Category Archives: Work/careers

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.

 

 

Stormy & KitKat for office? That’s just the ticket!

Someone recently posted on my Facebook page, “Stormy for President! I’d vote for you…” This made me laugh because I view politics as a necessary evil and generally identify as an Independent. I usually have very little to say on the topic and have only been opinionated this year because a madman is in the race. However, the post got me to thinking: “If I were running for president, what would my platform be? What are my beliefs and how do they define me?”

True to my apolitical roots, I’m going to stay away from foreign policy, gun control, and economics (although I have opinions on all of the above) and, as I’m running an honest, transparent campaign, I’m going to tell you what I really believe.*

It’s never too late – Maybe I’ve watched Scrooge too many times, but I honestly believe that everyone has the capacity to change—and at any time—so long as they want to. I keep hoping that will be the case with my 89-year-old mother, but I’m trying to balance that by having no expectations that she actually will change. That’s a tricky balance.

Find a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck – I never walk past a penny on the ground without stopping to pick it up. It’s not that Stormy is cheap, but she is thrifty. At one time lack of finances was a very real issue for me, so I like to remind myself how far I’ve come and remember that it still is an issue for many others. Even if I’m blessed with a comfortable lifestyle, I never want to discount money’s worth—even if it’s a lowly penny—out of respect for those who must save every cent.

He who hesitates…is going to have to wait for me – I adhere to the rules of the road (in most cases) but if we come to a stop sign and you don’t go when it’s your turn, I’m not going to sit around waiting for you. I’m going.

moto_jacket

This jacket actually has Stormy looking forward to cooler weather…

Smart people buy used – There are people out there who think buying used is for “poor people” and won’t purchase anything that’s not in the original packaging. Poppycock. You get way more for your money buying certain items used (cars, clothes, everyday dishes and glasses). I’ve admitted to being a bit of a clotheshorse, but people don’t realize how much I purchase secondhand: Like my cashmere sweaterdress from Neiman Marcus, the Missoni dress I wore to my niece’s wedding reception or my new favorite: The black leather moto jacket I bought from ThredUp. The best thing about buying consignment clothes is you get a preview into how well they will hold up and can get high-quality threads for knock-off prices.

If you’re having a terrible day, end it – No, I’m not advocating suicide…just an earlier bedtime. Occasionally, despite our best efforts, some days just suck more than others…but getting a good night’s sleep can improve your whole perspective.

If you’re having lots of terrible days, do something about it – If your circumstances are making you miserable, change them. Oftentimes, the biggest hurdle standing between you and a positive change is your own attitude. Maybe you can’t make a wholesale life change (like quitting your job) immediately, but you can take steps toward change (like updating your resume or brushing up on a skill that will make you more marketable). If you absolutely cannot deal with your circumstances OR if your life is good but you’re still miserable for some unidentifiable reason, PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP.

All things in moderation – Fanatics (of any type) scare the shit out of me, so I stay away from environments that encourage fanaticism (sports play-offs, political rallies). I also try to understand both sides of an issue, because there are very few situations that are as black and white as they first appear. But I’ve found that this moderate approach works for other things as well. Dieting? If you deny yourself your favorite foods, it’s probably just a matter of time before you fall off the wagon. If you satisfy those cravings with a moderate amount of chips (or whatever) on occasion, it may take a little longer to lose the weight, but you’ll be more likely to stick with your overall eating plan.

Big changes start with small steps – There’s power in motion and sometimes great achievements are made through lots of little mundane steps. When I was working toward my bachelor’s degree, I was married and raising small children, while also working part-time. Progress was slow, but 11 years later, I had a degree. That success also led me to earning an MBA a decade later…(Thankfully, it didn’t take a decade to earn that one!) The habits-quotespoint is, those achievements were the accumulation of MANY mundane steps, but by sticking with them and keeping my eye on the finish line, I got there. This same principle can be applied to so many things. As Woody Allen said, “80% of success is showing up.”

How about you, KitKat? What does your “platform” look like? (And no, I’m not talking about shoes…)

KitKat Weighs in…

It’s KitKat, remember me? I have been a bit quiet as I adjust to a new job while balancing my normal chaotic family schedule. But, there is nothing like a political debate to pull me out of the shadows. Having divorced parents on two opposite sides of the spectrum, I have grown up listening to opinions shared with extreme passion. I learned that it is ok to express your beliefs, and a good family debate is sometimes a great way to firm up your own convictions and even counts as quality family time.

Though I found Stormy’s expressed beliefs undebatable (including the madman), I thought I better add mine to the ballot. Who knows, she may ask me to be her running mate!

Share the real things – I love seeing everyone’s photos documenting all the bests, but don’t forget to share the other real things too. Friends, acquaintances and even random bloggers, who have opened up or provided self-deprecating humor about struggles with kids, marriage, or other life issues have helped me in ways they will never know. Hey, it is nice to learn you’re not a freak with weird thoughts and emotions that no one else could imagine. It’s not about a bitch sessions. It’s just about being real. Otherwise, we all would just see the snippets from Facebook and wonder why our lives aren’t always made up of countless shiny moments like everyone else.

IMG_5681

KitKat shakes things up by taking her fear of flying on a seaplane in Seattle

Shake things up Try new things, learn new skills, meet new people and make different mistakes. Sometimes my risks are bigger like quitting a safe corporate job to join a start up and sometimes it is as simple as changing my hair color. Shaking things up keeps me awake. “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Keep moving – Sometimes you just can’t fix a rough day or bad situation, but just physically moving will help get you out of the wallow of self-pity. Twisting your body into different yoga poses. Taking a walk outside. Or my personal favorite: turning on music and dancing. No, it may not fix anything,  but it provides a momentary escape from a really crappy day.

(This may sound like a contradiction to Stormy’s “end it” advice but think of it as an alternative to those of us who don’t have the luxury to go to bed early. Stormy and I support all lifestyles.)

Your life isn’t all your own – There are many great readings on how to be happy and do what is right for you. I devour these when I see the posts. Who doesn’t want to grow old knowing they were fulfilled in every way? But the real truth is life isn’t all about you. There are friends, family, kids and even strangers who also count. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices or do things for others that may mean giving up some more selfish choices. Your life is part of a community. People who are there to share in the highs, and pick you up from the lows. Your peeps, those you know or will know, are part of your life and decisions. And that is ok—you need them!

IMG_5593

You never know what kind of a fairy you may encounter!

Let children believe – Soon enough we learn fairy tales don’t always have happy endings. But let them discover that themselves. So at my house Santa and the Easter Bunny are real, or at least nothing any of us question aloud, so they will keep visiting. And of course I was a fairy in my 20s with all kinds of mystical stories to share with my daughter whose deepest wish is to also become one. And, I am going to let my son think he has a solid career plan, being that if he doesn’t get recruited by the NHL or MBL, he came up with the fallback job of  being a pro-sports lawyer. No reason to crush his dreams with realistic expectations at 13. Plus, it is fun to hear all the things he is going to buy me when he is rich and famous. Let children believe in the whatever after. I find that going along with their imaginations lets me believe a bit in magic and wish bigger too.

Words count – Words hurt, much more than sticks and stones. The things we are told stick with us. Some of the comments told to us out of anger or disappointment, haunt us later. You may be surprised how much someone held on to words you forgot you spoke. It is ok to be honest and tell people the truth. I advocate for not being passive-aggressive and as I mentioned above, being real. The hard part is to remember to also go back and share when you don’t feel that way anymore or when they have made amends. Words also have power to heal. (This is something I am trying to remember in dealing with my own kids—especially navigating around a temperamental pre-teen.)

Arguing is ok – Simply put, if I am not willing to argue with you, that’s when you know something is wrong. There is passion in caring.

Embrace everything that has shaped youEveryone has made some choices that they may go about differently given the chance. But it’s not just “right” choices that form the better you. Sometimes it’s the other paths where you learn the most. I may not want my children making some of the choices I did, but I hope they safely make it through some unchartered journeys. Instead of living in a cloud of regret, remember the things gained or experiences had. The skeletons in your closet are also your treasure chest of memories and learnings. For example, the R-rated job I took up in college; sorry Mom and Dad but I am still glad I was dumb enough to make that bad choice. Love all of your story—it is what makes you interesting.

Some things are best left alone – As much as I stand for trying new things and always improving, sometimes we need to realize when we already have something good and just leave it alone. For example, take Swedish Fish Oreos. How could someone take one of the best candies, which I will eat until my teeth actually hurt, and combine it with a favorite classic childhood cookie. You took two greats and transformed it into an awful. Another example is taking a yummy piece of bread and then dipping it in a bowl of creamy tomato bisque. Now you just created wet, and pinkish, bread—gag! (I loved those hot lunch trays in elementary school that kept my foods separate.) Basically, don’t ruin a good thing when you have it.

What do you say, Stormy? Should we throw our hats in the ring? The way most Americans feel about their choices this year, we may actually stand a chance. 🙂

*This list was inspired by another blogger whose work Stormy admires. See the original post here.

2016: Stormy’s year to “Choose Different”

New Year’s and its related resolutions are a perennial theme for KitKat and me. (YES, we’ve been doing the blog long enough now to have “perennial themes”—and the fact that this blog started out as a resolution proves my point, I think…)

From vision boards to attitude adjustments, we’re both a bit obsessed with self-improvement. Or at least identifying our shortcomings on a regular basis (ha, ha). Seriously, with how much I think about these things, I should be perfect by now. But as you probably realize, thinking and doing are two different things.

While I can be decisive and even a little impulsive, and I sometimes abandon my efforts when they don’t yield immediate results, I’m also a big believer in adopting the approach of the tortoise over the hare—slow and steady wins the race—and over time, small incremental changes can have a large impact on my life. Case in point: the bachelor’s degree that took me 11 years to earn.

Most of the time, it’s just about the choices you make.

Back when KitKat and I worked together, I had a 2 p.m. pop habit. (I suppose I should explained to some of our unenlightened readers that “pop,” not “soda,” is the proper nickname for carbonated beverages like Pepsi, or in my case, Diet Coke.) Each workday at 2 p.m., I’d saunter down to the break room and stick my two quarters in our company-subsidized (boy, in those days we were livin’ large!) vending machine. You could almost set your clock by my daily pilgrimage.

diet coke imagesWhen I left that job, I was unemployed for a while and quickly got over the need for my 2 p.m. caffeine jolt. However, on my first day with my current employer, I found myself in the breakroom at 2 p.m., dollar bill in hand (no subsidized vending machine there!) and as I was about to slide my money into the slot, I asked myself, “What am I doing?” Here I had successfully broken myself of a habit that was unhealthy and I nearly resumed it based on…what? A habit? A memory? I made a conscious decision NOT to buy the pop and have consumed very little since then—about 10 cans a year vs. the previous 60 or so.

GR_headerbooksThis remembrance inspired my resolution for 2016. What could I accomplish by simply making different choices? I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before” about the process of creating and breaking habits—if you’re a self-improvement junkie it’s a must-read. Around the holidays I received her e-newsletter, which included an article about choosing a New Year’s theme instead of a resolution. This theme would consist of a word (or words) that would guide decisions for the upcoming year: “Health,” for example, or “Learn.”

As someone with new-found time on my hands after our recent downsizing, I wanted to get in touch with activities I wasn’t able to pursue when I was taking care of a house and three kids, so I originally was going to make “Discover” my theme for 2016. Then I realized that word wasn’t broad enough to encompass the other changes I wanted to incorporate into the year ahead, so I revised my theme to “Choose Different.” This has a few meanings for me: One is synonymous with “Discover”—because I still want to explore new interests. But “Choose Different” also reminds me to challenge my dysfunctional thinking patterns and alter behaviors that haven’t been serving me well.

Apple

Srsly? I chose a variation of an old Apple slogan for my New Year’s theme? How derivative!

We’re only three weeks in, but so far it’s yielding some positive results. One change I made was to force myself to be less of an introvert at work. It’s something I’ve told myself I needed to do a dozen times before, but a 360 review coupled with a tongue-lashing by a coworker friend convinced me I needed to make a change. Well, it hasn’t killed me and it IS improving some relationships at work, so I’ll keep plugging along until it feels natural. There are other examples as well, and I’m curious to see where this theme might take me in 2016. I guess that is one of the benefits of getting to 50. I can see the horizon ahead and know that even if I don’t get to my self-actualized destination overnight, I can become a better version of myself along the way…simply by making smarter choices most of the time. Are you making any changes in the new year? Please share in the comments…

A Charity Case or a Case for Charity?

It’s a bad sign when KitKat asks me, “…any blog ideas?” which happened just this morning. If you look back at our postings, you can see that the longer gaps between posts are when we’re waiting on KitKat. Of course, this is justifiable because she has school-age kids and other obligations that keep her very busy. I have way more time to write. Usually, KitKat’s thrilled to have the blog-ball in my court because it gives her more time to work on her next post. But even she can tell I’m in a serious drought—and when she starts gently prodding me, I know it’s time to settle on a topic and get to work.

It’s not that life has been boring. On the contrary, there have been a lot of serious issues consuming my thoughts lately. However, both KitKat and I have noticed that the more something is on our mind, the harder it is to organize our thoughts on the topic and write about it. Consequently, you’re not going to hear about my challenges with my parents (although I’m sure that will be a future topic), or my thoughts on the recent terrorist activity in Paris (my brain will never be able to organize such a cowardly, inhumane act into a coherent post).

Paris_attack

There’s plenty of fodder for a blog post in this situation, but I can’t eloquently articulate this level of evil… I don’t think anyone can.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an introvert and the worst part about that is it it’s easy for negativity to get stuck inside my head. That’s what’s been happening lately, and I know what I need to do in order to counter that: Turn negative inward thoughts into positive outward actions.

For the last couple of years, ever since my youngest flew the nest, I’ve been aware of a lack of purpose in my life. Raising three kids has been my primary activity for the last 26 years and now that they are largely independent, I’ve felt a void. I’ve been seeking out a volunteer opportunity where I could feel like I was doing something worthwhile and after a couple of false starts, joined a program that provides mentors to unemployed/underemployed women.

My first mentee match was unusual, to say the least. I looked up my match on LinkedIn before meeting her—a native of Zimbabwe, spoke multiple languages, won several scholarships, was working on an advanced degree, had previously been Miss Africa, and had started a couple of businesses and non-profits. I met her and we had a great conversation; however, I wasn’t sure how much I could help her. She was a force to be reckoned with and it was clear she would go far in life. In fact, she made me feel a bit inadequate about my own achievements: I had done far less with far more. We tried to coordinate our mentoring sessions but she had too much going on in her life to meet with me. (She was interested in public policy and had been chosen for an internship with the United Nations—seriously!) So while I was happy to have met such an ambitious young woman, I didn’t get much personal satisfaction from “helping” her.

Enter Ellen, my second match via the mentoring program. As with my previous match, I tried looking her up on LinkedIn beforehand, but there was no profile to be found. We met at a coffee shop. I was surprised to see that she was older than me. And then she told me her story. Her first son had died quickly of a brain tumor at the age of four and that sent her into an emotional tailspin (which anyone who’s a mother can understand). She became divorced and later became pregnant and had another son. She never married the boy’s father but supported him by cleaning houses. (After losing her first child, she wanted to make sure her schedule allowed her to be there for her son, as caring for him was her top priority.) Now her son had graduated from high school and she wanted to find a better paying job with benefits so she could start saving money for retirement.

floppy-disk-iconNow here was someone I could help. We talked about how to translate the skills gained from her house-cleaning business into marketable experience—managing a staff, scheduling, selling her own cleaning products. We talked about online applicant tracking systems and how to best present your information to potential employers. (When I suggested that in addition to completing the online application, she also should attach a PDF of a nicely formatted version of her resume, she asked, “You mean put it on a floppy disk?” That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me.)

volunteerAt our next meeting, she excitedly told me about a job interview she had the next day. I told her what I knew about the company and helped her research the position online. I gave her tips on what to do/not do during the interview and stressed the importance of sending a thank you note afterward. Driving home, I thought about how the mentor/mentee relationship was benefitting both of us. Although I have been frustrated with my job of late, from Ellen’s perspective I was living the glamorous life—a well-paying job, an experienced team, global responsibility, fulfilling work—and I was reminded how fortunate I am to have all those things.

Meanwhile, I realized that the value I was bringing to Ellen wasn’t in the employment-seeking pearls of wisdom I was bestowing on her (those could be found in any job-hunting book), but in the faith and encouragement I was bringing her: From my vantage point, she was a strong woman who had overcome a lot of challenges and was willing to work hard. I believed in her success, but she needed encouragement.

At one point she said to me, “There’s no dignity in being a housecleaner” and I immediately disagreed: “You provided for you and your son by doing honest, hard work—there’s plenty of dignity in that!” And hearing it from me, she started to believe it as well.cleaning supplies

I’m happy to report that Ellen got the job for which she was interviewing. While it’s starting at the bottom of the company and her shift begins at 3 a.m., she was thrilled to have benefits and hopes to work her way up to a customer service job with regular hours. With some help and support, I have no doubt she’ll get there.

And I gained something from the mentorship as well. I learned that getting out of my own head for a while is as restorative as any vacation—not to mention cheaper—and what I take for granted can make a difference for someone else.

Do clothes make the (wo)man? Let’s choose substance over style.

I recently came across a post on Facebook that I thought was interesting. A male newscaster wore a particular blue suit for a whole year to see if viewers would notice. Apparently, his female counterparts received fashion “advice” on a regular basis and he wanted to conduct an experiment on sexism and see whether it would register with viewers that he was wearing the same suit every day. Nobody noticed. I shared this on my wall and it caught the eye of my daughter Lucky, an outspoken feminist, as well as another friend who enjoys controversial debates. His comment, “A statement of equality. No men or women noticed.”

hey-girl-feminismI laughed at Mike’s smart-ass reply, but he raised a good point. It’s true that viewers routinely critiqued the women newscasters’ clothing, hair and make-up. But guess who was dishing out the criticism? Only the women viewers.

Why do we do this to each other? I’ve confessed to being a bit of a clothes horse myself and Lord knows I’m not perfect. I’ll admit that catty judgments on newscasters’ fashion choices have crossed my lips. But to be fair, I make equal-opportunity criticisms (“He needs a haircut.” “Look at that tie!”) and I’ve never been under the delusion that my opinion on their personal style reflects their ability to report the news in any way, and it would never enter my mind to send in a letter “correcting” their choices.

One woman who has received more than her fair share of fashion critiques is also one of the most accomplished women in our country: Hillary Clinton. A couple of years back, she created a small media firestorm over the fact that she appeared in public with glasses on and minimal make-up. Really? Why do we call this news? Hillary’s response to this was right on-target:

THIS is news?

THIS is news?

“I feel so relieved to be at the stage I’m at in my life right now,” the secretary of state told CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty in an interview. “Because you know if I want to wear my glasses I’m wearing my glasses. If I want to wear my hair back I’m pulling my hair back. You know at some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.”

Since Hillary will likely be a much talked about (and much criticized) figure in the upcoming US presidential race—by men and women alike—I’d like to ask something of our readers. It’s not to vote for a particular candidate… I really don’t care if you vote for Hillary or not. Politically, I sit in the middle of the spectrum, and although I consider myself a feminist, I don’t think anyone should vote for a woman for president merely because she’s a woman. What I’m asking is this: As we move forward with the 2016 campaign, whether you vote for Hillary or not, please make your choices and your criticisms based on her experience, values and politics—not her hair, clothing or make-up. Ultimately, when you reduce another woman to nothing but her fashion choices, you minimize all of us and sometimes “it takes a village” to change societal perceptions.

Stormy finds her “happy pill”

A couple months ago, KitKat posted a blog whose title caught my eye: Looking for a happy pill. This phrase jumped out at me because I’d been doing the same. But unlike KitKat’s metaphorical search, mine was literal. This wasn’t an overnight decision. As I mentioned in an early post, I was raised by WWII-era parents. One of the legacies of my upbringing is a strong sense of personal responsibility. In other words, if something was bothering me, I should just “quit whining and figure it out.” Therefore, my view of mental illness in general and depression in particular was that the only time medication was warranted was if the individual couldn’t manage to pull things together on his/her own.

dancing_drugsFast-forward to this past year. As readers of this blog, you know I haven’t hidden my struggle with the changing dynamics in my life—my husband’s illness, my kids leaving home, a frequently stressful job, aging parents, etc. But throughout it all I kept trying to will myself to keep a proper perspective (I’m still more fortunate than most of the world’s population, after all) and not dwell on things I can’t change. Despite this, I found myself sinking further into… persistent… unhappiness. It wasn’t full-out “depression” the way I had always thought of it (not being able to get out of bed, suicidal thoughts, etc.) but I found that things I could formerly let roll off my back were bothering me—a lot. Whereas I would normally be driven to tears once or twice a year, I was finding myself crying weekly. And I found myself raging against loved ones at little provocation. Basically, I felt like I was losing it, and I worried that if I couldn’t get a grip, I’d risk my job, my sanity, my friends and my family.

We're all madI explained it to my therapist this way, “I’ve lost my resiliency.” I asked for his opinion on whether he thought anti-depressants would help and when he said yes, I responded that maybe I’d wait until the fall to consider a prescription (thinking I’d really need it when the weather turned cold). He challenged me on that—why would you wait when something could potentially make your life better? We talked through my bias against medication and my general control-freak nature, but at the end of it all, his case was compelling and I made a consultation with someone who could prescribe the required meds. After talking with her and explaining how I reacted to various “triggers,” she commented, “You have a lot of stressors in your life—actually, I’m amazed you made it this long without needing something.” This made me feel better about embracing better living through chemistry. She made a recommendation that she thought would best address the combination depression/anxiety I was experiencing and gave me a low-dose prescription.

At home that night, I read up on the medication and my concerns came creeping back. The drug required a slow ramp up and had a long list of potential side effects. Yet, at that point, the potential gains still outweighed the drawbacks, so I swallowed the pill—both figuratively and literally.

My experience with mind-altering substances is limited to alcohol and caffeine, so I didn’t know what to expect. When you take something that is supposed to affect your brain, it’s natural to analyze every feeling and thought—is this me or is this the medication?—I asked myself a dozen times a day. I felt a bit “spacey,” but knew it may have been my imagination since I was told it would take at least three weeks for the medication to take effect.

Eventually, I determined that I had noticed a subtle improvement in my outlook. It was by no means a “magic pill,” and my biggest concern—that the drugs would alter my core personality—was unfounded. I was the same person and the same things made me upset, only I had my resiliency back. Minor setbacks didn’t drive me to tears. I was able to put things in the proper perspective and deal with things without falling apart.

I wished I had sought treatment months before, instead of buying into the notion that medication would be taking the easy way out. However, I ultimately decided I’d rather seek help and be happy than be self-sustaining and miserable. After all, when I think about my mother (who has been moody and challenging for as long as I can recall) I wonder if maybe she doesn’t have a serotonin imbalance?

Funny-crazy-peopleYet, even after gaining a clear benefit from the drugs, it wasn’t something I wanted to broadcast (after all, it’s one thing to have people think you’re a little crazy and it’s another to give them proof). 😉

Then what has changed? Obviously, if I’m making this a blog topic my perspective has shifted and I can tell you when that happened. In mid-August, I was mourning the death of Robin Williams—along with the millions of other people whose lives he’d touched with his exceptional warmth and humor—when I learned that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A disease my husband has had for more than a decade. I think our thoughts about this news were the same: This disease we live with every day was the thing that tipped his depression over the edge. That was an incredibly sobering thought. It made me realize that it’s impossible to know what other people are dealing with, so I thought if I could admit to a little bit of craziness myself, maybe it would make it easier for someone else to seek treatment if they need it. So there you go. I’m a little bit crazy. Crazy like a fox.

Reflections of an “innie” in an “outie” world…

I just got done with an 11-hour strategic brainstorming session with a client and my brain is mush. Now, let me explain that I’ve met all of the attendees before, this is a client I like, and the ideas we were discussing were interesting to me. Nevertheless, I’m completely exhausted.

Why? I’m an introvert. And trying to be “on” all day has resulted in the depletion of my energy. Worse, I had something on my mind that was troubling me—nothing to do with anyone in the room—but for someone who wears her emotions on her face, it required overcompensation to not look as though I was bothered by any of the topics we were discussing.

introvert-not-shyThis introversion comes as a surprise to a lot of people, because I’m not necessarily lacking in self-confidence and people don’t think of me as “shy.” For example, I once gave a sermon at church—something I know many people would be terrified to do—and was fine with getting up in front of a bunch of friends and strangers and expounding on the topic of faith. Yet, this sermon was delivered by the very same person who religiously avoids going to parties if I don’t think I’ll know anyone but the host.

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I wanted to be invited to my friend’s slumber parties, but I didn’t really want to actually go to them. I remember one time when I was trying to leave a friend’s house after an afternoon of playing together. She wanted to continue our games, but I was completely drained by all of the togetherness. I needed to go home and read a book or something and literally begged her (an extravert, clearly) to let me leave.

Because of this tendency toward introversion, people who don’t know me tend to think I’m aloof and unfriendly. That’s not true, however. I just detest small talk and polite conversation for the sake of filling the silence. Cocktail parties find me either talking to a small group of people I know or staring at my phone pretending I just got an important text or email to which I must respond.

On the other hand, once I know you and trust you, you’ll have trouble shutting me up. Heck, if I’m comfortable and in a sociable mood, I can be downright chatty. (My dad lovingly called me “Motormouth” as a teen—a name that I’ve used to describe my daughter Lucky once or twice.) However, even in these discussions I disdain small talk and usually prefer talking about Things That Matter over sports and weather.

In fact, those who know me well can attest to the fact that I rarely hold back my opinion and enjoy engaging in a lively debate. This can make people uncomfortable—particularly when you come from the land of Minnesota Nice. However, there’s usually no hostility involved. I just appreciate a well-articulated argument. In most people, these traits add up to an outgoing nature, so many of the people who  have observed me in these situations are surprised to learn that being in groups for too long can suck the life out of me if I don’t get a chance to recharge.

As a working parent of young children, I’d try to step  outside of my comfort zone and chaperone a field trip once or twice a year. (Here’s a tip for the rookies: Choose a play over the zoo, it’s much easier to chaperone kids when they’re sitting still.) But as much as I enjoyed getting a peek into my child’s school life, these outings always left me horizontal on the couch for several hours afterward, lying in the dark with a glass of wine, repeating to myself: “Must…recover….sanity…”

But part of being an introspective, introverted grown up is realizing these things about yourself, so I know when I’m being “taxed” by too much extraversion and need some alone time to recharge. My husband understands this, too. For example, there was always a predictable point on a family trip—the epitome of togetherness—where I’d declare “I need to be by myself for a while.” (In my defense, we didn’t have cable TV at home, so my kids viewed any stay in a hotel room as their chance to have a Nickelodeon marathon. By the third day of this cartoon smorgasbord, I felt like an Animaniac myself.) But my patient, indulgent husband would grant me temporary asylum and hold down the fort while I abandoned him at the Embassy Suites with three squirrelly kids watching Pinky & The Brain.

One of the most challenging places to deal with an introverted nature has been at work. Marketing and Sales teams are heavily comprised of extraverts. So, since that’s where I’ve spent most of my career, I’ve had to convince each new set of coworkers that I’m not unfriendly or stuck up, I just work more effectively on my own (with input and review at appropriate intervals, of course). Just don’t ask me to create a PowerPoint while a group of sales people sit around me throwing out ideas. These same folks can toss ideas back and forth all they want and I’ll sit and patiently listen. And, then I’ll go back to my quiet little office and try to make sense of it all. Trust me, you’ll have a writingbetter end product letting the introvert get her way. Being a manager of people has been challenging as well, since most introverts gravitate toward individual contributor roles. My marketing team may tell you I’m not the most nurturing boss, but (I hope) I make up for that by working very hard, looking out for their best interests and advocating on their behalf.
While I am probably a bit atypical as an introvert—I think most of them are “quieter” than me—I’ve noticed that Facebook gives introverts a way to recognize and acknowledge each other in a heavily extravert-oriented society. The Internet has numerous “quizzes” a person can take to determine where they fall on the introversion/extraversion scale, and it’s been interesting to learn via Facebook just how many friends and acquaintances are introverts trying to adapt to an extraverted world…like me.

Introvert4In my family, four-out-of-five of us are introverts (on the other hand, my youngest daughter, Blossom, could be the Poster Child for Extraverts), so adaptation is the name of the game. But I’m encouraged by the increased awareness around the differences of introverts and extraverts. It’s a positive step toward gaining acceptance—or at least understanding—for those of us who are otherwise too easily misunderstood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beta-testing Stormy 2.0

Despite the fact that I’ve never considered “Mom” to be my primary identity, I’ve been having a tough time adjusting to my empty nest. I remember back to when my mother-in-law found herself “retired.” Her husband passed away about the same time her youngest two graduated from high school. After spending 40+ years as a wife and mother, she literally didn’t know what to do with herself. She spent the next several years in a funk until a chance meeting with an old high school friend blossomed into a “golden years” romance.

Having seen her go through that, I—as a young mother—vowed to have more balance in my life so that my identity wouldn’t be defined by my relationship to my family. But as most of you probably know, raising a family while building a career doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for “self-actualization.” So despite my best intentions, now that my children are off starting their lives, I’m floundering too.

I try to get excited by the potential of what lies ahead—I’ve got time to pursue my interests now (if I could only remember what they are!), I’ve got time to volunteer for causes I’m interested in, time to reconnect with friends. I can totally reinvent myself for the next phase of my life. However, before I unleash Stormy 2.0 on the world, I need to figure out who I am today—independent of my role as wife and mother.

So, as an experiment I conducted a poll, asking my Facebook friends to describe me in three words. I thought this would be an interesting experiment because my Facebook friends are comprised of people from all walks of life: family, coworkers, former coworkers, and friends from high school, college and church. I assumed that I acted differently with these various audiences, and therefore different descriptors would emerge based on how I knew the person responding to the poll.

Here’s a Word Cloud that shows a distribution of the responses:

Screenshot 2014-03-24 21.05.25

Me in Three

First of all, keep in mind that the poll was conducted with Facebook friends. Consequently, I expected most words to skew toward a positive light. (But because just about any trait—when taken to an extreme—can be negative, I also tried to keep in mind that some of these traits might be categorized in a less positive manner by those who don’t know me as well.) Although it’s true that an assortment of terms were posted, a few themes emerged…

“Driven” took top billing – Okay, I expected that one from my coworkers, but I was surprised when a few family members chimed in with that descriptor as well. KitKat and I have observed that we both share a vague dissatisfaction with life—always wanting more despite the fact that we are both pretty blessed. So I recognized this trait as the source of my current unhappiness—because it’s a core part of my personality, yet I have nothing I’m driving toward. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s a fine line between contentment and complacency. On the one hand, I credit my “drive” with helping me to accomplish many things in my life. On the other, I sometimes wish I could learn to be satisfied with all I’ve been given.

Another set of words centered around authenticity—being genuine. This surprised me a bit. I know I could apply a little more diplomacy at times, but I guess it’s generally considered positive that people know where they stand with me.

The most surprising responses? A current coworker who described me as “sweet” and a former employee who described me as “empowering.” Both of these responses made me smile.

Overall, the “Me in Three” exercise was insightful. While there weren’t any life-altering revelations, it was a good reminder that there is more to me than just my role as an employee, wife or mother, and I’m generally happiest when I can find a way to express all sides of myself. Now that I’ve got the time to reacquaint myself with those other aspects of my personality, I plan to do just that. At the same time, there are a few words missing from my Word Cloud that I would have liked to have seen appear among my three-word descriptions. Apparently these are traits that I haven’t quite mastered. So this exercise may also serve as my inspiration to make some new descriptors a reality. Can I do it? Of course… After all, I’m “intelligent,” “capable,” and let’s not forget: “driven”!

 

Forcing Spring…

“Forcing” is a gardening term that refers to the process of causing a plant to flower before its natural season. This is done by mimicking the conditions of winter and spring in quick succession in order to make a bulb bloom. While I’ve never done this (I take a very Darwinian approach to my gardening—no coddling or special effort), I determined that this year—this miserable 2014 that has been the 8th coldest on record since 1864 in Minnesota—I needed to  “bloom” before my natural season. Last year, spring was late in coming and that’s simply not going to be acceptable this year. We need it. WE NEED IT…NOW!!!

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” 
― Mark Twain


So, to take matters into my own hands, I decided I would “force” spring. First off, I chose a date. March 1st, seemed like a great time for spring to begin, and in fact, it’s considered the first day of “meteorological spring.” I’m not sure what that means, but it seemed like a good omen.

Westin_KierlandNext, I had a work trip planned that would provide the metaphorical greenhouse needed to “mimick the conditions of spring.” The same conference that presented a mid-winter break filled with Russian gangsters and strippers in 2013 was going to be held at a beautiful resort in Scottsdale the first week in March. The conference ran from Sunday until Wednesday at noon, but a planned spring break vacation became victim to my work schedule and a $10k IRS bill, so I decided to tack two additional nights on to my work stay (one at the group rate, the other paid for with points) in order to spend a day and a half by myself, relaxing in the sunshine.

The next order of business was packing. I am absolutely sick to death of my wool skirts (lined, of course, can’t have that wool anywhere near my delicate epidermis), boots, tights and cashmere sweaters. I would be foolhardy to think I could make it through the next couple of months without resorting to wearing some of these items. Still, I decided that the heaviest ones were, as of March 1, out of rotation until next November. And I would do my best to limit the others. Meanwhile, I dug out my spring/summer clothes and pulled out a few new pieces bought just for the trip. (Even the most un-style-conscious Minnesotans have—by necessity—large wardrobes since the extreme swings in temperature require clothing for every possible situation. So, for those of us with a bit of a shopping addiction, the ever-changing local climate provides a great excuse to hit the malls.)

I spent the better part of Saturday trying on pieces I had all but forgotten, lamenting my pasty white legs, breaking out the bronzer, and packing tank tops, shorts, sunblock and a bikini. I hate trying to choose what to wear in advance—I like to factor in the weather and my mood—so I compensated by bringing enough clothing for a two-week stay.

I’ve been typing this from the plane, eager to see what my “forced spring” has in store for me.

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I arrived on site to mild temps (upper 60s) and palm trees. It seemed like my forced spring was off to a good start. The conference went well, but was typically exhausting. Too many late nights with multi-course dinners and drinks. Too many days filled with long workshops and booth time in uncomfortable shoes. I reached the end of my workweek feeling a bit crabby and tired. Hanging around in Arizona suddenly seemed expensive and wasteful instead of relaxing, but since I was already committed, I changed into swimwear and headed for the pool.

Later, I walked around the local shopping area. I had thought about buying some spring clothes, but wasn’t inspired by anything. I had forced a spring environment, but forcing a spring mood was harder to achieve. I had a glass of wine in the lobby bar while reading my Kindle, already bored of my own company.

desert_flowerAfter a much-needed full night’s sleep, I felt the ice in my heart beginning to thaw—just a bit. I went for a run along the property, amazed at the fragrance of the desert flowers in bloom. (Those of you who live in warm climates will find this odd, but there really isn’t a smell to the cold—other than car exhaust, perhaps.) I had noticed my allergies were acting up, but under the circumstances, it seemed like an acceptable trade-off. KitKat is right about the restorative powers of fresh flowers. 

A mango daiquiri and spring fashion mag make for great companion

A mango daiquiri and spring fashion mag make for great companions.

Before heading back to my room, I popped into the spa to inquire about a massage and scheduled one for later in the day. I changed clothes and tested the limits of my ability to be completely unproductive while lazing by a pool. It turns out, I can do that for about three hours. Afterwards, more window shopping. Wine and an appetizer. A really nice massage. Sauna. Jacuzzi. Another short workout in the gym. A walk to Jimmy Johns and quiet dinner in my room, followed by a hot bath and another early bedtime. Perfect.

The next morning, I took another short run and my last turn by the pool. My short vacation was over, but it had served its purpose. As I head home, the temperature in Minneapolis is a “balmy” 30 (compared to the 53 days we’ve had so far with below zero temps) and my weekend is stretching out before me with little obligation. My husband and I have tickets for the Minnesota Orchestra on Saturday, and I need to run some errands and catch up with KitKat. I’ll do laundry and swap out my heavy winter clothes for my early spring clothes. I’ll start thinking about my garden and planning a party to welcome spring properly. Although it was easier to maintain a spring attitude in sunny Arizona, whether the weather in Minnesota continues to cooperate is no longer of concern to me. I know I can make the most of what I’ve got until the real thing comes along.