Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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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.


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Boots and Beyond

IMG_0584

Me and my boots, on the road again.

It was 1993. Driving eastbound on the 10, I was leaving El Paso when I saw a billboard for an outlet store and decided to stop for a few minutes. That’s when I saw them – Dan Post cowboy boots, tan, with the coolest Native American feather design stitched into the top. Never being one who can resist a great bargain, I bought them and they’ve been with me ever since. For 23 years, my boots and I have wandered around the world – to Europe, Asia and back, through countless airports, weekend errands and casual days at the office. They’re softer than slippers, battered and torn. I’ve repaired them more times than I can count, though the soles have begun to separate, and there’s a spot on the tip of my right toe where the leather has worn off. They’ve certainly seen better days, and it’s probably time for them to go (at least, that’s what people tell me lately). It’s time to get something new. Still, I can’t bear to part with them. They’re warm and familiar. They’re my go to shoe for any day and any adventure.

 

For over two decades, my Dan Posts have been my constant companions. Virtually nothing else in my life has lasted so long. Friendships and relationships have come and gone. I’ve changed hairstyles, lifestyles and loves. I’m in the middle of my midlife crisis, but still my boots are by my side. When I’m far away, they remind me of home.

It strikes me as funny how often people ask why I still wear them. I guess it’s a sign of the times. We live in an age of rapid, mass consumption. Whether it’s media, technology or fashion, we’re always on the lookout for the newest, next thing. We’re Pavlov’s dog when it comes to any device that starts with an “i”, trading up and swapping out perfectly good technology for something that barely does a little more than the last, and creating massive piles of waste here, there and everywhere. Actresses are over the hill at 40. People jump from company to company every few years, looking for the next big thing. Start-ups are exploding everywhere, revolutionizing how we interact with the world and with each other. And the old way of doing things is just “old.” It has no value. We shuffle our elders into group homes or assisted living facilities. It’s become the norm in our society. It doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve been struck by this deeply in the past few months. My folks live much closer than they did before. For the first time in their lives, my kids get to spend concentrated time with their grandparents. Now, my mom was a teacher for eons, and my boys go to a progressive school that teaches things in new ways. In general, it really works, but my older son learns quickly by analyzing patterns, so this new age spelling thing has been a little tough on him. The other night, my mom was working with him, and I heard her spouting off cutesy phrases – “when two vowels go walking together…” etc. Kitschy, homespun learning. It was quaint. Then, we went to his parent-teacher conference, and it was more. We learned that Jake has grown remarkably over the last 30 days in spelling. Funny. That coincides exactly with the date my mom started to work with him in her “old fashioned” way.

Yes, society evolves. Values change. Technology advances. That’s all fine and good. But moving forward and honoring experience don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Our future is built on the foundation of great thinkers who came before us. Without Ptolemy, there would be no Galileo. Without the wisdom of a parent, a child would have a much harder time finding its way. History carves the path. We glance back to see how far we’ve come. We learn and look forward to see which direction we’ll head in the future. Innovation matters. So does experience. Just because an idea is “old” doesn’t mean it isn’t good or worth considering. A winning formula from the past can still be a winning formula, as long as you keep an eye on the future. And 23-year-old cowboy boots, soft and worn, still have value.

I’m going to keep logging miles in my Dan Posts as I figure out what’s next. Where are you headed in work or in life? What’s worth exploring, and what is mandatory to keep? Don’t lose sight of what (or who) helped you succeed. Your past may be the key to your future.


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Bust a Move*

On the floor (3)I have an addiction. It’s not something that will land me on the nightly news, and while my sushi fixation may come close, that’s not it either. I’m addicted to music: not to the song itself, but rather the feeling that comes over me any time a tune has a good beat. It doesn’t matter if it’s pop, country, classic rock or EDM. It all works. If the bass is bumpin’ or the lyrics poppin’, I’m guaranteed to move.  On airplanes, it’s subtle. I rock big headphones, close my eyes and tap my feet. I’m the official Dancing Queen of the 101 freeway, discoing down the asphalt and waving as I go by. And when there’s a dancefloor, all bets are off. I’m the first one on and the last one standing. For better or for worse, I’m married to the music. I’ve just got to move.

Moving feels good, plain and simple. When the beat climbs into your bones, it’s liberating. It’s freedom. Kinetic bliss. The highest state of being. Music transcends language, culture, and age. Music unites, bringing people together when the world would tear them apart. Movement is the expression of that connection, that rapture. When we dance, we abandon “you” and “me”, “us” and “them”, and create the most amazing unit possible – WE.

Children get it. A song comes on. They smile and bounce. They raise their arms in celebration. They’re fearless. Free. Yet, things change as we age. Picture this: you’re at some event, and there’s a dancefloor. The DJ starts playing. The dancefloor stands empty. Five or six songs go by. Finally, he hits a good one and some brave souls get up (let’s face it – it’s usually all ladies). They implore and drag up a few more. A small group forms. Whether or not they knew each other before, they do now. They laugh and show off. They’re having a darn good time. Others simply stay in their seats and watch.

When you’re the one on the floor, its easy to scan the room and spot the people who want to join in. They’re smiling, perhaps moving a little with the beat. Even in conversation, their eyes keep returning to the action. Still, most never do. It makes me a little sad.

Somewhere along the way, something happened. Did someone tell them they weren’t a good dancer? Were they teased? Did a bro tell them that “real guys don’t dance,” it’s not professional, not appropriate, not, not, no? Who was that someone, and who gave them the right to take away their joy – their basic human right to music, to dance, to move?

Moving is good for you. Our bodies were made to move – not to sit still or stand on the sidelines. We were made to participate, celebrate, journey and wander. We move out, move on, and move away. We’re moved by stories. Moved into action. Moved to make life better for us and for those who will come after us. We unite in movements. Why not move to music? Why not be addicted to the beat, to dance, and to the way that strangers become friends – even if it’s just for a single song?

I’ve moved out, moved in, moved across town and around the world. I’ve moved companies and changed careers. Each move I’ve made has led to new adventures, new learnings and a new me. And, now that I’m settled, I move with the rhythm of our family and the steady drum beat of time. It’s great.

Someone told me recently that I “didn’t have an off button.” Not true. I do. I’m an introvert who needs down time to survive. Still, he was right about one thing. I don’t have an off button when it comes to the music.

We don’t always get to dance: to let down our walls and be a part of the We, or even just to BE. So I’m going to bust a move every chance I get for the rest of my time on this earth. I hope you do too.

Don’t stand on the fringe. Join the celebration. Join the moment. Just move. Meet me on the floor. After all, you never know which dance just might be your last.

 

*Props to Young MC for this hit, which won the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance. Yes, I know all the lyrics, and will totally challenge you to an 80’s rap battle one day if I meet you.


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My Coloring Book

imageThere’s a story my Mom loves to tell about my childhood. It was the 70’s. Mom fancied herself a new age hippie and believed that coloring books stifled kids’ creativity. In fact, she was categorically against them so we never had them in the house.

So, I show up for Kindergarten, and the evaluations begin. Do I know my letters? Check. Can I read? Check. How well do I play with other kids? Check. Can I color? OOPS.  As Mom tells it, she and Dad went in for a meeting with the teacher and were told that I’d never amount to much because I didn’t know how to color inside the lines. Now, what I’m told was conveyed was actually a bit more graphic than that, but I’m cleaning it up for the sake of all parties. Mom was mad, but as for me, I wanted to succeed, so I learned how to color the way the teacher wanted, got straight A’s, and became determined to be the kid who did no wrong: the teacher’s pet, the good kid, etc.  Throughout elementary school, junior high, high school and frankly college as well, I stayed inside the lines, between the cones. I never got in trouble.  I was Ms. Goody Two Shoes and darn proud of it.

Now though, as I look at my career and at my life, I think coloring inside the lines often does you a disservice. Think about where we are today. We’re in a constant state of evolution, innovation and change. Bill Gates said that “today the pace of innovation is moving faster than ever.” That was 2013. It might as well have been a thousand lifetimes ago. Today, we have artificial intelligence, wearables, and Crispr gene-editing technology that will basically allow us to rewrite the genetic code of anything living on this planet – you, me, Fido – you name it.  Regardless of any personal opinions, that’s pretty radical innovation.

We never would have gotten here if we colored inside the lines.

Business today demands not only ability but also agility. We’ve become adventurers. Challengers (or challenges) come at us every day, touting what’s new, better or way more awesome than what we have. They send out fancy press releases and call on our clients. It’s never going to stop nor should it.  We just have to be faster, better and more creative. We need to cultivate the ability to see past the lines and beyond next year. We’ve got to be able to tear up the page and look into the future, to anticipate not only what problems exist today but instead leap forward and gauge what may happen then. We need insight into the human condition, a deep understanding of behavior and rich foresight. We need to challenge the norm – “what we’ve always done” – and dream a little dangerously.  You can’t if you stay inside the lines.

It goes for life too. Yes, there are societal norms. I’m not saying abandon them entirely: just don’t be bound by them. Don’t be afraid to try something new, perhaps a little “crazy”, just because people may judge you or “it isn’t done.” Being the teacher’s pet is fine. It works, and you’ll likely do well. But don’t you want to do a little more? Don’t you want to say you DARED? Don’t you want to have some stories to tell, some juicy nuggets or inside jokes that only a few people know, but that take you back?

Now, maybe staying inside the lines works for you. That’s awesome. More power to you. Being alive is a great thing, regardless. As for me, I want to make sure I’m not only alive, but that – at the end of my days – I did it to the max.

This world is moving at lightspeed, and innovation powers the engine. Whether you’re at work or living life, dream big. Dare bigger. Deliver outside the lines.

I think my Mom was on to something after all.


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Labels

WorkaholicI remember the day I got my first pair of Guess jeans.  They were skinny, acid-wash with zippers at the ankles: cute and a total knock off.  But at 16, that didn’t matter.  It was all about that little triangle on the pocket. You know which one I mean. Back then, I was a major geek living in the O.C., and it was all about the label.  It defined you.  Wearing Guess?  Trendy and cool.  Members Only?  Prepster with rich parents.  Listened to KROQ?  Edgy and alternative.  Labels – whether right or wrong – helped our teenage selves quickly assess a person or situation and make a judgment call.   That fake pair of “Guess” jeans was my ticket to the cool club.

Fast forward to the adult years.  As we get older, labels change. They become more about organization.  Time savings.  Streamlining.  Efficiency.  We label boxes, folders and storage drawers.  Heck, I even know a guy that labels his hangers.  Labels seem to make life easier.

But lately, I’ve been worried.  You see, my little guy has had a few tough days at school.  He’s one of the most loving and insightful kids you could ever meet, wicked smart and singularly focused. He knows he’s different, in whatever way he means. He’s also “vertically challenged.” Last night, he came to me crying because he didn’t “want to be small.” He’s begun acting out a little, trying to control the only things he can in an uncontrollable world.  And it hurts, because this is not who he truly is. We worry. What if he gets labeled as a “bad” kid, the one who misbehaves?  Things like that can follow someone for a lifetime.  We’re advocating, collaborating, documenting – doing what we need to do to make sure our son is supported, safe and happy in his own skin. We want so desperately for people to see the boy who is insecure right now, but who says the most tender things, who’s intuitive beyond his years and who gently cares for those who are sad or cannot speak for themselves.  We want them to see the real Luke.

People use labels at the office too.  There’s the top 10% who do 90% of the work.  The high performers.  The “rockstars.”  The “low hanging fruit”.  The “C players.”  These labels – these generalizations – get assigned to people, sometimes by virtue of past performance.  Sometimes not. And once assigned, they often become self-fulfilling prophesies. People begin to mold themselves to meet others’ expectations, instead of challenging the assumptions, busting down walls and kicking some *ss. The winners win more and the rest get stuck.

We label ourselves. We’re serious or a joker. Young. Old. Tomboy. Girly girl. Life of the party. Loner. Successful. Has been. Frankly, sometimes we’re downright cruel. These words play over and over inside our heads, programming our mind and beating down our soul. And sooner or later, regardless of what the truth may be, when we look in the mirror, our own labels stick. They’re no ticket to the cool club, and they don’t make life easier.  They drag you down. Those other winners win more, and you just get stuck.

It’s time to let go of your labels. Forget the voice in your head. It’s dead wrong. You are powerful. Magnificent. You’re a once in a zillion miracle who will never be again. Own that. It’s pretty freaking awesome.

If you lead people at work, they’re miracles too. Each one of them has greatness hidden inside of them. It’s up to you to help them bring it out. Get at it, figure it out or just move on. A failing department is led by a failing manager.  A leader finds the path, teaches and lights the road along the way. Then it’s up to your people to take that step.

And as for your children? Fill them with love. Yes, they may be different, but different is great. They’re once in a lifetime. Of course they are different. They may feel small, but they are giants in our hearts. They may not listen, but they will hear.

My son is an awesome, funny, creative, brilliant, mischievous, bull-headed little sprite, and no matter what happens, my husband and I will have our son’s back. I will drag his butt off the field if he misbehaves and hold him close when he realizes why I did it. I will guard his heart and his innocence as much as I can.  I will make administrators crazy, rattle cages and raise holy heck if that’s what I need to do to make sure my little guy isn’t just another label.  He’s no label. He’s so much more.

So are you.


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Show Time

Love-a

I come from a creative family and married a creative man. We both worked in the arts for years and encourage a love of them in our boys.  Yes, we listen to show tunes and get pumped when we sing in harmony with the kids. So, a few years back, it seemed perfectly normal when we bought a piano for me, picked up my old cello, and then added DJ turntables (yes – it’s music) and a drum set for Steve – instruments we could already play. Later, we added the saxophone and a guitar, and while the extent of my guitar playing skills begin and end with one cool *ss riff, it still made sense.

Then one day, the Hubster brought home the ukelele.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The ukelele is a pretty cool instrument. There’s something quaint… perhaps intimate… about it. It’s four strings, a few chords and the hint of a warm, Pacific breeze. Steve bought a professional quality one and told me he wanted to learn to play it. Awesome idea, but hard to fit into a schedule that includes working on his Master’s Degree full-time, managing construction on the house, wrangling two unruly boys and keeping life moving while I’m traveling for work. So the ukelele has sat quietly on a shelf in the closet under a pile of sweaters, waiting for a moment in the sun.

Today, there was no sun. It actually rained in Southern California. It was heavy, thick rain – the kind that makes hills slide onto streets and freeways turn to shimmering rivers. My 59 mile commute might as well have been 5,000. When I came through the front door out of the darkness and into the light, my kids followed me around bouncing like manic little munchkins, and announced rather loudly that they had a show for me. Now, my blood sugar was subzero and the Hubster had made hot dogs for dinner. This is not generally a recipe for a successful evening. Still, our focus as a family is remembering that every moment is a gift, so I begged them for five minutes to decompress and promised them I would watch one more production (probably another Lego battle or charade thing-a-ma-bopper).  They guided me (and my hot dog) to my seat, our couch pillow thrown on the floor, and began the show.

The Hubster pulled out the ukelele, strummed a few chords, and the boys began to sing:

“I have a dream I hope will come true: that you’re here with me, and I’m here with you. I wish that the earth, sea and sky up above will send me someone to lava.”*

For four precious minutes, Steve played clumsy, sweet, tender chords on an instrument he barely knows, and the three men I love most in the world sang a song they’d just learned this evening. Their eyes were brighter than any star ever born, and the tears ran down my face heavier than tonight’s rain – as they are right now as I write these words.

There are times in your life that are amazing: your first kiss, when you say “I do”, or when your child is born. Somehow, tonight was just MORE. This was one of the most incredible nights of my life. They gave me a gift I can never explain. The love I feel for them is too much for this skin of mine to hold in. I’m so grateful, so humbled and so thankful that this incredible man fell in love with me and that, together, we’ve made people as miraculous as Jake and Luke.  And here they were tonight, singing to me.

Life is good. Love is better.

I could not ask for more.

*Lyrics are from Pixar’s animated short, “Lava”. If you have not seen it, RUN NOW. GO!  Or, grab a box of tissues, click here and enjoy. It’s worth it.