Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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When Things Change

Yearbook

The cover of my high school time capsule

A few weeks ago, I found the yearbook from my Senior year of high school. What a trip it was to open the pages, look at the pictures, and read what was written. Now each year, our school would feature an extra write-up on five members of the graduating class: big picture and a paragraph about who they are and what they want to be when they grow up. I was one of those kids.  I talked about wanting to perform on Broadway, learn to speak five languages, and eventually teach theatre in a university setting.  Privately, I pictured being bi-coastal and forever single, having apartments in New York and L.A., a closet full of homemade quilts and a calico cat named Romeo. Rather specific, I know.  My dreams back then were the dreams of a teenager: grand, broad, and a romanticized version of life.

As time went on, life took me down a different path, although the essence of those dreams lived on. I performed all over the world, learned to order McDonalds’ in about eight languages, and did get to teach and coach, just in another setting. My vision of life changed, and I planned carefully so the vision would come true. Career, own a home, marriage, kids and a dog became the new dream… better than the one before.

Whether in high school or today, most of us have a preconceived notion of what our lives will be. Like a movie, it plays over and over in our mind. We believe it will happen and make it happen.  Everything goes according to plan, until one day, it doesn’t.

There are small changes, slight detours. They’re easy to adjust to. No major change of course. Then, there are others: the ones that come galloping in from left field and knock the wind out of you. These are the biggies. The real deal of life. Financial. Medical. Personal. When they happen, there’s no going back. Reality tilts. You’ll never be the same.

Subtle changes are simple. Change that’s an 8.0 on the Richter scale, out of the blue? That’s different. It has the power to devastate… if you let it, and if you’re not prepared. Yet, how can you prepare for something big, something you never could have – or would have – imagined?

You prepare by knowing that something big is guaranteed to happen.

Life is neither a movie nor a preconceived notion. Life is thrilling, brutal, exciting, and devastating.  Big, beautiful, bad things happen. They will happen to you. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Fear of the unknown can be paralyzing, so we try to control the uncontrollable to minimize risk or minimize pain – loved ones, career, life. It’s impossible. It’s tilting at windmills. It’s a waste of time.

So change came quickly. Okay.

You got news that has rocked the way you look at the world forever.  Right.

It’s scary. You’re afraid. You don’t know if you can do it. It hurts like hell. The feelings and fear are valid. Only you can decide what you’ll do though. Will you embrace the change and move into the unknown? Will it make you stronger, bolder? Will you dream and achieve big, regardless of the new direction?  Or will you lose your balance and your way?

Recently, I had a career change come out of the blue. I’ve always thought I was great with change, but when my world tilted, I stumbled. I wasn’t prepared. It took me a minute to regain my footing. Now, I’m thrilled and energized by the future. I’m ready for the next adventure.

My world tilted again big time a few days ago. This time, I was prepared. The world does not look the same, and neither does the future. But what I’ve realized is that there is immense beauty in the new reality. It’s stunningly gorgeous. It’s just different, and sometimes, different is just right.

Someday, something really big is going to happen that rocks your world. And after that, another something will happen again. Be ready. Be bold. Be brave. Let go of control and live the life you’ve been given. Take the risk. Win or lose, you will rise again.


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Kindred Spirits

Favorite ConversationalistCarrying on a conversation has never come easy for me. Frankly, it’s exhausting. I’m a closet introvert, disguised as an extrovert. While I may seem outgoing to the casual observer, I’m not. Often, I feel awkward, though it may not show. I envy how my kids boldly fling themselves into the world with ease and joyous abandon. For me, it’s strenuous. Exhausting. It doesn’t matter if I’m with strangers or with life-long friends, talking can be tough. More often than not, I feel self-conscious, uncertain of what to say. It’s not that I’m not interested or engaged in the topic. I just know that, when I’m tired or not “on”, I’ll stumble over my words, even with those friends I enjoy the most. Small talk – or big talk, for that matter – is not an innate skill of mine, which is particularly odd considering that I make my living having conversations and building relationships.

I’m not an engineer, writer or programmer – all careers that could likely afford me the solitude I love. No. I’m in business development, marketing, and sales. This business is built on the word “hello.” Meetings. Presentations. Conferences. Networking. My success depends on the ability to create meaningful experiences and authentic connections with people who I meet. When I first started in this business, I’d put on my “show face” to connect with people – something honed after years of ‘meet and greets’ with audience members in my theatre days. Good, but not authentic. Still, somewhere along the journey, I found a better way. I’ve discovered that there are three secrets to carrying on a great conversation. So if you’re an introvert like me, this is for you.

First, ask a good question. I’m not talking about “so, what do you do” or some other inane fall back line. I said ask a GOOD question, perhaps a GREAT one. You’re not looking for easy, one word answers here, but something a little deeper. Generally, I’ll join a group that’s already together and listen to the flow for a few minutes until something piques my interest. That’s what I’ll ask about.

Second, be quiet and listen. Don’t say anything. Just take in what the other person is saying. Most people enjoy talking. Go ahead and let them. Actively listen and honor whatever they may share with you. Nothing bothers me more than hearing people talk on top of each other, interrupt, or answer a question before the other person finishes what they are saying. This world is full of words, and not enough people take the time to hear them. If you’re too busy answering a question before it’s been fully asked, you’re likely missing something pretty key.

Finally, look for kindred spirits. If you really ask a good question and listen completely to the answer, more often than not, you’ll find you have something in common with the other person. In one way or another, you’re kindred spirits… wanting, wishing for or needing the same thing. I don’t believe in us or them. I believe in we. When you focus on looking for common ground, you’ll find it. Perhaps it’s something as small as the same favorite color. Perhaps it’s something much bigger than that: the feeling of being a parent, of rising to the occasion or rising to the top. When I step into a conversation, I never know what I will find in the other person. I just know that I will find something, and it will be good. There is comfort in knowing that strangers are only friends you have not met. It is empowering in business as well. In any situation, I know there will be an answer that works for both parties. I don’t give up until I find it.

Now, certainly there are those people with whom we share more – those in whom we see something of ourselves. Something timeless. Still, after all these years spent walking into rooms filled with the unknown, I’m still amazed at how similar we all are after a little while, how universal business is, and how common – and brilliant – this human condition can be. Everywhere I look, I see kindred spirits. A community. I may be one of the quieter members of it, but I’m all in. I hope you are too.


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mind·ful·ness

Heartmind·ful·ness 

NOUN

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something:
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

I’m on the road for work again, spending time with strangers in airports, on planes, and in coffee shops. When I started traveling years ago, it was easy to strike up a conversation or see the world. The only barrier back then might be a magazine or a Walkman. Today, it’s tougher. Most people – myself included more than I’d like – are transfixed by their smart phone, staring down glassy-eyed while the bright lights of a pseudo-world stare back at them. We spend hours connected to our devices and the imitation intimacy they offer, and disconnected from the sea of humanity and real mystery all around us. Our smart phones weigh us down, stealing time from our family, stealing sleep and magnifying stress. Lately, it’s been bothering me, so I’m focusing on doing things the old-fashioned way – living in the moment with everyone around me.

When you practice mindfulness and look up, it’s amazing what you may find. Perhaps it’s a quiet moment, making eye contact with someone or smiling back at a child. Maybe it’s shared laughter or seeing an act of kindness. Finding an interesting book cover and wondering what the other person is reading inside. So many airports are filled with art – of the creative and human kind – and so many of us miss it, but when you look up, it’s yours to cherish.

Sometimes, I enjoy the sounds of the terminal… the cacophony of noise that somehow blends into a sweet hum of energy. Other times, I’ll find a soundtrack that suits my mood and marvel at how the world falls in step. Either way, time seems to slow. It’s not even measured any more. No destination. No deadlines. Just before, now, and what may come next. Stress melts away. Worries subside. You get lost in your thoughts, lost in day dreams, lost in the moment just enjoying the people you’re with. Looking up, you see the world and reflect it inward. Emotions wash over you and through you. It’s a beautiful thing.

Now when my flight landed, my teammate picked me up, and we began to drive the back roads of Wisconsin. I’ve never been here before. It’s one more state checked off the list. Now she knows I like to watch the world go by, and as we cruised along she mentioned how “beautiful the barns are here, how they’re different than in Kansas, and how brightly colored they are.” She told me that she’d often wished she could travel to far away, romantic places: Paris, Rome, China, and that sometimes she’d felt like she was missing out, staying close to home. But something had changed.

Six months ago, when my “living in the moment” journey began, I’d come to visit her. Throughout the days we spent together driving across several states, I’d kept commenting about how beautiful the hillsides were, how the shade of grass changed from Nebraska to Kansas to Missouri, and how stunning the fields of corn were as they swayed in the breeze. Then she paid me what may be one of the highest compliments I have ever received.

She shared with me that our three days together last year had changed the way she looked at the world – that listening to me made her see things with fresh eyes. The world looked new to her with so much beauty all around, and now as she drives the highways, she looks up and it’s gorgeous.

Put down the phone. Look up. Practice mindfulness and pass it on. It’s contagious, and it’s good for the soul.