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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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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Genetics in Action

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Do you have a scar? I do. It slices through my left eyebrow – a leftover of a time I bulldozed my poor brother into playing a game that was downright dumb. I got my payback: a concussion and 36 stitches to mend skin and muscle. It’s subtle now, but if I lift my bangs, it’s still there.

What about a scar you can’t see? Where is yours? We all have them… something we did, something done to us or something passed down by people who were once as innocent as we were when we were kids.

I’m one of too many kids to count. Both of my parents worked hard to provide for the family, especially Dad. He is a doctor, and pulled a lot of overnighters. It was pretty common for us not to see him at all from Monday through Friday, with weekends being our special time. Now, kids compete for attention from their parents as it is. When time is limited though, that competition gets especially fierce. Everyone picks a “role,” digs in and tries to out-do everyone else.

For me, I was going to be the “perfect” child. I was going to get excellent grades, be a massive overachiever, win every award and never get in trouble. That’s a lot to aspire to when you are 10 years old. Plus, my dad is a genius, so you’re trying to live up to that as well. I worked hard and did pretty well, but it came with consequences. Since I was always striving for perfection, which is frankly unachievable, nothing I did was ever quite good enough. So I took on more and more, and lived in that constant cycle of fear that I was letting someone down. I was not good enough. Now, you can’t see this scar, but it’s long, deep and self-inflicted.

When I first started my career, I packed those bags and took them along with me. In the arts, there was always a better singer, a better dancer, a better anything. And as I transitioned into business and began to rise through the ranks, I continued to take on more and more… making myself “indispensable” because it was just easier for me to handle something. That way, it would be “right” the first time. It would be as close to “perfect” as I could get it.

That’s a recipe for unhappiness though. You become completely overloaded, overwhelmed and stressed out. Nothing is ever good enough, and you can’t truly move on in life because you haven’t fully invested in someone. You haven’t trusted someone enough to learn to let go.

While the quest to create something truly great is admirable, perfectionism comes down to issues of trust and control. You have to learn how to trust someone enough to let go of the reins and release control, providing guidance so they too have the opportunity to learn and evolve. It’s a basic tenet of leadership, and probably the hardest lesson I continue to learn every day. I’m getting a lot better, but there’s always another mountain to climb.

I’m a parent now, and my kids are great. But here’s where the genetics kick in. While my oldest son looks like my husband, his personality is all me. He is quirky, inquisitive and wants to try everything. He also has a major perfectionistic streak… one that already causes him undue stress at the age of 5. While there are many things I want to pass down to him, this is not one of them. I want to set him free as I work to do every day in my professional life. I want him to know that our imperfections are what makes each of us so special… So perfect. He may have a scar on the outside, on his chin, but I don’t want him to carry the scars inside that so many of us already have today.

What scars are your carrying around inside? What will you do today to help them fade away?

 

For the cool weekly writing challenge, check this out: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/writing-challenge-dna/


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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.