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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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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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.