Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Braids, Briefcases, and Bucket Hats

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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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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.


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Boots and Beyond

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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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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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From 32,000 Feet

I’m sitting on a plane on my way home after a long week on the road, and I’m tired. Baked, fried, closed for business. Once I get to my seat, I usually want to shut down. I don’t talk to the people sitting next to me. Instead, I prefer to put on my headphones, crank up the beats, close my eyes and shut the world away.

Tonight is a little different though. I heard the mumble of the muffled pilot’s voice and would have ignored it, if it had not been for the woman next to me leaning across my lap to peer out the window. Curiosity got the best of me, so I paused the beats just in time to hear him say “Milky Way Galaxy.” Now, I’m peering out the window too, staring at the black canvas sky, littered with stars.

There are millions of them. They’re magnificent. I haven’t seen so many in years. And yet, they’re always there.

Stars don’t disappear, just because there are clouds in the sky. They’re no less brilliant, just because the lights of the city are brighter. Stars were here before, are still here now and will be around long after our short time on this earth is done. We look for them, wish on them and wonder what they really are.

To me, a star is like a dream – it’s that hope you have inside, where you’re headed, and what you believe in.

When times are tough, it may be tempting to lose hope. Your vision is clouded by trouble, emotions or fear.

When you’re caught up in the bustle of bright, city life – work, the hurrying to and fro – you may lose sight of your dream. Paying the bills or climbing that corporate ladder distracts you from what really matters.

But the dream is still alive. It was there before, is still deep inside of you, and can guide you on the road ahead. And there are millions of dreams. Yours, mine, and the one belonging to the woman sitting next to me. And together, they are magnificent.

There’s reason to hope. The stars still shine. It’s easy to see them from 32,000 feet up, but when it comes right down to it, it’s just a matter of perspective. Open your eyes. Look up. Make that wish, and believe.