Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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What’s in Your Backpack?

Backpacks - then and now

Backpacks – then and now

Remember getting your child ready for the first day of Kindergarten?  It’s a pretty big deal.  You run from store to store, buying those “required” supplies: new clothes, a shiny lunchbox and the very first backpack.  I don’t know how you felt about it, but for me, the backpack was the thing.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  Watching my son walk away on the first day of class with that massive beast of a backpack strapped across his shoulders – dwarfing him – I knew some things would never be the same.  It was the moment my toddler wandered out of my life, and a big kid walked in.

It’s funny now, looking back.  The first backpack leads to another, and then another.  Cartoon characters make way for skater styles, and before you know it, you’re over 40 – lugging your checkpoint friendly, Nike, denier nylon techie essential backpack onto an airplane to Montreal.  The thing is loaded to the hilt with your laptop, iPad, iPod, noise canceling headphones, neck pillow, snacks, water and all the other travel necessities… most of which, you really don’t need.  Looking around, half of the passengers carry packs as well.  They’re supposed to make the trip easier, but they weigh way too much, and you almost throw your back out trying to get it up into the overhead bins.

They’re not as heavy as the backpacks you don’t see though.

As we go through life, we start carrying things around with us – more than we should.  We carry around things that we don’t need.  Maybe it’s the argument you had last night, or the words someone said to you on the phone.  Maybe it’s a name that someone called you, or what they said behind your back.  Perhaps it’s the day you didn’t get that raise or your spouse forgot flowers.  Whatever it was, you were upset or hurt.  You picked up those feelings and didn’t address them.  You packed that moment away in your emotional backpack and went to bed mad.  The next morning – on your way out the door – you picked that backpack up and carried it with you.  Then the next morning and the one after that, you did the same thing.

Every day, that load just gets heavier.  Each unaddressed feeling or unresolved issue is a rock you carry around on your back, weighing you down.  You think you’re strong, that you can handle the load.  But no one can go on like that forever.  Sooner or later, your legs give out.  You open that pack, and all those rocks come tumbling out.  They fall at your feet or, worse, get hurled at those around you.

Why?

It’s hard to address things outright: to speak up, to work through the argument and to forgive others – or yourself – when things go wrong.  It seems easier and safer to put things up on a shelf or pack them away for another day.  But it’s not.  When we choose not to confront something that is difficult, we’re actually choosing the path of least pain in the moment.  We’re trying to minimize risk and keep ourselves safe, when in all reality, we’re putting our health and the happiness of those we care about most at even greater risk somewhere down the road – when the backpack becomes too heavy to bear, and the truth comes tumbling out.

How heavy is the load that you are carrying around today?

How much of it do you really need?

How much better will you feel if you set that backpack down and let go of what’s in it?

While I will still be lugging my Nike torture device with me on the plane next month (I need my tunes after all), that’s the only backpack that  I will be carrying from now on.  How about you?

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Eyes, eyes, eyes – yeah.

Car EyeWe did a photo shoot at the office the other day for our Annual Report.  Instead of using stock photos, the company wanted a more personal, authentic feel.  So, instead of being marketers, managers and product leads, we were models for a day.  Glamorous, I know.

It’s 9:30AM, and the four of us – two company directors, our boss and little old me – are sitting down for our moment in the sun.  We’re the Automotive Team – the “team that makes it happen.”  Though we’ve only been together for about seven months, we work closely day in and day out, so there’s a good rapport there.  We get along.  We knock heads.  We get stuff done.  It’s all good.

Yet, it’s hard to put into words how much of a hot mess we were as models.  I almost felt bad for the photographer, as we fell apart as soon as we started.  Everyone came in with a great attitude.  The agency guy sat us in our spots, gave us our props and set up the scene – just have a normal work conversation, but make sure we stay open to the camera and look straight in each others’ eyes.

Now, I came up as an actor.  On stage, you have to be open.  Be vulnerable.  It’s a daily thing.  It’s your job.

Sitting there under the lights at the office though, it was incredibly hard.  After a minute, we were all visibly uncomfortable.  One person started cracking jokes and crossing his eyes when his back was to the camera.  Another asked when it would all be over.  Me, I couldn’t stop laughing and turned bright red… which is hard when you’re as tan as I am.  The hour was sheer torture – a lot of laughs, but torture nonetheless.

After we were done, I was struck by how uncomfortable it had been – especially with a group of people that I really like and enjoy working with.  But it’s all in the eyes.

You know, we don’t make a lot of eye contact with people these days.  The next time you are having a conversation with someone, think about it.  You’ll probably notice how often you glance away or glance down.  It’s not that you’re not interested, because you are.  Instead, you’re taking an emotional break.

Making eye contact is essential for effective communication.  Sustaining eye contact is about something much more. After a minute or so, something happens.  It’s visible.  You can see the walls we unconsciously keep start to come down in each other’s eyes.  Then, you’re left with something very emotional – something extremely vulnerable.   It’s visceral too.  Something in you reacts to something in the other person, and you both connect on the human level.  Barriers down.  Nothing is between you.  Instead, that universal human condition bonds you.

Now, the people you love, you let into your eyes.  It ties you closer together.  But when it happens in an unfamiliar environment – aka at the office – you have to figure out how you feel about that.  Last week, our team stumbled upon walls which we weren’t consciously aware existed.  It was strange.  It was awkward.  And afterwards, we fumbled to find safe ground again – creating conversations to tide us over until we were back in familiar territory again.

But yet, something new remains.  We put up walls to keep us safe, but what are we really protecting anyway?  Does that unconscious distance make us more productive?  Or perhaps, does that fleeting moment of vulnerability bring us closer together as a team?  Does that hour full of laughter and embarrassment remind us that we’re all the same down deep?  Driven.  Dreamers.  Flawed.  Fantastic.

We go to work and put on our game face.  It’s good.  It’s safe.

But as I sit here a week later, I think we’re better for the time we spent in front of the camera, defenses down.  It reminded me that we’re not put on this earth to play it safe.  We’re here to push the limits of what’s possible, to take risks, to dream and to achieve.  We’re here to change the world.


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Turning corners

At the corner of here and there

At the corner of here and there

My Mom always told me I was born under a lucky star. We weren’t rich by any means, and we had our share of hard times. Yet all in all, life has always just seemed to work out as it should. Now, I’m not a lucky person, per se. I don’t win door prizes and have never won so much as a dollar on the lotto or at a slot machine. It just doesn’t happen. But on the big things in life, things seem to go my way. Maybe it’s a matter of perception: I expect it will work out, so it does… or at least I see it that way.

But the last few months have been challenging. Life has been alright. Work is good. Kids are awesome. Hubster does well at school. But I have been feeling rather fried. I’ve felt frustrated, overwhelmed and confused personally. While my career has been right on track, privately I’ve been drifting. At the end of the day, after we’ve read bedtime stories and tucked the kids in tight, I just want to lay down and sleep. That’s not my normal M.O. I haven’t feel creative; I’ve felt drained. I’ve struggled to make decisions. Usually, I know who I am and am secure in my own skin. Lately though, I’ve felt haunted by self-doubt. Insecure. Old.

That energy – or lack thereof – quickly multiplies. What starts out as one “off” night turns to two, turns to ten – if you let it. I hate to admit that I’ve let it that feeling grow for a little too long now. I’ve been looking back instead of looking forward: thinking about “what if” instead of “what is.”

Now, we say goodnight prayers every time with the boys. There are certain phrases that I’ve said over and over for the last six years… things the kids added… that have become part of our ritual, our routine. They’ve always been special, but tonight they felt rote. I rushed through the opening line.

“Dear God: we come before you tonight to give thanks for this wonderful day and all the fun we had today. Please bless our family and friends…”

Then, Luke stopped me.

Luke: “You didn’t ask me what I was thankful for, Mommy.”

Nuts. “Sorry, Luke. What are you thankful for today?”

Luke: “That you got home safely.”

Jake: “I’m thankful that we’re all here together. What are you thankful for, Mommy?”

I was silent for a little while. They were so sweet, so earnest and so right.

I’ve been exhausted and looking for answers somewhere ahead of me, instead of seeing what’s right beside me. The kids reminded me of that tonight.

In the search for “what’s next,” you’ve got to remember how amazingly special “what is” truly is. And, if you’re struggling or searching, you have the power to turn the corner – to turn it around – if you set your mind to it.

We finished our prayers, gave goodnight kisses, and I came in here. I’m still fried, still exhausted. But what am I thankful for?

I’m thankful that I made the choice tonight to turn the corner. I’ve got a great family, dear friends and a roof over my head. I’m lucky. Maybe Mom is right. Maybe I WAS born under a lucky star. In fact, maybe we all were, if we choose to believe.