Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom

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Opening Doors

Open and fearless!

Open and fearless!

My five-year old son’s a smart little fellow.  IQ smart.  We want him to thrive, learn and grow at his own pace and without any artificial boundaries.  So, we took him to spend time with a specialist the other day who would evaluate ways we could support him more completely.  After the hour she spent with him alone, she called the Hubster and me in to discuss her observations.   And as we talked, my son drew pictures.  Now, he is a people pleaser and likes to ask for feedback.  We generally tell him he’s doing a great job etc.  Instead of providing reinforcement though, she did something else.  She asked him questions:

“Would you like to add a little more detail?”

“What’s the weather like?”

“Are there any flowers?”

Each time, he excitedly went back to drawing – filling in the picture a little more each time – until he had drawn something far beyond anything Steve and I had seen him do at home.  And she remarked that she absolutely loved children at his age because “they are so open… so excited to try… to do more.”

Children ARE so open.  They are born to learn, born to love, born to trust.  They can sing, can draw, can dance.  They want to try, trust they will succeed and always go for more.

And as we age, it becomes harder and harder to stay open to life.  We’re hurt badly and don’t want to be hurt again.  We fail, are embarrassed and don’t want to try again.  The world seems to be against us, and we stop reaching.  We let go of certain dreams or settle.

When does it happen?  I can’t really say, but I think it starts around the age my son is today.  As our kids get a little older and start to go out into the world on their own, we want to protect them and keep them safe.  We set boundaries.  We say no.  NO.  NO.  NO.  We check emails or check in with our Facebook friend, and not with our kids.  We’re tired.  We tell them:

  • “Be quiet.”
  • “Go in the other room.”
  • “Stop making that racket.”
  • “Mommy’s busy right now.”

We mean well.  Yet, unintentionally we’re sending them messages that they aren’t as important to us as we are to them.  After all, a parent is a child’s entire world at this age.

We accidentally teach them that we don’t want to hear their singing or see their art (even if it is scrawled on a wall in crayon), and that they can’t do more.  They need to do LESS to please us.

Is that what I want to teach my child?  Is that what anyone wants to teach their kids?

At my age, there are still a few brave souls whose hearts, dreams and minds remain open.  They still yearn for something greater.  Others may tear them down, trash talk them or belittle them.  Why?  I think it’s because, deep down inside, they long for something that’s hard to pin down.  Perhaps it’s the freedom to believe in themselves again, to live life unafraid, unfettered by the minutiae of talk shows, politics and our digital life.

I’m not going to be able to protect my sons from all of life’s pain, but I do want to do everything I can to teach them to stay open.  I want to be more like the woman we met with the other day.  I want to ask questions and teach them to keep trying and to keep the faith.  To remain vulnerable.  To not worry about what other people may say to bring them down.  To stay hungry for more.

I want to open that door in my life too.

Children will amaze you, if you let them.  YOU will amaze you too.


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The Politics of Being New

Group of Friends SmilingI went to elementary school on a military base.  It was great.  Military life is about diversity, solidarity and commitment to something bigger.  It feels safe and special.  I loved my little school.

But in 7th grade, I transferred districts and went to a local public school – away from my military friends.  My new school was a “rich” school back then… very different than life on base.  There, you don’t always have a lot, but you make do.  These new kids had new clothes.  We wore hand-me-downs and shared our clothes.  This new school served hundreds of kids.  At the Marine school, you knew everyone.  On base, I was the 6th grade school president.  In Junior High, I was an honors student who played the cello, sang in the choir and wore glasses and braces.  I was at the bottom of the pecking order.

The kids at my new school had been together for years.  There was the established hierarchy of coolness, the inside jokes, the shared experiences that bonded the other kids together.  I was not a part of it, so I could not relate.  Through no fault of theirs, I was an outsider… wanting to fit in but with no idea how, and frankly, there was no real opening TO fit in.  After all, nothing was broken in their social structure so why add a new variable?  Now,eventually someone opened their circle of friends to me (thanks, Ed).  I found my place and figured out how I could contribute to this new world of mine, but it took a while and it wasn’t always fun along the way.

Whether you’re changing schools, jobs or careers, sooner or later we’re all the new kid on the block.  Being new can be nerve-wracking as it is.  You’re confident, and then you’re hesitant.  You had your stuff down, and now you’re learning something new.  The office is different; the pace is different; the goals are different.  It’s an incredible opportunity, and still it’s about stepping carefully.

It’s the politics of being new…  

What are the unwritten rules?  Who are your new teachers, mentors or sponsors?  Who are the unofficial leaders – those people that influence others’ opinions, actions and beliefs – perhaps without any official title?  You want to show people what you’ve got and who you are.  It’s important, but equally as important is who they perceive you to be.  Your new teammates have their established order and their shared memories.  They’ve been through the fire before and are closer because of it.  Yet, here you are: the outsider, the new addition or the change agent.

You’re justifying what you bring to the table again – why you’re there.  You’re included but not a member of the gang.  You can build allies along the way.  Or you may step on a landmine you never knew was there.

Some people come in strong – blazing their new path, brandishing their knowledge and taking a firm stand.  That may often work.  It may not.

I believe there are two must-do things that help you navigate your new hire “campaign”.

First, find ways to work across the aisle (rare though that may be in today’s political environment), to build consensus and find common ground with those you will help, support or lead.  Ask questions… many questions. Then, listen wholeheartedly.

Second, don’t let the doubt get to you.  You have to believe that you are here for a reason, otherwise why should anyone else believe you are?   If you are a change agent, you’ll run into a lot of roadblock – subtle and overt.

  • “We’ve tried that before.”
  • “Our clients won’t like that.”
  • “We do it this way.”

Yes, it’s important to honor established processes and traditions, but that doesn’t mean that you still can’t challenge them and ask “why?”  Why do we do things this way?  Does it make sense?  Or is it just what we’ve always done?

It may take patience and hard work, but that circle will open to you.  It’s up to you then to decide if you want to join it as it is, or learn to lead it in a new direction… to create new memories, cello and all.


Building Bridges

Bay Bridge WowI was recently in San Francisco and was fascinated by the new Bay Bridge.

Now, I’ve crossed the old bridge many times.  It did what it was supposed to do – get me from here to there.  This new bridge didn’t seem like anything remarkable; in fact, I barely noticed the change at all… until late in the evening.  As I looked out the window of my hotel, I saw it… the lights.  They were glorious.  I was struck by how dynamic that bridge was: functional and beautiful.  It made an impact.  So I went online to learn a little more.  Now, it still goes from here to there, but did you know that this “epic transformation… into a global icon” does a few other cool things too?

  • It holds two Guinness world records (not the beer, though that may be almost as cool in certain circles);
  • It took six years to complete;
  • It is built to withstand major earthquakes and is, in fact, a lifeline route;
  • It offers panoramic views of the city; and
  • For the first time, it meets the needs of many with pedestrian and bike lanes.

It got me thinking about work.

When you’re new to an organization or are working with a team or client, you’re constantly building connections and forging relationships to “get you from here to there.”  We’re building bridges.

Everyone has their own style.  Each team has its own dynamic.  Each project has its own deadline.  Oftentimes, we are so caught up in “our” style, the dynamics of the team as they exist today (or did in the past) and the deadline that we don’t pay as much attention as we should to those bridges we’re building.

Yes, those bridges – those relationships – are functional.  They help us learn the ropes, motivate the team or achieve the goal.  But a bridge is much more than that.  It’s our connection from the past to the future, from where we were to where we want to be.  It’s a place we will turn to again and again… a place that will be familiar and somehow new.

Like a bridge, a relationship can be functional and fun.  It’s dynamic.  It can:

  • Set records;
  • Span years;
  • Save your life;
  • Be a great adventure; and
  • Help people meet many needs.

That will only happen though, if you invest as much (if not more) time, focus and care into building lasting relationships as you do in the short term projects and personal objectives.  And frankly, I believe your style in leadership and teamwork is pretty darn important too.  Your teammates will get things done when focused on a goal.  How many of those people will be there – years later – if you don’t invest in them as well?  How many people will be there if they don’t feel respected?  Don’t feel valued?

At the heart of each of us, we want to feel loved – feel appreciated – feel valued.  We want to have a meaningful impact on the lives of those we touch and the things we are working to achieve.  We want to know that other people care.  We want to build deep, real relationships: not with people who ask passing questions and forget your answers, but instead with those who invest their lives in seeing you succeed and thrive, professionally and personally.

Yes, bridges and relationships can be built that get you from here to there.  How solid are those bridges though?  Are you sure they will stand the test of time?  Or are there warning signs that you may be ignoring?

In my quest to learn more for this piece, I read about the Quebec Bridge.  It was an engineering marvel, but there were warning signs along the way that were ignored.  It didn’t end well, collapsing in 1907 and costing lives.  It could have been avoided.  The problems could have been corrected.  It could have dazzled.  It didn’t.

What bridges are you building today?  Are they strong?  Can you do more?

What bridges did you build years ago?  Are you maintaining them?  Will they be more?