Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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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.