of energy to plan anything for THIS weekend, even though the forecast was for a beautiful couple of days. Yesterday dawned as the nicest Saturday for boating yet, but we didn’t have anyone lined up to go out with us, so Oskar and I just had a lazy outing on our own—we stopped at my brother’s beach and sat in lawn chairs at the edge of the river and soaked in the sun. It was glorious.

Then we came home, had a drink on the balcony and headed out for yet-another dinner on an outdoor patio. Afterward, we came home and watched a movie. It was just what the doctor ordered.

It goes against my Type A nature to occasionally let a summer day drift by in that way, but I don’t want to be so busy planning my summer that I miss enjoying it.IMG_3312

And, in compiling the bulleted lists above, it’s clear that I’m pretty blessed and have a lot of fun things to look forward to—should I choose to do them. But I also know that if I call a time-out to regroup, that’s okay, too. Sometimes a little laziness is good for what ails you.

What got you here, won’t get you there…

In my last blog, I mentioned that I had started a new job and referenced a quote my daughter had sent me. In part, it said, “Let go of the idea that you must always be who you have always been.” When I read that again today, it stuck me as interesting, because it’s directly tied to the title of this post.

Incidentally, the latter is the title of a book by Marshall Goldsmith. I suspect it’s a good book, but I will confess that I usually only read the cover fly and first chapter of business books. I can usually distill the key message from that (“Who Moved My Cheese?” = People don’t like change. Boom! Done.) And then I move on to something else.

(Incidentally, several people have made a business out of that very skill. I should have capitalized on that sooner.)

The premise of the book from which I took my title is basically referencing the Peter Principle. The fact that you may have had solid skills that contributed to your success at one level in your career may become irrelevant as you move up the next rung on the ladder. I was explaining this concept to a former employee when I left my last position, and the truth of it has smacked me in the face multiple times since I started in my new role.

She’s come undone
She didn’t know what she was headed for
And when I found what she was headed for
It was too late
It’s too late
She’s gone too far
She’s lost the sun
She’s come undone
Undun –  The Guess Who

I’ve been in Marketing for ages, and I’ve led marketing teams and have been the lead marketer in the organization—all at previous companies. But each of those instances evolved over time so I knew solidly what I was doing.

With my new job, I became the lead of an existing (and somewhat dysfunctional) system. Lots of new people in a matrixed organization. I love the company. The people are friendly and competent, but the company itself is in a growth-plus-plus-plus mode in a booming industry, and all of that adds up to a very frenetic pace and high expectations that I am struggling to adjust to.

Let me be clear, here, I have never been a laid-back coworker. You can ask KitKat or any of my former colleagues, I work very hard and intensely with little time for chit-chat around the water cooler. I usually skip lunch or grab a handful of nuts while reviewing something. That’s my natural work mode, and although I’ve sometimes been criticized for not being “social” enough, it’s worked well for me. When I shut down from working, I’m usually able to turn it all off and enjoy the other aspects of my life.

When I started my new role, there was a several month backlog of work to be done and a couple of years’ worth of unmet expectations on top of that. I’ve been challenged to get on top of things and get some functioning processes in place. None of the marketing tasks themselves have challenged me—after nearly 30 years, I should know what I’m doing—but the politics, expectations and lack of resources are much harder to navigate. Consequently, my work days are even more intense (to the point where I haven’t taken a lunch break since I started and am afraid to schedule an overdue doctor’s appointment due to it messing up my work week). And I never shut off. Evenings and weekends, I’m either working or worrying about work. It’s not healthy and I know it’s not sustainable.

KitKat has been a tremendous help in reminding me that I’m still new and will get things under control once I better understand the company and its people. But I still have moments of despair where I worry that I’ve made a terrible mistake. KitKat’s in a similar boat, but with school-age kids that need to be factored in to the picture as well. I admire her ability to carve out little moments for recharging with her friends.

UndoneThe situation actually reminds me of a post KitKat authored at one point, “Learning to Live in the Maybe”…although that’s not the lesson before me. My lesson is “Learning to Live with the Undone.”

This is not an easy thing for a Type A control freak. Marketing by nature is a discipline where you are never “done”…. Your work is only limited by your imagination and skill and time—not dollars and people. You can always crank out another social media post or write another case study. Even an organization with ZERO budget can do SOME marketing if they have a clever enough staff. That’s why I have always been attracted to it and I’ve always been okay that there was more I could be doing. But that’s different than leaving IMPORTANT things UNDONE. And that’s what I need to embrace now.

In my new role, I need to focus on getting the CRITICAL things done and anything else is gravy. I also need to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can and “happiness matters.”

I had often thought about this comment with respect to President Obama (not our current Commander in Cheeto, who I believe has no real regard for the importance of the office). I always thought that it would be challenging to be the President, with so much at stake and so many issues to work on and to be able to enforce ANY type of work/life balance. I admired the way that Obama was able to be such an effective president without sacrificing his health or family (although, like most presidents, he left office with considerably more gray hair). And I’ll extend this admiration to other past leaders from both parties—men who, I believe, were dedicated to doing what they think was best for our country, even if I may have disagreed with them on individual policy decisions from time to time. It’s a tough gig.

worklifeNow, I don’t have the responsibility of the Free World on my shoulders (although I’m sure I could do a better job of it than the Cheeto), but for me and my world, it’s a similar balancing act. Will I rise to the occasion or let it bury me? What got me here won’t get me there—I need a new set of skills. I need to develop them and see what I’m made of. I still have confidence that I can do that, but I need the support of KitKat, my family and others to remind me that if I’m doing my best, that’s pretty damn good—and I deserve to take a day off once in a while.

We’ll see what the future holds—I hope the next time I write you about work I’ll have a better handle on my work/life balance, but I know that’s easier said than done.

 

 

 

 

 

Stormy rises from the ashes of her own expectations

When KitKat and I launched this blog four years ago, we decided on a posting cadence of biweekly, thinking that between the two of us, we could manage an update to this blog once a week. We met that goal for the first six months and it’s been downhill ever since.

We’re more than two months into the new year and I have yet to post my annual “New Year’s” post, brimming with optimism and resolve. Never fear, I HAVE made a few resolutions and have actually made a fairly drastic change in one aspect of my life: I’ve started a new job that is consuming my thoughts and free time.

This was a big deal for me. When I started at my last job, after leaving the company that KitKat and I worked at together, I thought I would stay there until I retire. With my husband’s Parkinson’s Disease, I was anticipating the need for a flexible work arrangement at some point as his condition required me to provide more assistance. I thought that by building some job equity with my company that they would be willing to work with me on a flexible arrangement when that time came. However, when Oskar’s surgery transformed our daily lives by giving us back his mobility, I realized that I had other options. Although I liked my coworkers and my job (well, most of them, most of the time), there was limited opportunity for me to advance.dreams_dont_scare

Early this year, I accepted a new job. The company and my role are interesting and I’m enjoying it (although fully aware I’m in the “honeymoon period”). But the best part about making the switch was remembering that it’s never too late to make a change. After interviewing, I felt a bit nervous—everything sounded good about the position, but it meant going from a comfortable situation where I knew what I was doing to something unknown. And that scared me a little. Then I decided if I was a bit scared, that was a sign that I should rise to the challenge and accept the job. And KitKat had bravely made a job change a few months earlier and encouraged me to make the leap. So I did.

The day I started, my daughter Lucky sent me a quote from her aunt’s Facebook wall, it read:

“There is no statute of limitations on starting over. Re-invent yourself every day. Be the girl who walks barefoot and listens to the blues. Tomorrow, wear a trench coat and speak fierce truths. Be a phoenix. Be ashes. Burn down. Resurrect. Let go of the idea that you must always be who you have always been.”

Then she added, “You’re about to rise from the ashes…” 😉

I loved that because I needed the reminder—and I loved that my daughter sees me as someone who can continue to evolve and grow, even at my “advanced age” (wink). I think, ultimately, that’s the theme of this blog: KitKat and I reminding ourselves—and each other—that we can be whomever we choose and strive to be our best, truest version of ourselves, regardless of the other claims on us…by our families, our jobs and society as a whole. And encouraging others to be their best, truest selves.

That’s what I want for my children, and that’s what I want for myself. And even though it’s sometimes “easier said than done,” it’s ultimately worth it.

 

 

Our 100th post proves blogging is Easier Said Than Done…

Well, 2016 has been a surprising (for lack of a better term) year in general. We have faced heated controversy: Trump, Clinton, Standing Rock. We said goodbye to icons: Prince,  George Michaels, Carrie Fisher…followed the next day by her mom, Debbie Reynolds! International chaos: Brexit, Russia, Aleppo. Admittedly for many topics, I only know the quick blurbs I get out of my morning Skimm. But at least I can walk into the office and not be totally unaware of the day’s buzz. (Past years, I would avoid discussions till I had time to Google whatever current event was being discussed.) When the Things We Skimm’d in 2016 came out this year, I was proud I actually knew about each one. Thank you to my other crazy, busy friends who suggested the Skimm cheat.
There was another surprising 2016 tidbit—Stormy and I end this year with our 100th blog! Stormy is probably a bit nervous right now if we will hit this goal, as I wait till the 11th hour to get this out. Next time she starts a blog, she may want to choose her blog partner more carefully. Perhaps a retiree, or at least ensure it is someone who can at least manage to find time to read the news as a prerequisite. But now that she is tied to me and we are celebrating our 100th together, I want to share my blogging reflections.
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I am glad Stormy chose me. Corny as it sounds this blog has done a lot for me. It has served as self-help when I need it. I never journaled, though I believe in the idea of writing things you are grateful for or to self-reflect on your feelings. There just wasn’t time or motivation.This is my journal. Also, looking through these posts I realized I captured lots of moments in time and a lot of small memories that would have otherwise been fleeting.
 I do have an attention span. Four years may be the longest activity I ever took up. Usually my big ideas die after a few weeks or months. I have had a lot of stop and starts. Jewelry making. Writing a children’s book. Running. Selling toe rings. (actually a different phase than jewelry making). Hockey for me may also be trending into this pile.
I need to write as I am feeling it. My biggest struggle is having the time to write when a topic comes to my head. I have a lot of started blogs, where I jot down ideas but by the time I can take the time to sit and write it isn’t with me anymore. I am for sure a write-in-the-moment gal (and prefer when I can be a live-in-the-moment gal too). When I tell Stormy I have planned time to write, she never gets a thing. When I do, she usually gets a surprise text that I have one ready to post!
I can’t pick my favorite blog. I would say I still love reading about the “Bloggers.” Maybe because it is when it started and speaks to both of our personalities. I always look forward to new ones from Stormy. Usually I know some of her tendencies and they make me laugh (belly buttons and big bird) and I also usually learn something new. If forced to pick, maybe our joint ones like “True Confessions” on parenting. The joint ones illustrate what this blog is about and started for. Stormy and I sharing and supporting each other through the good and bad. We decided that it made us feel good to know we weren’t alone in being quirky and a bit messed up, maybe we would share our random thoughts online in case they connected with others.
I look forward to what will ignite next year’s posts.  My hope for the new year is to start making time to get back to posting more. I am getting more settled into my new job and hope to find my rhythm again. My posts are often inspired by moments with my friends and family. I can’t wait to see where 2017 takes us.
Cheers Stormy! I look forward to hitting our next milestone, as well as the laughs, cries, talks, drinks and chaos we share and write about until then.

Stormy looks back…

Back in the fall of 2012, I was toying with the idea of doing a blog. I had been thinking about it for several years because I like to write, but I was having trouble committing to a theme—and I knew I would have trouble committing to a schedule. I floated the idea by KitKat thinking a partner might help keep me accountable (and, as former colleagues, I knew her writing and work habits). I was actually a bit surprised when she seemed receptive to the idea. After all, my kids were mostly grown, but her children were in elementary school and her free time was (and still is) very scarce.

We spent a bit of time trying to determine what our theme should be (and as you can tell, it’s a pretty loose one) and tossing out some ideas for topics, a blog name and our nom de plumes. We decided that we’d try to follow a schedule of us each posting every-other-week. This would require us each to post twice a month—a rhythm we thought was achievable. We launched our blog with the new year in January of 2013.

68194-ben-franklin-quote-writingIn the four years since then, I’ve learned a lot—about writing, myself and KitKat. First of all, the writing. I’ve always liked to write and often thought that—as someone who liked to write—my goal would be to write a novel someday. After a couple of quickly failed attempts at that, I realized I do NOT have a novel living inside me. It’s simply not there. While I usually have a couple of impassioned rants lurking in my soul, there’s not a novel to be found. In fact, there may actually be a non-fiction book lurking in there somewhere—the jury is still out on that one—but definitely no novel. And that’s good to know. Therefore, the blog perfectly fulfills my current need for written self-expression without any larger purpose looming in the shadows.

I’ve learned a bit about blogging. This one is admittedly pretty rudimentary, but we are using the free WordPress option. I recently upgraded to a business account (Look ma, no more ads!), so you may see a few more bells and whistles on here in the months ahead. As a marketer, it’s helped me to understand the medium in a way that simply reading them wouldn’t do.

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Stormy’s Christmas present from her daughter Lucky.

Blogging as a means of global understanding. One of the fun surprises of our blog is seeing just how far our readership extends. We have readers in 54 countries—some of them countries I haven’t even heard of! I can’t help but wonder if they have actually read one of our posts—or stumbled on our blog by mistake. I like to think it’s the former, probably accompanied by a shaking of their head in disbelief about those crazy Americans.

My favorite blog: KitKat’s. KitKat and I have been friends for quite a while, but I still learn new things about her via her blog. For example, who would have guessed about her freakish cushion-equity obsession? At the same time, we’ve both discovered that sometimes the things that are weighing most heavily on our minds are the topics we can’t constructively write about. But whatever can’t be written can usually be hashed out over a walk or a drink (and thanks to our new Christmas bottle keepers, we can do both at once). My favorite blog of hers was probably the note to her daughter’s other two moms. Since we’re both parents of both adopted and biological kids, that’s a unique bond we share.

My favorite blog of my own. Occasionally, I’ll be looking to link to a previous post and stumble upon something I forgot I had written. It nearly always makes me laugh to remember whatever it was that moved me enough to make a post out of it. Some of them are pretty trivial, but I’m proud of others and find nearly all of them interesting in the journaling sense that KitKat mentioned—they allow me to relive a moment in time. I particularly like the New Year’s posts because they show so much optimism for the future. (Although it’s a little depressing to realize that I haven’t progressed much in all of my self-improvement efforts!) I’m sure the next time you hear from me, it’ll be about my latest attempts at perfection. 🙂

As my co-blogger mentioned, I too am better at coming up with ideas and starting things than following through. I’m equally surprised (yet delighted) that we’ve managed to keep it together for four years. That’s longer than many of the jobs we’ve both held! Most of all, I’ve enjoyed tackling this project together with KitKat who, despite her occasional episodes of writer’s block, is an excellent parter in crime. I’m excited to see what we come up with in Year Five.

We did it—100! Happy New Year’s to all our readers (or those who happened to accidentally land here) worldwide.  We hope you stick around for #101.

A Christmas wish for a better 2017

I’ve been thinking about two of my favorite Christmas movies during this uncertain post-election season. Now, it’s no secret that neither KitKat nor I were rooting for our President-Elect to win. In fact, we were both plunged into a depression that required a fair amount of co-counseling—and wine—to overcome. While neither of us is resigned to a Trump presidency, we realize that we need to find a way to cope during the next four years and this post is my attempt at that.

KitKat and I are both members of the not-so-secret secret group, “Pantsuit Nation,” that’s comprised of Hillary supporters (or at least, non-Trump supporters). And in the days since the election, it’s been interesting to note that a shared conviction that Trumplethinskin is a narcissistic, evil Cheeto doesn’t necessarily mean that those who oppose him are lockstep in all of their viewpoints. There has been a fair amount of finger-pointing, liberal angst, fear and—alongside the shame and blame—also some impressive conviction and positivity.

Which brings me to my two favorite Christmas movies… These are Frank Capra’s masterpiece, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the musical “Scrooge,” based on Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

The first time I saw “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I was 21. I was at a party on Christmas Eve and sat riveted to the TV. This was partially due to my introvert nature, but also because of the movie itself—I was entranced by Jimmy Stewart’s performance. I still watch it every year and love the quirkiness of the plot: The bravery and loyalty of young George Bailey. The sauciness of Mary Hatch. The unbelievable engineering of a retractable dance floor in a high school in the 1920s. The integrity of a grown George Bailey who turns down an impressive salary from the film’s villain (but still holds onto the high-quality cigar given to him by the same)… I love George Bailey because to me he represents the millions of decent people who do the right thing day after day with no expectation of reward or fame.

However, I think the most remarkable thing about the film is the fact that—in a very un-Hollywood-like twist—the villain never gets his come-uppance! In the movie, dastardly Old Man Potter nearly gets George sent to prison for embezzlement—and although George is saved by the contributions of his many friends at the end of the film, there is no indication that Potter is ever identified as the culprit who took the missing money. There’s no denouement where Potter is indicted and sent to Sing Sing. To the contrary, we’re led to believe that he remains unrepentant, despite George’s tribulations, and life in Bedford Falls goes on much like before. Except with a renewed outlook for George Bailey.

And for some odd reason, I like that. I guess because it smacks of reality. The lesson here isn’t to do good because some day “the bad guys will get theirs.” It’s merely to do good for the sake of being good. And this brings me back to the “Pantsuit Nation.” There are numerous posts by people who have encountered hatred and prejudice merely for being themselves—black, gay, Muslim, women—and they’ve turned around and responded with love and forgiveness: The father and son who shoveled their racist neighbor’s driveway. The woman who bought coffee for the homophobe behind her at Starbuck’s. And dozens more examples of people responding to hatred with love. And in a country where the haters seem more emboldened than ever, this is what keeps me going. This is what gives me hope.

My other holiday favorite, “Scrooge,” appeals to me for a completely different reason. Everyone knows the story: Over the course of his visits from three ghosts, a crotchety old miser comes to the realization that he’s been living his life all wrong. Redemption is a powerful thing and none of us are beyond the need for it. But to me the best part of the movie isn’t the fact that Scrooge has a change of heart—it’s how readily his acquaintances accept and celebrate his new-found enlightenment. They don’t say, “Screw you, Ebenezer—I’m not going to forgive the time you charged me 20% on that loan!” Instead, they all embrace the new-and-improved, forgiving, kinder Scrooge and rejoice in his better-late-than-never humanity.

If our country could internalize these two lessons, it would be a game changer:

  • Combat hatred with kindness—everywhere you see it. There is nothing that will disarm a hater more quickly than being responded to with love.
  • Readily accept any person’s attempts to be “better,” whether they are seeking to understand another’s viewpoints or making a small gesture of reconciliation—accept it graciously.1970-song-tiny-tim

I’m not suggesting that we ignore or discount acts of hatred, prejudice or violence… It’s very important that we acknowledge these for what they are, but don’t let them be the last word. Let the last word be love.

God bless us, everyone!*

* Note: There is no disclaimer here. “Everyone” means everyone.