Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Screeching Harpy from H-E-Double Toothpicks

There are the days when you’re the greatest mom in the world, and there are those when you’re the screeching harpy from hell. Guess who I was today…

This morning started off a little rough – waking up at zero-dark-thirty to hit the road for my hour long drive to the office, getting there bright and early at 6:30AM for a morning meeting. I was wiped out, but there was no time to waste, so I slammed down some coffee. And boy, did I rally. I was focused, energetic and pretty dang proud of myself. In fact, I powered through what was an incredibly productive and positive day. Heading home, I bopped along to freaky beats. Not even L.A. traffic could bother me. I was riding high.

Then, I walked through my front door, and it all went wrong.

My smile turned into a grimace.
I cranked up the volume and stormed around the house.
My patience, energy and happy mood drained away.
Something started spinning inside me, and it just wouldn’t stop. You know the feeling. The tension that you try to keep in, but it keeps getting bigger until you find yourself snapping at folks for no reason… harping on the kids at dinner. You know you’re wrong, but you just can’t stop it.

What happened? I was tired. The long day finally caught up with me. In the safe zone of my home, I let my defenses down. And when the walls came crashing down, the harpy from hell flew right in and took over.

When we’re at work or with friends, so often, we’re on our best behavior. We find reserves of energy, reach out and moderate our emotions. We speak thoughtfully and gently. After all, those folks only share a part of our lives… and it had better be a good part.

The folks at home know and love us for who we are: the good, the bad and the harpy. They’re the most important people in the world to us. So why do we sometimes treat them like they’re the least? When someone loves you, they invest part of their heart and soul in who you are and how you treat them. They become vulnerable. These are the folks that fill our reserves, who reach out when our arms are too weary… our kids, our spouse, our parents, even our pets. They’re the ones we should speak to with the most care… with the most love.

I love my family. My sons are young, but someday, my husband and I will be gone. They’ll only have each other. At 6 and 4, they bicker loudly and sometimes say things that aren’t that kind. Recently, I’ve found myself saying “do we talk to the people we love like they’re trash?”

Tonight, I did for a little while. I managed to do a reset and rein it in, and while I’m not proud of my behavior earlier tonight, I’m grateful for the reminder. No, we don’t talk to our loved ones like that.

I’m going to apologize and have a time out. I’m going to carry them down the hall, cover their little faces with kisses, read an extra book and tell them how amazing they are – how incredible they are – and how much I adore them. I’m going to ask for their forgiveness, and be damn grateful they give it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, stressed, upset or whatever. Hearts can be hurt, and I don’t intend on breaking the ones of the people I love.

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Planting Seeds

Did I ever mention that I’m a farmer? Well, a wannabe farmer anyhow. I was born in a rural farm town, surrounded by crops and cows. Once we moved to California, my Dad always had a garden box in the backyard, growing tomatoes, beans and whatever caught his fancy. I loved eating the fresh vegetables, warmed by the sun. So a few years ago, in my middle-aged nostalgia phase, I told my husband I wanted to grow fresh food and have our kids experience that as well. Ever supportive, he dutifully built me a beautiful garden box – shaded with a watering system – and we planted our first “crop.”

Well, being a farmer – albeit an urban one – is hard work. First, you need some serious patience. Planting seeds that first year, you’re excited and antsy. Why can’t they just hurry up and grow already? Then, if you make it past that, you need to be diligent in how you tend to your garden. The soil is our area is laden with clay, so it took a lot of fertilizer and added nutrients to help nurture the plants. While the watering system is a nice safeguard, the weather in L.A. is hot. Watering a few times a week was not enough. We had to supplement it every day, and knew quite quickly if either of us had missed a day (brown, withering leaves are hard to miss). And, while it sounds a little kooky, plants need love too. Love comes when you spend time with them, care about them and want to see them grow.

I’ve just celebrated my one year anniversary with my “new” job. And lately, this first year at work has been reminding me of that first year with my garden box. Whenever you start something new, you want to make an impression – do something big to prove yourself and your worth. Maybe you do have a win early, but the real measure of who you are and what you can contribute comes with time. You have to be patient, and patience is not always my strongest suit.

Then, you need to tend to your craft, to your relationships or to your growth. Reaching out to learn more, to ask questions or to seek out a mentor, strengthens you. No matter what came before or how successful you may have been, you’re in a new environment. Recognizing that you don’t know it all and that there are many people you can learn from (and who, in turn, might also learn from you), helps cultivate your skills and strengthen what you bring to the table.

Then, comes the “watering” part – I think of this as the communication part of the journey. You can lean on technology, emails or phone calls to help along the way, but nothing goes further than spending time with someone face-to-face… checking in. Make sure you’re on the same page, and then do it again and again. When you’re new and still “learning” the people you work with, you’re more prone to misunderstandings. You haven’t found your rhythm yet. Keeping those lines of communication open goes a long way to fostering healthy relationships.

Finally, everyone needs a little “love.” In your quest to make your mark, don’t forget that there are many others around you who want to succeed as well. Maybe you’re on the front lines. Maybe you’re the leader. Maybe you’re the popular new kid on the block. Whatever you are, you’re part of the team, and the team’s job is to win together. No one person wins alone. It’s your job as a teammate, a leader or the new kid, to spend time with others, care about their success and work together for the win.

To be frank, I’ve been a little impatient lately. I want success to come more quickly… to make a bigger mark. As I shared this with a coworker, he said something that struck me. He thought I’d been “planting seeds”: cultivating knowledge and relationships, laying a foundation, and investing in others along the way. As I thought about what he’d said, I realized that if I’d accomplished all of that, then my year was a massive success.

It was so because we’re in it together, building for a future that will pay off immensely if we allow the work time to grow and bear fruit.

My first year with my garden box was not fantastic, let’s be honest. I grew a few tomatoes and onions, but it was no great bonanza. I could have done better. But when I think about the office? Maybe I’m a farmer after all.

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Finding grace

I royally screwed up. You see, I travel for work and like to book things far in advance so I have a plan and know where I’m going. When I went to check in for my trip on Monday, I realized that I had booked my flight into the wrong airport – one that was three and a half hours away from my final destination. Changing my flight last minute would cost the company over $1,000 for my mistake, so on Tuesday I grimly boarded the plane to St. Louis, not looking forward to either the drive or the inconvenience. I blew it, so I was going to have to make the best of it.

Then, something wonderful happened.

Through the windshield of my rental car, I saw lavender skies over southern Illinois, and wildflowers scattered in green and gold along the side of the highway. I crossed the Mississippi, the Wabash and dozens of running creeks. With George Harrison for company, I swept past corn fields, cows, farms and barns. And with the sun setting in my rearview mirror, I took solace in my solitude.

Far too often, we live according to a plan. Everything is laid out, anticipated, prepared for… and safe. We may become rigid in our expectations. We expect perfection from ourselves, and we’re let down if we don’t come through. We’re too damn hard on ourselves. And we may expect perfection from others too – barely leaving them room to breathe, to screw up, to be human.

But there is grace in making a mistake. We find the unexpected. We find spontaneity. We find our humanity.

A mistake can be a celebration of the unknown, the moment that sets us off on a new course. A new happy ending.

I made a mistake. I took a detour from the route I’d planned, and found unexpected joy.

Cut yourself some slack. You’re only human too. It’s not a big deal. Everything is going to be okay. You’re still headed in the right direction. You’re just taking the backroads for a little while.

“Here comes the sun.
Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s alright.”

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Hashtags and holding hands…

I stayed up late last night following the hashtag and watching the Twittersphere convulse in waves of shock at Robin Williams’ sudden death. I’m not sure why I tuned in when I should have been sleeping. Perhaps it was the sense of being part of a community – coming together in confusion, anger, grief or fear that someone who was part of our world is no longer. Whatever it was, it brought back memories.

I had a friend in college who struggled emotionally. She was gifted, brilliant and successful – and yet I would often walk in and find her sitting in the same place she was when I’d left hours before. In her pajamas. Silent. Barely breathing. Looking for the light. Outside of a small circle of friends, she was always “on” – vibrant and exciting, larger than life. Even her closest friends only saw hints of what ran underneath. I think the only reason I saw it was because we lived together, frankly. I had a front row seat, and it frightened me. I didn’t know what to do or say during her dark times. At first, I used to go to my room to give her some space. But I would sit in that room wondering if everything was alright… how long would it last? She told me once that suicide ran in her family. Should I be worried? After a while, my worry drove me out of my room and to the couch, where we would sit together in silence – watching TV and occasionally holding hands. I don’t know if it helped, but what I do know is that eventually something would break the sadness, and we’d end up laughing. Life would click back into a familiar rhythm. Things would be fine… for a while. In my youth, I thought she got “better.” Now, I wonder if she did. I hope she did. Since then, we’ve lost touch, but every now and again, I think about her: how she is… if she is well… if she still struggles today.

The truth of whole Twittersphere thing is that we were probably all drawn to it last night by something more personal. If someone so gifted, so brilliant and so successful could only find solace in an ending, how many “ordinary” people – people you and I see everyday – are fighting the same battle right now? Whether it’s Robin Williams, your college roommate, a neighbor or a loved one, someone you know is struggling as you read this. How hard do they fight to win one more day? How many people are losing that battle right now?

It’s easy to take someone at face value. You say “Hi, how are you?” and get “great!” in return. And maybe that’s true. But, what if someone actually said something else?

“I’m afraid…”
“I’m lonely…”
“I’m sad…”

Would you be surprised? Shocked? What would you do?

At our core, we’re often pretty perceptive people. We sense when something is off, even if we can’t put our finger on what it is. What if we paid more attention to those feelings? Made more of an effort to reach out or ask another question when something didn’t feel right?

Would it hurt? Not at all.
Would it help? I’d like to think so.
Maybe if we all reached out to hold someone’s hand, we could change a life.

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