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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Score 1 for the Other Team

Ever had one of those days?

Ever had one of those days?

So, sometimes no matter how hard you try, you still have one of those days.  Perhaps you lose a teammate – a valuable one. Maybe you lose a sale – one you have been working on for a while. Maybe you lose a client – one that you have moved Heaven and earth to keep happy – to someone offering a lower price, fancy new bells and whistles, the latest whatever it may be.  You rallied the troops around that teammate/sale/client, and you still lost.  How do you react?  Are you angry?  Frustrated?  Off your game?

I would ask two questions in a situation like this.
1.  How strong was your relationship?
2.  How well were you listening?
What do you think about when you think about the important relationships in your life?  Can you picture the laughter, the way that person makes you feel when you are around them, the shared memories?  Those are important parts of a relationship, true.  But how many of those relationships have come and gone? What is different about the ones that have lasted years?  One key difference is probably in the amount of hard work you’ve put into it – the ongoing attention you pay to that special person.  Let’s face it.  Some of the most important, maybe even most transformative, relationships you’ve ever had are long gone. The best friend, the first love.  We’ve all done it.  Perhaps we chalk it up to “outgrowing” it, we “learned what we were supposed to learn” and are better people.  That’s great.  But maybe it wasn’t just a phase.  Maybe we didn’t pay enough attention, took that person for granted, or allowed too many excuses to get in the way of getting outside of our box.  Getting uncomfortable.  Getting vulnerable. Getting real.  Maybe our relationship wasn’t as deep as we really thought it was.  After all, if you really get down to the heart of any relationship and bust your buns to stay there, you can feel if something is drifting out of focus.  You’re working with your head and your heart.
Then, there is the listening part of it.  In any sales environment, we know we should be listening more than we speak. That’s a given.  But what about those later stages of your relationship?  When you’ve worked with a client for a long time, it’s natural that you get to know them.  You care for their welfare and have a personal stake in their success.  And once you have celebrated success, signed the client and developed that personal stake in it, there’s a danger of becoming too familiar… “Knowing” too much.  You assume the next sale. You may talk too much because you are so comfortable, and you forget to listen.  Needs change.  If you are actively listening, always asking questions, keeping that relationship “new”, always working at it, then you’ll hear those cues that perhaps something isn’t quite right.  It’s hard to hear those hints over the sound of your own voice though.  It’s easy when you’re quiet… when you listen.
Even when you do your absolute best, you still will lose one here and there.  But don’t forget to ask yourself if you really were doing your best after all.  And on those days when you do lose one, remember to be grateful for everything in the win column.  Now, make sure they stay there


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Father Knows Best

DadSo, now it is Dad’s turn to celebrate another birthday – perhaps a little unwillingly.  That tends to happen more and more as life goes along, I guess.  The family gathered at his house to share his special day.  Have I mentioned that my family is rather large?  There were seven of us kids there (and that’s not the entire crew), not to mention the kids by marriage, assorted boy/girlfriends and grandkids here, there and everywhere, two dogs, two cats… You get the drift.  It was extremely loud with all of those lives everywhere. Every table was heavily laden with food (it’s a Francisco Family tradition). Fingers big and small made music on the keyboard, and voices lifted in harmony as the organ dimly played its fading bossa nova beat in the background as we passed by.  In other words, it was home.

We came together in a dance so familiar to celebrate the man that unites us all.  We had a great time, one that I am reminiscing about now as I sit in my quiet home – close and still too far away.  So tonight, I wanted to share a few things about my Dad that still serve as life lessons for me today.

1.  Small people make a big impact. When I was a child, my Dad towered over me like a giant.  Dads do that.  As I have grown, I have come to realize that many members of my family are “vertically challenged”, myself included.  Yet, while my Dad may be small in stature, he has made a significant difference in the lives of many people beyond just our family members.  When Dad moved to the States, he soon became a small town doctor.  That small town doctor brought life to generations after generations as he delivered them in homes, in hospitals and out in the local Hutterite communities.  Doc Eddie still reigns supreme in borders well beyond those he knows, as others live today thanks to the work he did.  The magnitude can’t be measured, and it is real, meaningful and eternal.

2. You don’t have to show off to prove your worth.  Dad is a genius – literally. That can be rather humbling to a kid who thinks they know it all.  Yet, Dad never mentioned it… Not once.  He never really touted his accomplishments; he didn’t have to.  He demonstrated who he was in his actions, and others touted it for him… usually to his embarrassment.  And he never made his know it all child feel down.  He knew when to win, and knew when he needed to let you win. That’s a hard one for me, and I’m working on it. There’s no benefit in always being right. It’s impossible, and hurtful too.

3.  Know when to work, and know when to play. Children of doctors know the routine – the early mornings, late nights, even later emergency calls from the answering service. There was no doubt that Dad was always on during the week.  But Dad also knew when to call a time out.  My favorite silly day, one among many, was on my twelfth birthday.  I sat at the kitchen table with my homebaked cake, my brothers and sisters, wearing a cowboy hat, when a giant yell came from the stairwell.  Out bounded Dad in a much too small matching cowboy hat, brandishing irons (a fork and spoon) and whooping that he was the birthday bandit.  He was exhausted and on call that night, but I never would have known it.  He made time stop for me and for the family.  Work hard, yes, but there are times that everything else can wait.

4. Silence often means more than words. Dad pretty much does not speak. He is known for one word sentences at most, but more often – if we asked him a question – his response would be a nod, a lift of an eyebrow, or pointing with his lips. It’s a Filipino thing. “Dad, want some ice cream?” Nod. “Strawberry or chocolate?” Lift left eyebrow twice. “You got it, Dad.” He is a quiet man, but says so much without a word. I sat down next to him today, leaned against him, put my head on his shoulder – and with one simple pat on my hand, he said more about how he felt and his love than a million flowery poems or this blog ever could. Words are often overrated. Dad shows his love instead with a gentle touch, and through his endless cooking of pots of adobo, plates of pancit and piles of lumpia. You never go hungry, belly or soul. People show love in different ways. How open are you to receiving it?

5. Don’t forget to dance. We are pre-iPod, CD and cassette. Yet, Mom loved music on at all times (probably to mute the sounds of us crazies), so Dad installed a radio in the kitchen, hanging underneath the cabinet. It would play in the background every night. Then, after the food was gone and the dishes washed, magic would happen. Several nights a week, a song would come on that Mom loved, and Dad was swoop her into his arms, waltzing her around the kitchen in a grandiose arc. Then, he’d pull her close to him, sway softly and sing Julio Iglesias or “Dahil Sa Iyo”gently as an eerie quiet would fall over us all. Life goes by too quickly, and the days run together and are soon forgotten. Yet, those fleeting minutes are magic. Don’t forget to dance.

Here’s to you, Dad. Thank you for the food, the Angels, the unexpected piano concertos and the karaoke marathons.

You are the best.


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A Birthday Card to Mom

MomToday is my Mom’s birthday.  I’m on the road right now, so I sent flowers and called, but I still did not feel like I did enough.  And as I sat here in the hotel tonight, I started to think about how I viewed my Mom way back when and how I see her today.

Way back when – aka in my foolish teenage years – I loved my Mom and was absolutely certain that I was smarter than she was and knew more than she did.  Kind of a given for a teenager.  I thought Mom was beautiful.  Picture Mia Farrow, and you’re seeing my Mom.  She has always been one of a kind too: a little kooky.  Our house was filled with strays of the canine and human persuasion.  Mom couldn’t sing, but she sure did blast those Broadway records at full tilt boogie.  And with as many siblings as I’ve got, our house was raucous to say the least – balancing right on the edge of joy and madness.  I remember Mom standing in the middle of it all, always full of folksy sayings: trying to teach us – sometimes hollering over us – the things we may need to know as we grew.  We colored on the walls, ate dessert for breakfast and generally figured we ignored her advice.  And now I am grown with a family of my own.  I see my Mother when I look in the mirror.  I hear her voice come out of my mouth.  And I’ve realized how much she taught me when I didn’t think I was learning.  To celebrate her today, here are a few of my favorite Mom moments.

1.   Were you born in a barn?  (Also, known at dinnertime by the variant “Close your mouth. You look like a cow chewing its cud.”)  My Mom was raised on a farm, so we got a lot of country references when Mom talked about manners.  Manners were big for her.  She taught us to say please and thank you, of course.  And she also taught us that the world may judge you by your manners as well.  Being polite and considerate, thanking people, being gracious – they are points of entry into business today, and while they may not be directly acknowledged, they are noticed and appreciated.

2.   Just put ice cream on your cereal instead.  OK, so Mom usually resorted to this when we ran out of milk, but to a kid, ice cream on cereal is paradise so we were happy.  We ate ice cream for breakfast more than once.  Mom was resourceful.  Mom was creative.  She encouraged that in us kids too.  When she ran into a challenge, she found a solution, turned a tough time into something fun and moved right along.  Times will be tough for all of us at one point or another.  What matters is how we respond to problems and find creative answers.

3.   Time to get dewormed.  Now, that sounds icky, especially when you know that no one in the family (canine or human) ever actually needed to get dewormed.   But Mom was all about preventative measures.  Sometimes, even if everything seems fine, it’s still worth digging a little deeper to make sure things really are as good as they seem.  They well may be.  Or, you could find something that needs tending to.

4.   Don’t forget where you came from.  Mom has regaled me with stories of how my ancestors fought in the American Revolution and others worked on the Underground Railroad; how Dad ran secrets for the Filipino Guerrillas and Resistance forces during the Japanese occupation in WWII; how my Aunties had the most beautiful hands and made the best longanisa (which is very, very true).  In fact, I’m still hearing new stories today.  Mom taught me to be proud of my heritage – that my ancestors stood up for what they believed in and I should too.  She taught me that I am part of something so much more than just “me” and that Family, both gone and yet to come, is your true legacy.

5.   Patience is a virtue.  In this world of instant gratification, it’s easy to forget that some things are worth the wait.  This is a hard one for me, but it is true.  I found my career late, my husband late… found myself late.  They were worth the wait.  Today, I find that I say this same thing often to my children and to myself.  Day to day goals and pressures can make you crazy.  Set a long term goal.  Know what you stand for.  Then slow down, enjoy the ride and keep your eye on the finish line.  It’s a good one, after all.  Now, Mom: I know you are probably mortified that I wrote this tonight (especially # 3), and I hope you know I wrote this with love.  I treasure you.  I treasure what you taught me. You are more beautiful today than you were all those years ago, and I am so darn grateful for you and all that I’ve learned.  I succeed at business and life because of the sturdy foundation you and Dad built.

Happy Birthday, Mom.


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Song of Sondheim

West Side Story - Palais du Sport in Paris, 1999

West Side Story – Palais du Sport in Paris, 1999

“The air is humming, and something great is coming. Who knows?” – Steven Sondheim (West Side Story)

I’m a big fan of Sondheim and was fortunate for many years to tour in a number of productions of West Side Story as “Anita.” One of my favorite numbers in the show is “Something’s Coming,” sung early on. Natasha and I used to stand backstage during that number, bouncing along with nervous energy, feeling the excitement in Sondheim’s youthful lyrics and the change in the wind that Arthur Laurents’ mature yet soaring orchestrations created. The air truly did hum every night for over a year on that tour as we listened to a glorious melody. We knew something great – change – was just around the corner, for our characters and ourselves.

I was reminded of those long ago summer nights recently by a former colleague of mine. After spending a few hours reminiscing and talking about our future, he asked if I was afraid of change. “Of course not,” had been my reply, and I’d mentioned leaving the entertainment industry to take on a day job as an example. I still hold that day job today, though it comes with a longer title than it did back then. And adroitly, my friend mentioned that career change had been a long time ago (true). He asked again if I was afraid of change. After all, today I have a family that depends on me.  Change is a given these days, but change at 25 years old means something very different than change at the age I am today. And that’s a good thing. Change at 25 is moving to a different city, changing a college or changing a career. It’s all exciting and new, and back then, I dove in feet first with little thought in mind about the next 10-20 years.

Change today means so much more. I embrace change in a much different way. It’s no longer reckless abandon, but instead deeply felt, sometimes wistful, exciting, considered and with a vivid understanding of just how meaningful – and frankly, wonderful – change truly is. Change lives with us all every day. I see it illustrated before me as my children grow taller and my time with them under my roof and on this earth grows ever briefer. I embrace change at my office as people come and go through the years, and the DNA of the Company evolves too. I embrace change as a smart business person, as the market is changing, people are changing and the way we connect is changing. Technology races forward, regardless of whether or not we humble humans want to race along with it. Facebook has brought my family closer together than we were in the decades prior. I am now part of my brothers’ and sisters’ daily lives. In fact, we hold each other in the palms of our hands, thanks to the smartphone that I am writing this blog on, over 30,000 feet in the air on a plane.

It’s why I will always be a student of the world. If I want to succeed in business and make a mark in this industry, I have to constantly learn about how it is evolving – reading books, attending seminars, innovating. What worked 5 years ago may not be relevant today. And how can I stay successful and grow if I don’t know the destination?  Change is not coming though. Change is already here. If you cannot evolve, learn, embrace and love change, the world will soon leave you behind.

Of course, dear friend, I am not afraid of change. I would not be here today if I was, and my tomorrows in business and life would be very short. Change is the basic mode of life.  The air is humming, and something great is here.

I can’t wait to see what it is