Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Butterflies

Butterfly

There’s an old country song that played on the radio the summer I moved from South Dakota to the west. “It never rains in Southern California.” That sounds weird when you come from a state that gets buried in water – albeit frozen – every year for months on end. But after decades here, those words were generally true. Usually, SoCal is a predictable 70-80 degrees, with blue skies and endless sunshine all year ‘round.  It’s why countless dreamers with stars in their eyes move here, and why so many of us stay.

 

Still, over the past few months, the weather has been unpredictable, to say the least. It’s been overcast, grey, unseasonably cool, and we’ve been drenched with record rainfall. The hillsides have slid, becoming unmoored as recent fires consumed the heavy roots holding those hills together. While other areas of the country may laugh at our pain, our already awful traffic has hit a new low, as drivers aren’t prepared or don’t know how to handle the adverse conditions. All in all, it’s been an unusual and unexpected winter in Southern California. 

 

So, a few days ago, we finally got a break. It was our first sunny day in an otherwise grey month. Since I was working from home that afternoon, I decided to spend a few minutes in the backyard. It was windy, but the warm concrete felt good underneath my feet. I laid down on it and looked up towards the sky. That’s when I saw the butterflies.  

 

Now, a butterfly makes you pause. It’s pretty and kind of a rare sight in the city. Heck, we’re lucky to see one a day in L.A. But a thousand butterflies? More? That’s stops you in your tracks. Above my head, endless streams of butterflies stretched farther than I could see, bobbing along on the breeze from east to west. They’d hesitate as the wind stopped them momentarily, suspended in midair as if they were taking a collective breath. Then, as quickly as if it never happened at all, they’d swirl around on some invisible air current and find another way. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. 

 

After forty-some-odd years, life is a lot like Southern California. It’s nice and sunny. It’s predictable. No surprises. We take for granted that the weather tomorrow will be as great as it is today. There’s the everyday traffic headache – the stuff that slows us down or gets in our way, that irritates us, leaving us feeling frustrated, lost in a crowd, or absolutely helpless. Still, it’s familiar. We’re all in it together, headed the same direction, and (just maybe) feeling the same way. 

Then, something unpredictable happens that startles us out of our reverie, our routine. Confused and unsettled, our roots start to come loose. We may question those truths that have anchored us. We’re not on stable ground anymore. Instead, we’re wobbly, uncertain, wondering which way to go. Progress may seem insurmountable. We aren’t prepared, feeling that we don’t know how to handle the adverse conditions or the possibility that what we wanted before may not be what we need anymore.  

 

I’ve been happy for quite a long time, and am still happy now. I’m grateful for this life, for the blessings I’ve been given and the opportunities I’ve busted my butt to earn. I suck at work-life balance and excel at enjoying the moment, the hunt, and the journey. Still, the unexpected has come calling. I’m unprepared. Thrilled. Not ready, but readier than I ever will be again. I’m unsettled, amazed, and going to leap in both fearfully and fearlessly. 

 

You see, after all of the SoCal rain came the superbloom. Our hills are covered with brilliant wildflowers. Unrestrained. Untamed. Ferocious in their beauty. They dare you to walk among them. And like the wildflowers, opportunity comes when it will. Unexpected. Unplanned. Ferocious in its possibility. It dares you to meet the challenge, to take a chance, to run towards it, embrace it, breathe it in, and become more.  

 

The wildflowers bring the butterflies. The Superbloom brings thousands. They bob and weave, pause suspended, then learn, spin and find a new way. And those butterflies carry a promise with them, leaving wildflowers behind them and helping new ones grow along the way. 

 

We are all butterflies. We dance around on the wind, headed both from and to something amazing. And while our path forward may not always be clear, we become something more resilient, determined, and beautiful after the sun, the storm, and the wind in our way.


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Wednesday Love

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It’s Monday, the beginning of another week. Nothing special. Just one day in a string of them. Ordinary. You’re motoring through when something catches your eye. For a moment, you stop, wonder, and move on.

Still the moment sticks with you. It tiptoes through your thoughts now and again, then more often. There’s an allure to it. It’s fascinating. You can’t stop thinking about it, don’t want to start thinking about it. And then, sooner or later, you’re in love.

The first rush of love – the beginning – is overwhelming. Consuming. Intense. Starting something is thrilling. Your emotions careen about. You’re proving yourself. Love is lifting you up.You’re high on the future: massive, infinite, limitless.

Then, you settle in. It’s familiar. The rush is gone, but it’s still warm and comfortable. You’re doing well at the office, coaching Little League, cleaning the garage, going through the days. You’re in Wednesday love. Halfway here, halfway done. Maybe you’re distracted or a little discontent, but it’s all good.

There’s something about that midweek love. You’re not really paying attention in the same way you used to. And that love that lifted you up? It sets your *ss down, and when you’re not looking, it reaches in. Love wraps its fingers around your heart, and lets them rest there. Holding on quietly. Biding it’s time.

Until something happens.

We have a lot of “Mom-isms” in our house.

  • “It’s far better to be kind than to be right.”
  • “Patience is a virtue.”
  • “I love you always and forever, no matter what.”

Mom-isms are great. The thing is, they’re not always right.

The last few weeks have been rough. I’ve become used to this idea that love is infinite, immutable. But, in a way, I’m wrong. I’m at that age when immortality disappears, and vivid, frightening mortality takes over. I’m a member of the “sandwich generation,” caring for my parents and my children at the same time, and while it is a greater blessing than I can ever express, it is also intensely difficult because time is far too present. We had a scare, and now I’m counting how many years, months, days, and minutes we have left. On top of it, a friend lost her husband suddenly. He was a few years younger than I am, with a loving marriage and two, incredible kids.

I’m having a hard time finding a place for it all, which is unlike me. Generally, I power through life. Not so much right now. Time is everywhere. Each second that passes by thunders inside my head. It’s so loud that I can’t think, can’t bottle up the emotions. Frankly, I’m not sure I want to.

You see, I’ve been stuck on Wednesday for a while. I gather it’s natural. Life has been comfortable. Now, it’s not. That bastard Love isn’t sitting around quietly anymore. That hand around my heart is gripping tight, and it hurts like hell. I wish it would stop hurting, but I know that’s not in the cards. You see, I’m awake again. It’s not Wednesday anymore. And while I know it will only get harder, I’m remembering that I’m tough. I’m alive. I remember how strong Love is, and even though it’s not lifting me up like it did in the early days, it’s hold on me is closer, stronger, and more intimate than it ever was before. I’m still in the palm of its hand as its fingers wind around my heart. It braces me – embraces me – as I ready myself for what’s to come… whenever that may be.

So tonight, I will hold them close and hope it will ease the pain, drown out the noise, and bring some peace. Yes, things end. Friday comes. Always is not forever, but it’s incredible while it lasts.


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Braids, Briefcases, and Bucket Hats

Braid_Bucket_Hat
There are days we don’t remember, and ones we never forget. Then, there are the precious few that seem inconsequential at first, but only later reveal themselves as more: days that are turning points in our lives, sending us spinning off in a new direction we never imagined when we opened our eyes in the morning.

Almost twenty years ago, I had one of those days.

Back then, I was singing in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My contract was almost up, just before Y2K: the day that many feared our world would grind to a screeching halt, wreaking havoc on a global scale. Millennium madness! For me, it was barely a blip on the radar. Heck. My GIG was about to end. I had three full weeks until the start of my next show, and I needed to pay the rent. Concerned, a friend of mine found an answer to my dilemma in the Y2K thing. His company had 70+ locations that needed to prep for the digital doomsday, and only one I.T. guy to do it. All the talent had already been scooped up, and they were desperate. Luckily, the tech guy was a jazz musician on the side, so when my friend floated the idea of some singer installing new motherboards (who supposedly had some I.T. experience), he was sold. I had a temp job from December 26th – 31st which would pay just enough to keep the roof over my head. Perfect.

So, it’s day one. I know nothing – and I mean NOTHING – about computers. I had no experience, and didn’t realize they thought I did. To me, you pushed the button. The computer turned on. If it didn’t, you kicked it. Simple. Still, I came prepared to learn with a purple notepad and pen so I could write down what I was supposed to do.

I also knew nothing about the corporate world. I walked into an office that looked like the Taj Majal wearing wrinkled khakis, Adidas, an Abercrombie t-shirt, braids, and a bucket hat. Seriously. No joke.

He should have kicked me out. I’m sure he thought about it. I was clueless: under-dressed, unqualified, and out of my league. Yes, I was all wrong, but in my mind I was all RIGHT. I was smart, determined, and a fast learner. I was also just naive enough to believe I could do it and be damn good at it too. So I told him so, and he let me stay. He showed me how to pop the cover off the computer and what to do next. I wrote instructions down in purple ink on purple paper, stopped at three offices (still in my bucket hat), sliced my hand open with a screwdriver at the first one (MESSY), and finished the day slightly banged up but successful.

It was a little day. A temp job. Almost nothing. But after three weeks, they offered me a full time gig as a help desk technician. A year later, they moved me into the marketing department to work with clients. After another year, the CEO asked me what I thought my career path looked like, and I told him that “one day, I’d take his job (but keep him on retainer, just in case).” He promoted me. Five years later, I was an SVP, and a few years after that, I moved to a company much larger than the one I came from and am working my way up here too.

When the elevator doors opened that morning, I never expected that single day would change my life forever. I traded a bucket hat for a briefcase and spun off in a new direction. It could have been just another day, but it wasn’t.

Why did it become more? Looking back, it boils down to three simple things.

  • First, I went in believing in myself. I was naive in a great way. Anything was possible. Despite my innocent fashion mis-step, I had no doubt. I knew I could do it.
  • Second, someone believed in me. Winslow didn’t know me. He found out quickly that I wasn’t qualified. Still, he saw something in me and took a chance – one that I likely didn’t deserve. He took a risk and gave me a shot. But, why did he see it?
  • Third, I was open. Rocking braids and sweet kicks, I was 100% authentic. 100% me. I was open to learn and open to the opportunity.

All too often, we let fear, cynicism, and self-doubt stand in our way. We don’t believe in ourselves. We count our flaws instead of our potential. Afraid to fail, we never stand up, state our goals, or tell the world “I want this. I can do it. I’m worthy.” We get in our own way and mask who we are. Why?

It just takes one person to make a difference, to believe in you or take a chance. And life takes a sharp left turn. You’re on a new course in uncharted waters. Who knows where it will lead?

Be authentic. Be naive. Be proud. Be hungry. Be you.

**************

Some reading fun for those of you who lived through Y2K or were in pre-school back then. Enjoy!

  1. A retro look back – http://time.com/3645828/y2k-look-back/
  2. And in honor of my awesome first day look, here’s one perspective on how Y2K shaped fashion and culture – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/19/year-2000-y2k-millennium-design-aesthetic 

Finally, if you like this, share this. Maybe this will help spin your life off in a new direction too.


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Spiders in Technicolor

Technicolor SpidersI’m a heavy sleeper and always have been. In fact, I sleep like the dead. As an adult, I’m grateful for that. As a kid though, I wanted to be a light sleeper like my Mom, who woke at every whisper. I envied her. She had it easy. She never slept deeply enough to get lost in a nightmare.

Me? I had nightmares often. Recurrent ones. There were two main themes: spiders and massacres. I’m arachnophobic, so anything eight-legged was never welcome. I’d dream that hundreds of the technicolor beasts would drop from the ceiling or crawl up from the foot of my bed as I’d huddle under the covers, unable to wake up or get away. Not fun. (Freud, have fun analyzing that.) I’d wake up crying, sick to my stomach, and afraid of any shadow I’d see on the sheet.

The second nightmare? Worse. I’d be out in the front yard while some party was going on in the house. Suddenly, I’d get a bad feeling. I would run from room to room, yelling at everyone to get out, but no one would listen. Then, the ‘bad people” came and the shooting would start. In the nightmare, I always ended up hiding on a shelf in our bathroom in the dark, listening to it all happen. Unable to escape. Unable to help. Then, everything would go quiet. I’d open the door to the same sight over and over again, which I won’t go into here. Though I’d try to wake up from this one, I couldn’t. The nightmare would rewind and start all over, until my sister would shake me because I’d be shouting in my sleep. It followed me throughout my childhood and into college until it finally (thankfully) began to taper off.

When you’re a kid, the world is a thrilling and scary place. Everything is bigger than you. New. Unknown. You’re still discovering who you are, and if you’re insecure like I was then, the fear is magnified. It rises up at night, and you try to work it out with spiders, snakes, or whatever your own personal Armageddon may be. You’re supposed to leave these fears behind, grow out of them, and move on.

Lately though, in the aftermath of all of the horrific, divisive, and hateful things that have happened recently, fear is everywhere. I’ve watched it infect my Facebook feed. The fire is constantly stoked by the media, politics, vitriol, rhetoric: you name it. What’s maddening though is watching how this fear is affecting many of us. It’s tearing us apart. We worry about the world we’re leaving to our children. We’re locking our doors, avoiding eye contact, judging entire classes of people by the color of their skin, their religion, their political preference, whatever. Fear is making us feel powerless, and we’re grasping at anything to make it go away so we feel “safe.”

Fear is natural. We’ll never escape it. It’s built into our DNA. It’s how we evolved. We were afraid, and it spurred us into action. We invented, migrated, and built. Fear was bigger than we were, so we became bold. Brave. Fear pushes us beyond our limits and into new possibilities. Safety? It’s comforting, but an illusion at best, and I’m okay with that.

Fear is a nightmare. Safety is a dream. Nightmares are dreams too. They’re not so different, when it comes right down to it. The only difference is how either one affects you. Technicolor spiders never stopped me from going to sleep the next night or the night after, and while a great dream may tempt me to linger, I still woke up. We don’t stop sleeping because nightmares exist. We keep moving on.

I’m well into my 40’s and still “don’t do spiders,” but it’s not as bad as it used to be. I faced an army of parachute spiders last week in fact, but that’s a story for another time. The massacre thing? Well, that’s moved out of my nightmares and into reality, which is damn awful.

Will I hide on a shelf or in my home? No.

Will I hide my family from the world in fear? Hell, no!

I will teach my children to be bold and brave, but most of all, I will teach them to stand up and fight: to live, love, and to make a difference. I’ll lead by example. After all, I’m an adult. So are you.

Face fear and embrace it. Make eye contact. Stare the damn thing down. Smile at strangers. Keep an open heart. But most of all, take action.


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Life in a Snow Globe

Eiffel Tower MagicA few days ago, my younger son saw a snow globe for the first time. He was transfixed. It was a miniature one: maybe three inches tall tops, with the Eiffel Tower and a million sparkles inside. To me, it didn’t look like much, but seeing it reflected in his eyes, it was pure beauty. So, we forked over $3.99 plus tax for a little bit of wonder. He cradled it gently in his hands on the way home and throughout the rest of the day. When he went to bed, it glittered softly by his bedside, reflecting the glow of his nightlight. All was well with the world, until it wasn’t.

The next morning, Paris beckoned. I told him how I’d been to visit the city, and promised to take him there one day. He was mesmerized. So was I. He shook the snow globe. As we pondered adventures and how many sparkles one sphere could hold, he shook it harder. Swept up in his enthusiasm, he flung out his arms, striking the fragile trinket into his wooden nightstand. Crash. Water, shards of glass, and shattered dreams spilled across the floor.

Now, I came late to this motherhood business, well into the season of life when you begin to count how much time you have left. I understand loss. So, when you’re counting your own minutes, you tend to be uber-sensitive to anything that could hurt your little ones. That natural fear began to rise up, and then I saw the look in his eyes.

He was devastated. I mean really, really devastated. I don’t know if I’ve seen that look before. Something was broken. Tears and “I’m sorry” spilled out of him over and over. That broke me. To me, it was a cheap little trinket. I even got 15% off. To him? It was so much more.

There are times in our lives that demand our attention. It’s easy to tell which days or moments are the big ones – milestones, the wedding day, the birth of a child, their first steps. We’re alert, filled with intention, consciously caring. So often though, we motor through this thing called life like our evening commute. We’re running on cruise control, a little tired, or distracted: just not 100% there. We take it for granted that we know our way home, and that the folks we’re headed to will be there. Dinner, how was your day, bedtime stories: the routine is comfortable and familiar. We could do it with our eyes closed.

All of those little things, those small choices or forgettable questions may be meaningless to you. They may mean something intense to someone else. Those words we rifle off quickly, our go to “I’m listening but really not” phrases, our slightly impatient tone… we think others don’t notice, but maybe they do. Perhaps those frustrated, protective or defensive words do more harm than we could possibly know.

The snow globe was small but beautiful. In a small, unintentional moment, it shattered. The damage could not be undone. And when I looked in Luke’s eyes, I realized that, sometimes, hearts are as fragile as snow globes as well. Something that was measured only in dollars and cents to me was sheer magic to him. I didn’t know it until it was too late.

There are so many snow globes in our lives, known and unspoken. People. Promises. Memories. Dreams. Faith. Self-worth. Love. Whatever they may be, we treasure them deeply. Others have them too. And while we may hold and guard ours gently, they’re fragile. We’re fragile. So are those around us. We can’t take for granted that something said or done in frustration, anger or sheer inattention doesn’t have a lasting effect on those we love. We can’t assume that words we barely recall don’t carry weight; that hearts mend easily, forgiveness always comes, or people will be around forever. They won’t, and that’s probably the only fact of life that really matters.

Thinking about his tears then makes me tear up now. My heart still hurts for him. I did my best to ease the pain, to help it heal. I hope it has, but only time will tell. Still, I will see a little more clearly and watch more closely for signs of the magic… so it doesn’t run out.

 

 

 

 


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Three Questions to Ask Every Day

YodaI went to the garage a few days ago to find an old picture to post on Facebook for a friend’s birthday. Lame, I know. A lifetime ago, back in our irresponsible yet incredible youth, a dozen or so of us spent almost every weekend together. The crew was an elite group, living on the edge of invincibility in those glorious days before the reality of your own mortality kicks in. Digging through dusty boxes, I found piles of photographs of one particularly epic weekend.

I admit, I got lost in the memory. We were young, dumb, and divine. After way too many martinis, my friend turned to me and marveled that we had the audacity to call our get together a weekend when it was just one long day. Martinis, loud music and sleep don’t always mix. Then, he asked me in jest: “Who am I? Where am I? How did I get here?” We laughed until we cried, and I posted it on my Facebook page because I thought it was funny as heck.

Totally prophetic, I know. Yet that quote is still on my page and tagged as my favorite quote ever. Why? It holds up today. Born in the hazy days of excess, now I see it as a bit of a reminder. A challenge. Perhaps a dare.

Who am I? When was the last time you asked yourself that? If you try it, I’d wager that some easy answers surface quickly: your name, where you’re from, what you do etc. Sure, that’s true, but is it important? Does anyone really care if you’re from San Diego or South Dakota? Do you? Maybe the basics matter, but what matters more is what you stand for, what you believe, and what you’re passionate about. So who are you? Are you someone who is kind? Bold? Patient? Short-tempered? Do you try to control the world around you or do you give it space to breathe? Understanding who you are and what motivates you provides clarity of thought, vision, and purpose. It helps others get to know you but, more importantly, it helps you stay focused on the big things in life, letting go of the little ones that can pile up and drag you down.

Where am I? When you ask yourself this, your answer may vary. Perhaps you think about what stage of life you’re in, if your career is fulfilling, or if you’re where you want to be. For me, the answer serves as a reminder to live in the present. I’ve always been an overachiever. I feel guilty if I’m not working hard regardless of location, as if I should be doing something else besides just “being”. That’s all fine and dandy, but family is important. Really important. You can’t invest time in family if your mind is on work or your eyes are on your phone. It takes a team to create success, and that team is made up of the people at your office and under your own roof. Knowing where you are – and who needs you there – helps you live in the moment, and moments with those you love are too precious to miss.

How did I get here? Sometimes, this is the toughest question of all. There are days that you’re happy with life. Things are working out. It’s all good. Hard work, dedication, and perhaps a bit of bravery got you there. Other days? Well, those are likely the times you really don’t want to ask how you got there. Maybe you got passed over. Maybe you weren’t paying attention. Maybe you were afraid to say something. Maybe there isn’t a reason at all. At the end of the day – right or wrong – we’re accountable for the choices we make. We’re not victims of life. We make choices. Maybe someone did us wrong. Still, we were there too. We played a part, however large or small that part may have been. Whether well intentioned or just plain wrong, we made a choice and have to live with it. We’re on the hook.

So, almost 20 years later, one of my all-time favorite quotes remains: “Who am I? Where am I? How did I get here?*” I ask myself these questions often, virtually every day. I’m no longer young, dumb, and divine. I’m a little dated, good friends with hair dye, sometimes cranky, and attempting to age gracefully. I’m also raising a family, breaking down barriers, and giving back, so perhaps divine still fits.

At the end of the day, one of the ultimate measures of a person is their ability to take responsibility for the life that they lead, and the only way to understand life is to examine it. Stare yourself squarely in the eye. Find out who’s staring back at you. You’ll see things that make you proud and, probably, some things that don’t. Yet, is a life unexamined or misunderstood truly one you want to live? Isn’t it better to live bravely, make amends, or be present? Isn’t it better to be comfortable in your skin, to own all of your choices – good or bad – and be happy with who you are? I know that’s where I want to be. How about you?

*Props to Richie, the accidental prophet.


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Words From My Wake

Rockstar TeamAbout a month ago, I got offered a great opportunity with my company. Something like this doesn’t come around often, so I accepted and started planning the transition. Now, our window of time was brief, and the change was complicated. It was about more than just me. I worked with a stellar group of people and had hired virtually every one of them. We built a new team, forging a fresh course in our company. It was right then, but now we needed to evolve. It was time for added opportunities for all, and my new role happened to be the first page of our collective next chapter.

Even though I knew that this was right, telling them was going to be hard. Really hard. I had a great team. Talented. Job skills, knowledge, commitment? Yes, yes and yes. But each of them had something MORE. There’s something intrinsically amazing about them as individuals. It’s a quality that’s hard to capture in words. Perhaps it’s charisma, but to me, they’re all “heart” people. There’s a truth to each one of them – as radically different as they are from one another – that, when they come together, is magnified. I didn’t set out to hire “heart” people. I set out to hire talent, experience, and knowledge. It wasn’t until the team was complete that I saw the common thread. The team was business, focused, and real in a way that’s rare. And even though I knew we were all going on to even bigger things, I’d miss that magic.

Over the course of a few days, I walked them through the plan. Still, I had a team meeting already scheduled for the following week. It had been on the books for a while, and we had a lot in motion, so it was business as usual heading into the date.

The meeting was great. We had fun, laughed, and got a heck of a lot accomplished. We enjoyed time together professionally and personally. And as the last few hours wound down, we turned our attention to what’s next. It was an open forum to ask any question or work through any idea, no holds barred, with myself and one of our executives.

At that moment, I disappeared.

No, I didn’t leave physically. It was more like being at my own wake. It’s odd to sit in a room full of people as they talk about you, your leadership style, and values as if you’re not there. Frankly, it’s downright strange.

We all have this idea of who we are and how we come across. At my old company, my boss nicknamed me “Nails.” He used to say that I’m light-hearted up front, perhaps underestimated, but when it’s time to get down to it, I’m tough as steel. All business. A velvet hammer.

Listening to the group talk though, I heard new things. Transparency. Authenticity. High expectations, but patient (not something I would ever even consider associating with myself). Mentor and a friend. Business but heart.

Being a leader is a monumental job. Being a leader who’s a woman in an industry that’s dominated by men? It adds another dimension entirely. So, you adjust in whatever way seems to fit. I subscribe to car magazines, am an avid Spurs fan, and play fantasy football, March Madness brackets, whatever. Privately, I’m sentimental. Professionally, I’m Nails. I’ve always been proud of that moniker, but as that day progressed, I realized that nickname may not quite fit anymore. I used to say that “businesses aren’t people. They don’t have emotions. Business is just business.” Perhaps I was wrong.

A company is a collection of people. These people either have jobs or, if we’re lucky, they have something more. Shared ideals. A vision. A dream. When is a job something more? When people believe. When they’re passionate. When their hearts are all in.

Whether it was sheer luck or a reflection of something I hadn’t seen before, I was sitting in a room of “heart” people who were – and still are – all in. They taught me something new that day.

Maybe we need to hire for “heart” intentionally. Skills can be taught. I’m not sure “heart” can be. Maybe we need to cultivate and nurture it. That doesn’t mean not making smart business decisions or using our heads. It does mean recognizing what connects or inspires people, and making sure they know why they matter. Yes, it’s about performance, but is performance on its own really enough? Now, performance paired with true engagement? Perhaps that’s how we all win.