Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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Wednesday Love

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It’s Monday, the beginning of another week. Nothing special. Just one day in a string of them. Ordinary. You’re motoring through when something catches your eye. For a moment, you stop, wonder, and move on.

Still the moment sticks with you. It tiptoes through your thoughts now and again, then more often. There’s an allure to it. It’s fascinating. You can’t stop thinking about it, don’t want to start thinking about it. And then, sooner or later, you’re in love.

The first rush of love – the beginning – is overwhelming. Consuming. Intense. Starting something is thrilling. Your emotions careen about. You’re proving yourself. Love is lifting you up.You’re high on the future: massive, infinite, limitless.

Then, you settle in. It’s familiar. The rush is gone, but it’s still warm and comfortable. You’re doing well at the office, coaching Little League, cleaning the garage, going through the days. You’re in Wednesday love. Halfway here, halfway done. Maybe you’re distracted or a little discontent, but it’s all good.

There’s something about that midweek love. You’re not really paying attention in the same way you used to. And that love that lifted you up? It sets your *ss down, and when you’re not looking, it reaches in. Love wraps its fingers around your heart, and lets them rest there. Holding on quietly. Biding it’s time.

Until something happens.

We have a lot of “Mom-isms” in our house.

  • “It’s far better to be kind than to be right.”
  • “Patience is a virtue.”
  • “I love you always and forever, no matter what.”

Mom-isms are great. The thing is, they’re not always right.

The last few weeks have been rough. I’ve become used to this idea that love is infinite, immutable. But, in a way, I’m wrong. I’m at that age when immortality disappears, and vivid, frightening mortality takes over. I’m a member of the “sandwich generation,” caring for my parents and my children at the same time, and while it is a greater blessing than I can ever express, it is also intensely difficult because time is far too present. We had a scare, and now I’m counting how many years, months, days, and minutes we have left. On top of it, a friend lost her husband suddenly. He was a few years younger than I am, with a loving marriage and two, incredible kids.

I’m having a hard time finding a place for it all, which is unlike me. Generally, I power through life. Not so much right now. Time is everywhere. Each second that passes by thunders inside my head. It’s so loud that I can’t think, can’t bottle up the emotions. Frankly, I’m not sure I want to.

You see, I’ve been stuck on Wednesday for a while. I gather it’s natural. Life has been comfortable. Now, it’s not. That bastard Love isn’t sitting around quietly anymore. That hand around my heart is gripping tight, and it hurts like hell. I wish it would stop hurting, but I know that’s not in the cards. You see, I’m awake again. It’s not Wednesday anymore. And while I know it will only get harder, I’m remembering that I’m tough. I’m alive. I remember how strong Love is, and even though it’s not lifting me up like it did in the early days, it’s hold on me is closer, stronger, and more intimate than it ever was before. I’m still in the palm of its hand as its fingers wind around my heart. It braces me – embraces me – as I ready myself for what’s to come… whenever that may be.

So tonight, I will hold them close and hope it will ease the pain, drown out the noise, and bring some peace. Yes, things end. Friday comes. Always is not forever, but it’s incredible while it lasts.

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Life in a Snow Globe

Eiffel Tower MagicA few days ago, my younger son saw a snow globe for the first time. He was transfixed. It was a miniature one: maybe three inches tall tops, with the Eiffel Tower and a million sparkles inside. To me, it didn’t look like much, but seeing it reflected in his eyes, it was pure beauty. So, we forked over $3.99 plus tax for a little bit of wonder. He cradled it gently in his hands on the way home and throughout the rest of the day. When he went to bed, it glittered softly by his bedside, reflecting the glow of his nightlight. All was well with the world, until it wasn’t.

The next morning, Paris beckoned. I told him how I’d been to visit the city, and promised to take him there one day. He was mesmerized. So was I. He shook the snow globe. As we pondered adventures and how many sparkles one sphere could hold, he shook it harder. Swept up in his enthusiasm, he flung out his arms, striking the fragile trinket into his wooden nightstand. Crash. Water, shards of glass, and shattered dreams spilled across the floor.

Now, I came late to this motherhood business, well into the season of life when you begin to count how much time you have left. I understand loss. So, when you’re counting your own minutes, you tend to be uber-sensitive to anything that could hurt your little ones. That natural fear began to rise up, and then I saw the look in his eyes.

He was devastated. I mean really, really devastated. I don’t know if I’ve seen that look before. Something was broken. Tears and “I’m sorry” spilled out of him over and over. That broke me. To me, it was a cheap little trinket. I even got 15% off. To him? It was so much more.

There are times in our lives that demand our attention. It’s easy to tell which days or moments are the big ones – milestones, the wedding day, the birth of a child, their first steps. We’re alert, filled with intention, consciously caring. So often though, we motor through this thing called life like our evening commute. We’re running on cruise control, a little tired, or distracted: just not 100% there. We take it for granted that we know our way home, and that the folks we’re headed to will be there. Dinner, how was your day, bedtime stories: the routine is comfortable and familiar. We could do it with our eyes closed.

All of those little things, those small choices or forgettable questions may be meaningless to you. They may mean something intense to someone else. Those words we rifle off quickly, our go to “I’m listening but really not” phrases, our slightly impatient tone… we think others don’t notice, but maybe they do. Perhaps those frustrated, protective or defensive words do more harm than we could possibly know.

The snow globe was small but beautiful. In a small, unintentional moment, it shattered. The damage could not be undone. And when I looked in Luke’s eyes, I realized that, sometimes, hearts are as fragile as snow globes as well. Something that was measured only in dollars and cents to me was sheer magic to him. I didn’t know it until it was too late.

There are so many snow globes in our lives, known and unspoken. People. Promises. Memories. Dreams. Faith. Self-worth. Love. Whatever they may be, we treasure them deeply. Others have them too. And while we may hold and guard ours gently, they’re fragile. We’re fragile. So are those around us. We can’t take for granted that something said or done in frustration, anger or sheer inattention doesn’t have a lasting effect on those we love. We can’t assume that words we barely recall don’t carry weight; that hearts mend easily, forgiveness always comes, or people will be around forever. They won’t, and that’s probably the only fact of life that really matters.

Thinking about his tears then makes me tear up now. My heart still hurts for him. I did my best to ease the pain, to help it heal. I hope it has, but only time will tell. Still, I will see a little more clearly and watch more closely for signs of the magic… so it doesn’t run out.

 

 

 

 


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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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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.


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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.