Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Braids, Briefcases, and Bucket Hats

Braid_Bucket_Hat
There are days we don’t remember, and ones we never forget. Then, there are the precious few that seem inconsequential at first, but only later reveal themselves as more: days that are turning points in our lives, sending us spinning off in a new direction we never imagined when we opened our eyes in the morning.

Almost twenty years ago, I had one of those days.

Back then, I was singing in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My contract was almost up, just before Y2K: the day that many feared our world would grind to a screeching halt, wreaking havoc on a global scale. Millennium madness! For me, it was barely a blip on the radar. Heck. My GIG was about to end. I had three full weeks until the start of my next show, and I needed to pay the rent. Concerned, a friend of mine found an answer to my dilemma in the Y2K thing. His company had 70+ locations that needed to prep for the digital doomsday, and only one I.T. guy to do it. All the talent had already been scooped up, and they were desperate. Luckily, the tech guy was a jazz musician on the side, so when my friend floated the idea of some singer installing new motherboards (who supposedly had some I.T. experience), he was sold. I had a temp job from December 26th – 31st which would pay just enough to keep the roof over my head. Perfect.

So, it’s day one. I know nothing – and I mean NOTHING – about computers. I had no experience, and didn’t realize they thought I did. To me, you pushed the button. The computer turned on. If it didn’t, you kicked it. Simple. Still, I came prepared to learn with a purple notepad and pen so I could write down what I was supposed to do.

I also knew nothing about the corporate world. I walked into an office that looked like the Taj Majal wearing wrinkled khakis, Adidas, an Abercrombie t-shirt, braids, and a bucket hat. Seriously. No joke.

He should have kicked me out. I’m sure he thought about it. I was clueless: under-dressed, unqualified, and out of my league. Yes, I was all wrong, but in my mind I was all RIGHT. I was smart, determined, and a fast learner. I was also just naive enough to believe I could do it and be damn good at it too. So I told him so, and he let me stay. He showed me how to pop the cover off the computer and what to do next. I wrote instructions down in purple ink on purple paper, stopped at three offices (still in my bucket hat), sliced my hand open with a screwdriver at the first one (MESSY), and finished the day slightly banged up but successful.

It was a little day. A temp job. Almost nothing. But after three weeks, they offered me a full time gig as a help desk technician. A year later, they moved me into the marketing department to work with clients. After another year, the CEO asked me what I thought my career path looked like, and I told him that “one day, I’d take his job (but keep him on retainer, just in case).” He promoted me. Five years later, I was an SVP, and a few years after that, I moved to a company much larger than the one I came from and am working my way up here too.

When the elevator doors opened that morning, I never expected that single day would change my life forever. I traded a bucket hat for a briefcase and spun off in a new direction. It could have been just another day, but it wasn’t.

Why did it become more? Looking back, it boils down to three simple things.

  • First, I went in believing in myself. I was naive in a great way. Anything was possible. Despite my innocent fashion mis-step, I had no doubt. I knew I could do it.
  • Second, someone believed in me. Winslow didn’t know me. He found out quickly that I wasn’t qualified. Still, he saw something in me and took a chance – one that I likely didn’t deserve. He took a risk and gave me a shot. But, why did he see it?
  • Third, I was open. Rocking braids and sweet kicks, I was 100% authentic. 100% me. I was open to learn and open to the opportunity.

All too often, we let fear, cynicism, and self-doubt stand in our way. We don’t believe in ourselves. We count our flaws instead of our potential. Afraid to fail, we never stand up, state our goals, or tell the world “I want this. I can do it. I’m worthy.” We get in our own way and mask who we are. Why?

It just takes one person to make a difference, to believe in you or take a chance. And life takes a sharp left turn. You’re on a new course in uncharted waters. Who knows where it will lead?

Be authentic. Be naive. Be proud. Be hungry. Be you.

**************

Some reading fun for those of you who lived through Y2K or were in pre-school back then. Enjoy!

  1. A retro look back – http://time.com/3645828/y2k-look-back/
  2. And in honor of my awesome first day look, here’s one perspective on how Y2K shaped fashion and culture – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/may/19/year-2000-y2k-millennium-design-aesthetic 

Finally, if you like this, share this. Maybe this will help spin your life off in a new direction too.


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Spiders in Technicolor

Technicolor SpidersI’m a heavy sleeper and always have been. In fact, I sleep like the dead. As an adult, I’m grateful for that. As a kid though, I wanted to be a light sleeper like my Mom, who woke at every whisper. I envied her. She had it easy. She never slept deeply enough to get lost in a nightmare.

Me? I had nightmares often. Recurrent ones. There were two main themes: spiders and massacres. I’m arachnophobic, so anything eight-legged was never welcome. I’d dream that hundreds of the technicolor beasts would drop from the ceiling or crawl up from the foot of my bed as I’d huddle under the covers, unable to wake up or get away. Not fun. (Freud, have fun analyzing that.) I’d wake up crying, sick to my stomach, and afraid of any shadow I’d see on the sheet.

The second nightmare? Worse. I’d be out in the front yard while some party was going on in the house. Suddenly, I’d get a bad feeling. I would run from room to room, yelling at everyone to get out, but no one would listen. Then, the ‘bad people” came and the shooting would start. In the nightmare, I always ended up hiding on a shelf in our bathroom in the dark, listening to it all happen. Unable to escape. Unable to help. Then, everything would go quiet. I’d open the door to the same sight over and over again, which I won’t go into here. Though I’d try to wake up from this one, I couldn’t. The nightmare would rewind and start all over, until my sister would shake me because I’d be shouting in my sleep. It followed me throughout my childhood and into college until it finally (thankfully) began to taper off.

When you’re a kid, the world is a thrilling and scary place. Everything is bigger than you. New. Unknown. You’re still discovering who you are, and if you’re insecure like I was then, the fear is magnified. It rises up at night, and you try to work it out with spiders, snakes, or whatever your own personal Armageddon may be. You’re supposed to leave these fears behind, grow out of them, and move on.

Lately though, in the aftermath of all of the horrific, divisive, and hateful things that have happened recently, fear is everywhere. I’ve watched it infect my Facebook feed. The fire is constantly stoked by the media, politics, vitriol, rhetoric: you name it. What’s maddening though is watching how this fear is affecting many of us. It’s tearing us apart. We worry about the world we’re leaving to our children. We’re locking our doors, avoiding eye contact, judging entire classes of people by the color of their skin, their religion, their political preference, whatever. Fear is making us feel powerless, and we’re grasping at anything to make it go away so we feel “safe.”

Fear is natural. We’ll never escape it. It’s built into our DNA. It’s how we evolved. We were afraid, and it spurred us into action. We invented, migrated, and built. Fear was bigger than we were, so we became bold. Brave. Fear pushes us beyond our limits and into new possibilities. Safety? It’s comforting, but an illusion at best, and I’m okay with that.

Fear is a nightmare. Safety is a dream. Nightmares are dreams too. They’re not so different, when it comes right down to it. The only difference is how either one affects you. Technicolor spiders never stopped me from going to sleep the next night or the night after, and while a great dream may tempt me to linger, I still woke up. We don’t stop sleeping because nightmares exist. We keep moving on.

I’m well into my 40’s and still “don’t do spiders,” but it’s not as bad as it used to be. I faced an army of parachute spiders last week in fact, but that’s a story for another time. The massacre thing? Well, that’s moved out of my nightmares and into reality, which is damn awful.

Will I hide on a shelf or in my home? No.

Will I hide my family from the world in fear? Hell, no!

I will teach my children to be bold and brave, but most of all, I will teach them to stand up and fight: to live, love, and to make a difference. I’ll lead by example. After all, I’m an adult. So are you.

Face fear and embrace it. Make eye contact. Stare the damn thing down. Smile at strangers. Keep an open heart. But most of all, take action.


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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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1989

The End of the InnocenceIn January of 1989, my brother died.

Cancer is an evil thing.  It sneaks up on you, striking when you least expect it.  No matter how strong or young you are, cancer is often stronger.  My brother was very young and very strong.  He fought the disease for four years.  I thought he’d beaten it.  But it surprised us all, and we said goodbye very suddenly.

His death affected our family deeply, and everyone coped in different ways.

As for me, I was lost for a while.  I was in a dark place.  I was very insecure back then, and never was comfortable with myself… hating what I saw when I looked in the mirror.  I couldn’t deal with the reality of his death.  So I practiced being someone I wasn’t.

Now, I always loved the arts, and I threw myself into it even more.  It was a way to run away from the pain of his loss, the pain my family was feeling… frankly, the pain of everything.  I NEEDED to run away.

So, I did.  I was beyond excited when I got cast in a show out of town.  At that time, I lived in California, and my summer gig was up in Michigan at a beautiful place called Boyne Highlands.  This would be my first time moving away from home.  My first great adventure.  My first escape.  I packed up my Mom’s minivan and set out across the country.

I spent the summer of 1989 living in a bubble of sorts.  There we were, sixteen young adults living in paradise.  It would have been easy – even natural – to get lost in all of the beauty of Northern Michigan.  Life at a golf resort.  Learning to bartend.  The music.

Instead, in the summer of 1989, I dealt with the after effects of my brother’s death.  I met someone who helped me believe for the first time that I was beautiful.  I learned to forgive people who had hurt me long ago.  And as I laid on the greens at the 7th hole and looked at the stars, I learned to be brave.  1989 taught me that the world is not always kind, but that’s a part of life. And in the background, always on the radio, was Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence.”

The song and I met at the intersection of my youth and my adulthood.

Written by Bruce Hornsby and Henley, it went to #8 on the charts.  It is #1 in my heart.

“Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world
With mommy and daddy standin’ by
But “happily ever after” fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

But I know a place where we can go
That’s still untouched by men
We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence…”

Whenever I hear that song, I am again lying on the cool grass in Northern Michigan… letting go of illusions, remembering my brother, remembering those people, remembering the joy.  Knowing life will never be the same again and knowing that’s okay.

In 2013, almost 25 years later, I attended a leadership event.

Who played that night?  Bruce Hornsby.

He sang “The End of the Innocence.”

I sat in the audience with tears streaming down my face, missing those I’d lost, loving them.  I gave thanks for the blessings in my life today, and knew just how fragile they are.

Here’s a link to the video from that night: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151365340347478&l=872927215193903441

These moments are fleeting.  Don’t miss them.

This blog post is part of the weekly DPChallenge.  Check it out here: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/weekly-writing-challenge-music/


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Behind the Mask

SuperheroesDo you dress up at your office for Halloween?  While most companies have special events on that day – sweet treats, pot luck days or contests – not that many people seem to dress in costume for a day at the office.  Now, I’m a geek and always get into the spirit.  I think it’s fun to walk around the hallways in some kooky get up, and even more fun to conduct meetings and watch other folks try to keep a straight face and take you seriously.  Dressing up and pretending to be someone else for a day is a blast.  It’s about the thrill of it.

When I became a parent, Halloween was new again.  Then, it was about choosing the cutest costume for the boys: Tigger, a giraffe, a blue googly-eyed monster… basically, choose anything that made your heart melt.  It was about spoiling them a little… about joy.  This year was different though.

This was the first year that both boys chose their own costumes.  Mom didn’t make an executive decision.  So, I went hunting for superhero stuff, expecting this to be another year of cuteness.  It was something more though.

When the boys put on their costumes, Captain America and Spiderman began tearing around the house in heroics.  They didn’t just act like superheroes though.  They BECAME them.  Now, my youngest son is full of bravado and wants to try everything on the way to any party or activity.  But as soon as we arrive, he instantly gets shy, doesn’t want to go in or is scared to try.  But when he was Spiderman, he was bolder.  Braver.  He tried new food, led the charge when we went out trick-or-treating, and led the parade at school.   My son was brave all night long, instead of just in those fleeting moments before life happens.

And as I watched him, it occurred to be that Halloween is not about pretending to be someone else for a day.  Instead, perhaps it is about giving yourself permission to bring out a part of yourself that you keep hidden, are a little unsure of or are afraid that you’ll be judged for.

Is the costume your Captain America shield, deflecting that fear and uncertainty?

What is it about yourself that you are afraid to embrace 364 days of the year, but will gladly celebrate on that 365th day?

Who do you think will really judge you?

This year, I dressed as a powerful historic figure – a woman who took great risks, enjoyed great adventures and changed the world as we know it.  I wore that costume proudly.  So, why do I doubt myself other days?  Should I be afraid of going out on a limb, being empowered or leading forward through uncharted territory?  Facing considerable odds?  Making tough decisions?  No.

Should I only be bold when wearing a disguise?  No.

Should you?  No.


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KleenexI was having a conversation the other day with a teammate of mine.  As we talked through a problem we wanted to solve, he said something interesting to me that got me thinking.  He casually mentioned that I had the “EQ” in our team….the emotional intelligence.

I’ve always been a sentimental person… frankly, a very emotional one.  And while I believe everyone feels things deeply, I think there are some people in the world that seem to feel “more”.  It’s the tender hearted among us: those of us who find our eyes welling up with tears during AT&T commercials or who know during any Disney movie about that one moment – that one song – that you dread because you know the waterworks are on the way.

Being emotional is a blessing and a curse.  In your personal relationships, it bonds to closer to your family.  You don’t leave anything unsaid as your heart speaks for your mind.  In professional situations, those emotions can be perceived as a barrier to advancement.  You may get frustrated easily.  Your disappointment is tangible.  So, you have to spend time learning to mask those emotions… hiding your true nature.  With your emotions in check, you project an aura of confidence.   Of strength.

But when did genuine emotion become a sign of weakness?  When did it become a drawback as opposed to a mark of bravery?

It’s brave to be genuine.  It’s brave to be vulnerable.

It’s brave to open your heart to others, risking pain and rejection on the hope that you can make something better.  It takes true grit, true strength of will to be the one who may take the bullet for someone else.

So many people mask their vulnerability. They mask their fear.  Safe in their cocoon, they take no risks… peering only far enough to see what they want to see and no more.

It reminds me of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”  Those among us who hide our emotions stare only at our own shadows, reasoning that we know the world we see, yet seeing no more than our own reflection.  Understanding no more than we allow ourselves to feel.

Then, there are those brave souls among us who embrace our emotions in work and in life.  We are freed from the cave and begin to walk into the light.  It is painful.  It hurts.  It’s confusing.  And it gets easier.  Will we like what we see or feel?  Perhaps.  But regardless of whether we’re bruised along the way, we see more clearly.  We are enlightened.   We no longer live in a thin veil of reality, but instead are bathed in the sun.   Living in the world of what is and what can be, we lead with hope and possibility.

Being an emotional person hurts.  We are often let down.   And yet, we are free.  Free to learn.  Free to love.  And free to lead.

I believe in freedom.  I’m just bringing a box of Kleenex along with me.

How about you?


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Staring Down Dragons

Reggio_calabria_museo_nazionale_mosaico_da_kaulonTomorrow is a big day for work.  We are sponsoring a large event, and I am representing my Company there.  It’s a newer territory for me, and there will be a lot of people I don’t know at the event.  Normally, I’m not one to stress in new situations.  In fact, I often speak publicly for work.  Yet, as I packed my bags tonight, I found myself worrying over things that I really never worry about: what dress should I wear?  Will the competitor onsite talk negatively about my Company or me?  What will I say?  Even now, over an hour after I have finished packing, my stomach is in knots, and I don’t want to get on the plane in the morning.

So what am I going to do?  Get on that darn plane, of course.  Wear my red “look at me” dress – secretly, it’s like armor to a knight – and go out there and face my fear.

Sooner or later, we all find ourselves in situations that make us uncomfortable – or downright freaked out, insecure and scared – at work or in life.  We feel “out of our league, out of our element” or maybe just “out to pasture.”  We tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough.  The competition is too fierce, knows more than we do or just may eat us alive.  Our skills “aren’t enough.”  We feel like a fraud.  Stewing alone in our insecurity, we imagine all the bad things that are going to happen and ultimately cause them to become so.  Our fear is a dragon, bellowing the fire of failure.

No one ever promised that things would be easy.  Many of the most successful people in work and life have faced significant hurdles to get where they are today.  It doesn’t matter what your dragon is: financial, the competition, doubt or inexperience.

What matters is how hard you are going to fight to defeat it.  The only way to advance in your career is to know what you are fighting for and how badly you want it.  Facing those fears is going to be hard – that’s a given.  It may even feel like it’s going to kill you.

It’s easy to be brave in the good times.  To measure who you really are, see how brave you can be in the bad times.  See how willing you are to fight for a good cause and for the people who are depending on you.

For the record, my stomach is still a wreck, and though I can’t figure out what I’m really afraid of, I just know that I am.  I also know that, tomorrow night, I am going to rock that red dress, represent my Company and my Team well, and slay whatever dragon is plaguing me tonight.  Once I do, I will know more about myself and be a better leader and mentor for the people that I am honored to serve each and every day.