Ramblings of a Creative Mind

Thoughts on Work and the World from an Executive Mom


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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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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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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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Pep Talk

Star players on Team Family

Star players on Team Family

So, I am out at the Automotive Leadership Roundtable thanks to a good friend and a lot of networking (more on that another day). I came out here to learn about business, my industry, how it’s changing and how to inspire people. And who could be a better opening speaker for us this morning than Jack Harbaugh – famous coach, but even more famous father. He sure gave me a lot to think about this morning for work. But I’m walking away a better mother today than I was yesterday because I heard him speak.

Coach Harbaugh spoke extensively about putting the team before everything else, and how all good business decisions have to make things better for the team. Otherwise, it’s just not worthwhile. He talked about the value of persistence, outworking everyone around you and attacking each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. He also reminded us that there are two teams that we need to focus on: the office and our family.

And the Coach hit hard when he said that “you cannot believe in yourself until you know someone believes in you”, that your children “have a right to know that you believe in them” and that you “shouldn’t coach-speak your kids.”

A few days ago, my boys were going bananas in the backseat of the car. I’d had a long and rough day, and I am not proud to admit that I snapped at them to be quiet. Luke apologized, and then Jake told him not to apologize, that “Mom won’t believe you.”

That hurt that evening, but not as much as it does today. That evening, I knew Jake said it because I tell him that “actions speak louder than words.” And often they do.

It hurts a lot more today because I am seeing the core of that statement instead of thinking about my action “lesson.” The core of that statement was that my son assumed that I did not believe in him or his brother.

That is so immensely far from the truth, as I think my kids are the greatest people on this earth – far better than I am. I tell Jake how great he is every day, how much I love him, how incredible he is. Yet, when it came right down to it that night, in the tough times for him, he did not think I believed in him. And I remember the beginning of the “actions speak louder than words” lesson. When he said I’m sorry the day before, I’d started with “I don’t really believe that… Actions yadda yadda yadda.” He had learned my “lesson.”

Man, I feel like dirt on that one. Yes, actions speak louder than words, but I forgot how powerful words can be.

When I get home from this conference, I am dropping that “lesson” at home and recrafting it, as I am not teaching him the lesson that I want him to learn.

Coach Harbaugh taught me today that there will be plenty of people in my kids’ lives that will coach-speak them, breaking things down in technique, criticizing them, tweaking them and more. My job is to lift them up: to tell them how much I believe in them, to tell other people how much I believe in them and make sure they see it demonstrated in my every action and unconditional support of them – always.

As the co-leader of Team Family, I am a better leader today than yesterday, and I’ve only just begun this journey. And this also translates to the people I am blessed to serve at work as a leader and mentor.

Thanks, Coach. Now I see.

The team. The team. The team.