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A peek behind the curtain: Blogging with a full-time gig

One of the great things about blogging is that your blog gives you a cathartic outlet. Have a bad day? Write about it on the blog. Shocked by something an employee said? Write about it on the blog. Remember something your boss did that made you roll your eyes so hard it gave you a migraine? You got it – write about it on the blog.

Funny thing is…that’s kind of hard to do when you’re a working girl. Well, not THAT kind of working girl. I bet they have the BEST blogs.

I’m talking about folks who have a full-time job in corporate America. You know, the people who work 9-to-5 (what a way to make a living). It’s not that we don’t have enough material. Goodness knows it’s not that.

The challenge lies in the fact once people at the office find out you write a blog, they tend want to read it. Which is actually pretty awesome. Until they start trying to figure out if the topic about which you’ve written is about them. Or the company. Or the CEO.

Here’s the thing. Yeah. I probably did write a blog post about you. But not specifically about you, more about the situation. Or you said something that triggered a thought about a scenario I read in another article that made me think, “Huh. I wonder if that’s a trend I should write about.”

Except for that one time. That was TOTALLY about you.

It’s a challenge to not translate everything at work into a blog post. I try to weigh the relevance for a wider audience and if it fits into the general leadership theme of my blog. I mean, it’s my blog so I’ll go off topic from time to time, but you get the idea. I also try to decide if it’s a lasting issue or if it’s a weird one-off that may never happen again.

Most of all, I have to weigh whether or not someone I know will try too hard to read between the lines and make assumptions about the topic and try to assign meaning that isn’t there. My views truly are my own. But it’s not that hard to figure out where I work (or have worked), and because of that, I try to be careful.

I suspect that many bloggers who have a corporate gig take the same care. In fact, there are several who use an alias because they are worried their content will anger the powers that be. The struggle is real, people.

So I wait months to bring up a “hot” topic. I change names. I allude to past organizations or use the time-honored “a colleague of mine.” I’m not above throwing in a “studies show” now and then, either. Sometimes I wait 3+ months to write about something because it is too raw and close to what reality is. Hence the occasional dry spell in content. Well, that and writer’s block.

If I do work with you and you read my blog, hi! And thank you. I think that’s cool. Just please don’t try to figure out if I’m talking about something at work, because by the time I write about it, it happened so long ago that it doesn’t even matter anymore.

If I don’t work with you and your read my blog, hi! And thank you. Feel free to make any wild conjecture that makes my blog more exciting to you. If it helps to picture bear juggling knives while balancing on a unicycle, I’m okay with that.

Ultimately, I write on this blog because I enjoy it and only when I feel like I have something to say that others may find interesting. Every once in awhile, I might take someone specific to task, but only when they deserve it and they’re a national story. (Or if there’s an in-joke that will make us both laugh.)

Would I write more freely if I didn’t work a corporate gig? Yes. Does it keep me from writing anyway? No.

And it never will.


You fail only if you stop writing. 

– Ray Bradbury

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Words fail

For past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of ideas about blog posts to write – whether it was on the dangers of leaders failing to have self-awareness, the challenges of navigating your career, or the friction between similarity bias and our desire for inclusive hiring and working practices.

But then someone does something stupid in the real world and I don’t write anything, because it’s either too close to what I was going to write about and I didn’t really want to write specifically about that incident (*cough* Google *cough*), or the situation was so messed up and terrifying, all I can think is, “What the holy fuck?!” (*cough* pretty much everything from the White House *cough*)

So here’s what I’m going to write about.

Take care of yourselves. Take care of your coworkers.

Make sure you’re there to listen if they need to share. Make sure you’re okay respectfully ending a conversation if you realize you no longer want to engage with a toxic worldview.

Acknowledge people are feeling feelings and give them room to do so – as long as it isn’t harmful to others.

Encourage people to seek help if they need it (EAPs are there for a reason). Remind employees they have PTO if they can use it.

Don’t be afraid to laugh and be silly. The problems of the world are still going to be there after you take 5 minutes to watch a video compilation of cats in cute costumes. If someone tells you you’re taking the eye off the prize when you do that, you say, “Damn straight I am. Now look at Pirate Cat.”

Know your rights. Know the rights of people you disagree with. Understand what the First Amendment actually means in the workplace. Understand your state’s laws about worker protections for non-work activity.

But most of all, keep going. Look for the good. Look to the light.

Words can wait.

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Vulnerability and Strength: An evening with Michelle Obama

We live in a world where the loudest voice is usually the one that’s listened to.

This is the world of the “alpha” (usually male, but not always) – the person who wants you to KNOW they are important, that they have no weaknesses, that they need no sleep, and they are the smartest person in the room…nay, the universe.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

That’s why it is so significant when you encounter a public figure who approaches their role as leader in a totally different way. Recently, that public figure was Michelle Obama.

I’ve had the opportunity to see her speak in person twice this year. The first time was at WorkHuman – a conference dedicated to thinking about work in a different, more “whole person” way.  The second time was recently, when the former First Lady spoke at the Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s (WFCO) 30th anniversary celebration forum. Both sessions were impressive, moving and thought-provoking. But it was at the WFCO event that I was really struck by the humanity of Michelle Obama as a leader.

(Photo by Jason Bahr/Getty Images for The Women’s Foundation of Colorado)

The conversation at WFCO was incredibly personal – less about policy and big picture approach (although that was there, too), and more about how she grew up and how her experiences as a woman (and especially as a woman of color) shape her view of the world.

It wasn’t so much about what Michelle Obama said; it was more about the WAY she said it. She admitted when she got emotional (even asked for a Kleenex). She was honest when she said the hateful things people said about her hurt. You believed her when she talked about her strength, and you marvelled at how matter-of-factly she warned against assuming she was the role model above all other role models.

Her approach suggests that a leader can show vulnerability while displaying strength. In fact, that very vulnerability is proof of strength – an understated confidence in self-worth that allows for the leader to lay their emotions bare.

Some moments from the conversation that stood out to me:

  • On family and background: Michelle Obama spoke at length about her upbringing, focusing particularly on the extended family aspect. Her love and respect for the “village” that raised her was evident, as was the high bar her father set for any other man in her life. (She’s looking at you, Barack.) She was also INCREDIBLY honest about the reality of her family, “We had our share of everything in our family – we had teachers, and police officers,…and drunks.” Takeaway: The extended support network gave her several role models who were vital to her success as a person and as a public figure.
  • On childhood and role models: One of my favorite quotes from the evening came when Michelle Obama discussed the challenges of being a teenager. First, she admonished against making any life choices during the teenage years. No one has any idea of what they want or who they really are – it’s not until you’ve lived some life until you become your full self. But the quote I loved: “I used to tell my daughters, please don’t get your life advice from other 14-yr-olds.” Takeaway: It’s tough growing up, especially today. Kids need role models everywhere – not just public figures. YOU could be someone’s role model.
  • On bullying and trolls: Here is where the reality of a public life stood out. Michelle Obama has been called awful things. She has had to endure attacks on her husband, her children, and herself. And these are deeply personal attacks. When asked how it made her feel, she said, “It made me feel the way they intended it to make me feel. But the question should be about my feelings. It should be about why that person felt they could say that in the first place.” Takeaway: Damn straight. 100% agree.
  • On hurting and pain: This is tied to the bullying discussion, but it’s so much more specific to those in our society who feel they don’t have a voice. “If under-represented people don’t say they hurt, then it lets the people who say awful things off the hook.” Takeaway: Voice your discomfort. Speak out when someone does something inappropriate to you or to others. Don’t let jerks off the hook.
  • On acting locally: Some of the topics touched on in the evening were as all-encompassing as education, healthcare, and setting public policy. But Michelle Obama reminded everyone to start locally. Each person has the capacity to be a role model, to help someone in their own way. Takeaway: We can’t all set national policy, but we CAN all treat each other appropriately.
  • On failure and strength: Michelle Obama talked a lot about the strength of women – from everything to childbirth, to high heels, to emotional tests. “Women live every day with thousands of little cuts they get from the rest of the world, but they still get up and keep going.” These cuts have become so second nature to many, that they don’t even notice them any more. And keeping with the theme of speaking up, the former First Lady reminded all of us to talk about our failures to keep role models grounded in reality. “Failure is like a cut – some are deeper than others, some hurt more than others. But all cuts heal with time.” The cuts change – they may scar, we may still see them, but they’re a part of us. Takeaway: The absence of failure is not strength. The ability to share failure and learn from it is true strength.
  • On running for political office: Michelle Obama has stated quite clearly that she will not seek election, now or ever. She will, however, remain in public service for the rest of her life. It’s too much a part of who she is and what she wants to focus on in the future – girls’ education, health, and helping women find a community for themselves for support. Besides, she’s far too experienced to want to go through a public election again: “I won’t be running for public office. I know you love me. Until I run. And then you’ll be annoyed by me. I know how this works.” Takeaway: We get it. It’s not in the cards. But maybe she’ll reconsider?

As angry as I get at misogyny and systematized discrimination (and I get angry), I’m not a “sisterhood” kind of person. It doesn’t work for me. As a result, the first part of the evening didn’t resonate with me (but I’m dead inside. Seriously, WFCO does some truly amazing things – check them out). I’m an idea person, not a person person, so it’s rare when I’m in awe of a person.

I’m in awe of Michelle Obama. Regardless of your politics, her approach to people and to leadership is inspiring. In her mind, it’s not about what she can do. It’s about what she can help everyone do – which is the mark of a good leader.

Vulnerability and strength. It’s a powerful combination.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Rambling musings from recent travel (it’s a long one…)

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog lately. Part of that is due to work and travel. Part of it is due to not really sure if I have something meaningful to put out there in the universe. (Unlike super successful bloggers, I am not good at the whole “write on a schedule” thing. That’s probably why I haven’t been able to retire and live the life to which I’d like to become accustomed.)

I mentioned travel. I recently returned from a very fun, very exhausting, and very different kind of vacation (for me). I had a chance to do an East Coast Swing – fly out to Philly for a couple of days to piggyback on my husband’s work trip and see what the city is like, and then we took a train to NYC. I had never been to either city. I am not a person who typically does well in big cities. Too many people. Too little sky.

I had a blast.

I mean, not ALL the time. Good lord, it’s still travel – have you done that recently? Oof. However, the fact that this trip was to a new place that forced me to do new things meant a lot. It also got me thinking differently about stuff in general. Of course, none of these thoughts were sufficiently long enough for an entire blog post, so you get random thoughts from the road.

Musing #1: The walkability of cities out east was really, really nice. It changes the way you interact with your environment. You notice things about the area you wouldn’t see in a car. We found lots of fun little shops and other things to see as we were walking around. We stumbled upon Christ Church in Philadelphia after grabbing a sandwich for lunch. We ended up in the cemetery where Ben Franklin is buried because we thought it looked cool. And we found Trinity Church and Alexander Hamilton’s grave while meandering about downtown Manhattan. None of these was on our list of things to see.
Lesson learned: Get out and walk around. You’ll see things you never expected to. Oh, and Times Square is THE WORST. 

Musing #2: Speaking of things not being on our list to see…we didn’t have a list of things to see. Typically when I go on vacation, I learn about the area and all that there is to do and then when we get there, we see what happens. (Seriously, we hate scheduling things because then we feel like we HAVE to do something.) I didn’t really do that this time. We had show tickets for one Broadway show (more on that later) and that was it. The rest was up in the air. Every day, we picked a destination, and then wandered around until we got there and let the day take us where it would. It’s how we ended up at The Intrepid Museum (very cool). It’s also how we ended up getting tickets for a second show on a whim. Not having it all in my head up front was a little frustrating at times, but it also meant I wasn’t worried that we’d miss something I’d read about.
Lesson learned: Sometimes you just go with the flow and take what the world gives you.

Musing #3: One of the cool things about travel is getting to meet people you only know from online. We got to have dinner with the incomparable Vadim Liberman. We had such a good time. We made him eat too much food, and forced him to consume sorbet against his will. (He made me say that so you wouldn’t think he’s fat.) Seriously, though, we had fun and it was great to finally connect in person. It was like we’d known each other for years.
Lesson learned: Online relationships CAN be meaningful and solid. And it’s even better when you can reinforce in real life.

Musing #4: The subway in NYC was not as awful as I was worried it would be. Which is silly, because we rode The Tube in London with no problems. As you can see, I had NO frame of reference for NYC (except maybe Law & Order, which probably isn’t super accurate). We took the subway from Times Square to downtown, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, had pizza and ice cream, and then took the subway back. Good times!
Lesson learned: We often make things out to be much worse in our minds than they actually are.

Musing #5: One of the things I have always wanted to do was see a Broadway show with its original cast. Hamilton was one I wanted to do, and that didn’t happen for various reasons (cost being a big one). So when Dear Evan Hansen came out and I saw some clips of how amazing Ben Platt was in the lead role…that was the show I picked. So we went. And…wow. I’ve seen live musicals and plays before. I have never seen someone commit like that. Damn. The show itself is good and all…but the actors are what elevate it to astounding. I’m curious to see how it fares when the original cast moves on. We also got tickets to see Hamilton (finally!). Totally lucked into not having to pay a million dollars, so it can be done! Also fabulous. As a show, Hamilton is far more brilliant than Dear Evan Hansen – staging, writing, choreography, etc. But I think the performances of Dear Evan Hansen stuck with me a little bit more. Either way – both shows were stupendous to see. As I sat there, watching the fantastic talent onstage, I realized I was watching people do what they were put on this Earth to do. It’s transformative.
Lesson learned: Go watch people do what they were meant, and built, to do. And see a show on Broadway at least once. It does make a difference.

Musing #6: The 9/11 Memorial is heart-breaking and powerful. I was surprised by the impact it has, all these years later. The Memorial team places roses in the names of victims on their birthday. The sight of those flowers is beautiful and sad. Please, if you ever go – don’t take smiley family pictures like it’s Disney. It’s basically a burial site.
Lesson learned: None really. Just incredibly moving.

We took almost 1,000 pictures. We walked what must be about 100,000+ steps in NYC (roughly 20,000/day). And I’ve written about 1,000 words about it because we saw so much and it made me think. A wise person once said, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” As I get more opportunities to travel to new places, I agree with that 100%. I am grateful to have these opportunities and the wherewithal to take advantage of them. I get that not everyone can. I’m just asking you to try. So if you’ve been putting off that trip, don’t. Go book it now. Even if it’s just a quick drive over to the next town. Explore the world as much as you are able to do, especially the nooks and crannies of your hometown.

 

 

You never know what you’ll find.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Gratitude – it might be enough

I am attending the WorkHuman conference in Phoenix, AZ this week. This is the third year in a row I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of this conference, and I like it because its focus is less on “how to” and more on “why.” The conference organizers try to find speakers and keynotes who align with the message of rewards, recognition, and living one’s authentic self – a phrase a few years ago I would have snorted at. Actually…I do still kind of snort because the word is overused, but in today’s world of social media with increasing pressure to put on a good public life while struggling in private, I think the message is valid.

In yesterday’s opening session on the big stage, we watched a Q&A with Chaz Bono, a transgendered individual who knew from an early age he didn’t fit the female body he was born into. His story is rather well documented – being the child of celebrities must have compounded the challenges of dealing with these feelings of “different” – and he was open about the challenges he faced with substance abuse. Chaz shared he was 13 years clean and sober, an impressive accomplishment for anyone.

Chaz has refocused his efforts to make a living as an actor (including a secret project he can’t talk about…mysterious!) but continues to use his celebrity to support people (including kids) who are going through the emotions of transitioning and to help them understand they are not alone.

There were a lot of powerful messages in Chaz Bono’s Q&A, but one stood out to me. He was telling the story of going through his journey to sobriety and shared the advice a mentor gave him. The key to sobriety and not relapsing, this person said, was GRATITUDE. Be grateful for what you have, and you won’t dare relapse.

Now, not all of us struggle with substance abuse. But we are human beings who go through life with one burden or another. We may wallow in self pity. We may think life isn’t fair. We may dream about the next big thing without paying attention to what we have RIGHT NOW.

All of this got me thinking…am I grateful? Do I practice gratitude?

If I’m honest with myself, I would say…sort of. I do have a tendency to dwell on things. As an affirmed introvert, I internalize a lot of things, turning it over and over in my mind, wearing out my thoughts like a well-handled piece of paper. This can be an addictive way to live – stress and anxiety can be comforting because there is little accountability to act on things. And it’s easier to be stressed and anxious when you think you don’t deserve what you have.

On the other hand, I do step back from time to time and recognize that I am incredibly fortunate. I have a well-paying job. I have an amazing husband. I live in a beautiful state. I have the flexibility to make daily choices that millions don’t. So I recognize those things and AM grateful.

I just don’t say it out loud very much.

Therefore, my takeaway from Day One of WorkHuman is to be more vocal about my gratitude; to tell those around me I’m grateful for their presence; to vocalize to those who are struggling that sometimes the ability to draw breath is enough to be grateful for today…and we can figure out the rest tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Self-Awareness, Uncategorized

 

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Not every hero wears a cape

Sometimes you hear a story about a person that makes you stop in your tracks and think, “Whoa. I could never do what that person is doing.”

Last night, I saw a story on the news about Darius Matsuda, a soon-to-be sophomore in high school who is visiting local middle schools to tell his story about growing up with autism. He shares with the students his experiences – including being forced into a circle with another boy while the others chant “Fight! Fight! Fight!” He explains what it’s like to live with autism – how it impacts your sensitivity to sound, light, and your ability to make friends.

It’s a powerful, personal story, and he’s already told it nine times to kids not that much younger than he is. All in the hopes that kids learn a little compassion for their fellow students, and understand that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re lesser than. Darius is going for Eagle Scout, and this is his service project.

This kid is amazing. Talk about putting yourself out there.

I bet that if we look hard enough, we all have someone like Darius around us. Someone with a story to tell, who has learned lessons in their life and are willing to share them. Not because it will help them…but because it will help those who come after them.

These are the heroes in your community and in your workplace. Listen to their stories. Learn their lessons.

Nice work, Darius.

 

If you want to learn more about autism and how to get involved, visit the Autism Society website

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Can you change your industry if you don’t consult?

It happened again. One of those The 25 Most Influential Whatevers Changing the Industry lists. The ones that inevitably have the same core group of names you see on every other list in the same industry. And the ones that seem to consist solely of consultants.

I’m not saying those people don’t deserve to be on those lists. The folks who make those lists have clearly gotten their message to a wider audience and are typically looked to as an expert in their field. And they work hard to earn that recognition.

What I am saying is that you almost never see an in-house person on those lists, what might be referred to as a “practitioner.” Oh, you see folks who own their own businesses and do it well, so it’s not like they aren’t working their butts off in “corporate America,” but they still tend to be on the outside looking in.

There are a lot of reasons why this might be the case, none of them nefarious; it’s just the nature of the work you do as a practitioner. First, let’s look at why consultants tend to make lists more often:

  • Consultants depend on getting their name, brand and messaging out there on a regular basis to build their business. You have a day job, the basic need of getting your name out there for a paycheck isn’t as strong.
  • Consultants are a third-party voice, and as such they get the “fresh eyes” credibility boost. Remember when you were new at your company and everyone thought you were brilliant? It’s the same effect sometimes for consultants.
  • Consultants know that they need to stay current to stay credible, so they do their homework on the latest and greatest stuff that’s going on. Also, a lot of them tend to be invited to speak at conferences, which means they see the most recent products and research…and it raises their visibility in the field.

So that begs the question – can you be recognized as an industry trailblazer when you’re working a 9-5?

Pigeons. In holes. Get it?

 

The short answer is yes…it just takes a lot more work.

First, figure out WHY you want to change your industry. Is it for personal glory? Or do you really think there’s got to be a better way to do it? If it’s personal glory….well, feel free to promote yourself out there and see how long you last. But if you really think there is a better way to do work within your industry, there are a few things you might consider doing on your way to trailblazer status:

  • Be a Mad Scientist: Your current organization is a great testing ground for new ways to do things within your industry. Think of it as your own little laboratory. When you get some interesting results, start sharing it with people in your industry.
  • GET ON SOCIAL MEDIA: I know, I know…EVERYONE is on social media. You know why? Because it’s a great place to network with other people who do your job, too! You can talk to people, ask them how they’re handling certain issues, share your expertise. And you don’t have to go to awkward after-work happy hours to meet them, either. It’s like an introvert’s dream.
  • Put yourself out there: This is sort of related to the social media one, but has a broader focus. If you want to impact your industry, you need to see more of your industry. Go to conferences (if you can). Volunteer locally if there is an industry membership group nearby. Reach out to similar organizations and see if you could visit to learn a little more about what they do. Don’t bury yourself in your bubble and assume you’re a rock star because you have figured out your company’s system. You need to find out about other systems before you can help change the industry.
  • Publish your findings – successes and failures: Publishing might seem kind of formal, but depending on your industry, it could be the way to go. Or, you know, you could start a blog. Or maybe apply to speak at some of those industry conferences you’ve heard so much about. Sharing what you’re doing with people outside of your organization is the best way to get feedback on what you’re doing AND to help influence what is going on in the industry.

Does that sound like a lot of work? It can be. You’ve got a day job, and a lot of this may need to happen at lunch breaks, evenings and weekends. No one said change was easy, but if you really want to impact your industry, you may need to burn the midnight oil every once in awhile.

Oh, and one last thing you might think about as you embark on this quest….

  • Be okay with making YOUR company better: Sometimes it’s enough to make a difference at your own place of business. Not every change will be industry-changing – often, it’s enough to know you’ve made work better for the people around you. And really…isn’t that the best kind of change?
 
 

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