CONFIDENT


stevejobsAs a professional woman who has spent nearly every day of my almost 25 year career feeling like I would be “found out” to be the fraud I really am, I have always been fascinated by the different ways men and women behave in the workplace.  Even long before I had kids or was even thinking of having kids, I struggled to understand if I truly lacked the tenacity that my male counterparts possessed or if I was stymied by something more significant.  Regardless, I have always suffered from a low supply of confidence at work and struggled to muster the courage to ask for what I wanted. Year after year the problem perpetuated and I became more disenchanted and equally perplexed by my difficulties. It was just a few years back – before Sheryl Sandberg started encouraging us all to “lean in” – that I began to realize that this issue was not unique to me.  It was more than just, perhaps, the lack of confidence-boosting during my upbringing or the low self-esteem that haunted me throughout my young life. There were women all around me in the very same boat. We all were feeling a few steps back, lacking the “balls” to make big decisions or stand up for ourselves.  And, while there have been many articles saying that women step on each other as they climb the corporate ladder, most of my experience has been that many of us cower in the corner and let the guys have a free reign. It seems uncharacteristic to the way I live the rest of my life but, for whatever reason, there is a hard-wiring that comes into play when I show up at work – even today – that prevents me from stepping up and taking the reins.  Even when I know it is the right thing to do.

This topic has resurfaced recently for me, particularly because I have suddenly seen a stream of articles coming out, including The Confidence Gap from The Atlantic, highlighting this phenomenon that holds many women back. And, to add to that, I hear my friends talking about it more and more. We are at that age where we have paid our dues and earned our stripes and are more than worthy of whatever we set our sights on and yet we still feel less than.  We believe that we might be more talented, more qualified, more capable, more efficient, more productive (I can go on and on) than our male colleagues but we still struggle to feel like we are worthy.

Last week I was out walking with one of my girlfriends – a working mom like me.  We were talking about our respective workplaces and the challenges we face as women and, in particular, women with children. Working mothers have the added challenge and pressure that is mostly self-imposed. We are perfectionists. Perfectionists who realize we cannot be perfect so we live in this constant state of underachievement. We disappoint ourselves and judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else ever would. Sure, we are constantly being pulled in multiple directions which leaves us feeling like we can never work hard enough to make sure that we are meeting the demands of every part of our lives. We are in a perpetual state of guilt. “I’m sorry” is a staple in our vocabulary. We are forever apologetic for actually doing more than most of the men in our lives do but not actually doing as much as we expect ourselves to do. Invariably, we feel like failures. This is not a new story for any working moms and it seems that, despite all the efforts that are put in place to create equality in the workplace and all the training and development offered to women to help them advance and all the time spent trying to help managers understand the complexities of trying to “balance” work and family obligations (not just for women, by the way), the problem never stops surfacing and the challenges never get easier.

Frankly, I don’t believe it is a workplace problem.  I think it is a societal problem. When my oldest son was just an infant, I attended a neighborhood block party and one of the moms, who did not work outside the home, asked me how I could possibly leave my child and return to work. I was startled by her comment because it was so rude and intrusive (I didn’t ask her how she could possibly stay at home and not provide financially for her family – an equally outrageous assertion) and because of how it was laced with so much judgment. I felt indicted. Everything I believed to be true was instantly in question and, despite the fact that I never once questioned whether or not I would return to work after my children came along, I suddenly had doubts about my choices. No one should have to feel that way. The problems only get worse as the children get older. Those of us who do work outside the home don’t necessarily have the same time to commit to school activities like plays and fundraisers and lunch aid duties and there is no shortage of guilt surrounding our absence – again mostly self-imposed.  (Well, the guilt can be fueled by some moms who constantly ask you why you never volunteer or offer the always delightful “Oh!  YOU’RE Tommy’s mom!”). If I am already programmed to feel bad about myself the minute I leave the house because I wrestling with the decisions I have made and worried about dividing my time between work and kids, I’m definitely starting off at a disadvantage.

But, take kids out of the equation. It is even bigger than that. We talk all the time about how girls are raised. Today, things are becoming different but we still live in a patriarchal world. And, even though women outnumber men obtaining degrees and they certainly outnumber men entering into the workforce, the air thins out substantially as you rise to more powerful perches. We are not demonstrating to women that they can be more. We are still struggling to teach girls how to stand up for themselves and feel empowered right next to the messages telling them to be sexy and cater to men. It is a constant struggle and I believe that we, as a gender, have evolved to become genetically hard-wired to not be confident when we are put in situations with men. We hand over power far too easily.  Yes, that might be a gross generalization but do the research. It’s all there. There are plenty of women who are powerful but I guarantee if you ask them what goes through their head, they, too, feel like frauds. They just do a much better job of covering it.

For me, personally, confidence comes and goes. Sometimes I walk around thinking I am the queen of the universe and have it all figured out and sometimes I am deep in a hole of self-doubt feeling voiceless and powerless against all around me. And, the struggle for me seems to get more difficult as time goes by.  I was certain that by the time my kids were old enough to walk home from school, tend to their homework without supervision and had cell phones to communicate with me that I would be able to exhale just a little bit. On the contrary, as my old boss at Working Mother magazine told me, way back when my youngest had just been born, the troubles only get worse. The demands only increase. The less your kids think they need you, the more they actually do. I couldn’t understand her point of view when I was struggling to get a full night of sleep tending to an infant and a preschooler but I never forgot her words. I knew implicitly that they would resonate for me at some point down the road. Today is that day.

I’m not sure what the bigger challenge is, frankly. First, the guilt over not being present enough or having the time or energy to commit as much as I would like to my mothering is omnipresent. Then, equally consuming is my inability to feel confident in how I am showing up at work. I just can’t get past the second-guessing, the emotional tug-of-war with my family and my inherent fear of being found out. I work with a guy who simply doesn’t care what people think. He’s polite and respectful enough when he needs to be but he pushes his way into situations when he believes he belongs there. I ask for permission. He makes a decision and deals with the repercussions afterwards. I ask for permission. He disregards other people’s expectations and does what he thinks is best. I ask for permission. He’s a foreign concept to me. I am probably really frustrating to him. Yet, we are both strong, smart, capable, experienced, accomplished, talented, visionary and, to different degrees, successful. He is confident. I ask for permission. When it comes time to stand up for myself, when the time is right for me to let my voice be heard, I am silent. I am fearful. I suffer a crisis of confidence.

When I was chatting with my friend last week, she shared her experience of self-doubt in her industry. I marveled at this because she has a PhD! She is as accomplished as anyone I have ever met. She is brilliant and savvy and has over 20 years of experience. What she told me was that she finally felt, after all the years in her industry, that she might now be taken seriously. All the degrees, all of the accomplishments and, at nearly 50 years old, she was just now beginning to feel confident enough to believe that she has the gravitas she deserves. And, if she were being completely candid, she would probably tell me that she doesn’t really have all the gravitas she thinks she deserves because she still has some self-doubt. It’s unbelievable to me and yet completely plausible.

While I always like to wrap things up with steps towards a solution, I really don’t have any in this case because it is a never-ending struggle. I take it day-by-day and situation-by-situation, hoping that it will only get easier over time. I know I have many reasons to be confident and often rely upon my husband to provide the male perspective and help me understand how my behavior might be perceived. Yet, theres on 12-step program to being a more confident female in the workplace or to being a better working mother. But, I have an awareness and sensitivity that hopefully makes me more aware of this for myself and others.

And, as everything always begins and ends with my kids because I am always a mother first, I reflect on a conversation with my younger son yesterday. My family was sitting together playing a game and it was clear that my younger son was about to lose. He looked around at us and very seriously said, “This makes sense. I would lose. I always lose. It fits me perfectly.” His face turned red and I wanted to throw up. I felt the pain emanating out of him and wanted to scoop him up and protect him from the world. “You are not a loser,” I said to him in the most comforting way I could. That boy is me and I knew exactly what was coursing through his brain. “You are confident and awesome.” He looked like he was going to cry and I knew he couldn’t feel my words. And I knew exactly what he felt like. He felt exactly how I feel when I am at work and am absolutely certain that I am making a mess of everything. I feel like a loser and I get to come home to him to remind me that I am confident and awesome.

STRADDLING THE FENCE


I realized this morning that it has been weeks and weeks since I last wrote a blog post.  Blogging has become such a way of life for me but, apparently, my life has been getting in the way of my way of life.  My life has not slowed down and there certainly has been plenty to write about – I still suffer through my daily struggles of trying to continue my healthy journey, I have the normal ups and downs in my relationships and I glean new insights from my work – every.single.day.  Yet, with all that is happening, I have not been able to find the time to slow myself down to catch my breath and check in, even if just for myself.

Several weeks ago I had some travel away from home and was gone for 10 days.  It was officially the longest I had ever been away from my husband and kids in one stretch and I knew it would take its toll.  I was pretty excited about my travel, though, because it started with a quick weekend away with an old friend and was immediately followed up with an intense week of work with my business partners in the midwest.  I knew these days were going to be transformational for me in many ways so I had great anticipation for what my journeys might bring.

My girls’ weekend ended up taking the shape of a bit of a midlife crisis weekend (or, at least, that is what I dubbed it).  I got my first tattoo and my first massage (and shame on me for waiting until midlife for the massage!).  The tattoo was meaningful in that it symbolized a change in myself that I was extremely proud of and marked a new phase of my life.  The massage, aside from being extremely relaxing and therapeutic, also marked some symbolism in my life because it represented a sense of indulgence and release that I had not before permitted myself to experience.  Instead of buying myself a convertible or running off to Jamaica with a younger man, I decided to indulge in myself and nurture the parts of me that needed to be tended to.  I also tried to stare down the realities that I am probably a bit further than midlife at this point and that, while my best years may still lie ahead, there are likely to be far fewer of them than what had already passed.  That is a pretty sobering thought.

When I continued on with my journey to my work meetings, I managed to catapult myself from my midlife crisis focus to building my future.  It was a great week of meetings, inspiration, collaboration and a few personal breakthroughs for me that I will forever remember and be grateful for.  As I returned home from the 10-day tour of duty, I felt disconnected and disjointed, not sure where I belonged.  I love my family and my heart broke every time my 8 year-old son texted me “I love you more than life” and, yet, I felt like a stranger intruding into someone else’s life when I got back.  Of course their lives had gone on while I was away.  Both my boys looked like they each grew a foot while I was gone and my tween son was that much more bottled up and unwilling to even hug me when I came in the door.  He could never admit he missed me.  My husband was suffering the pains of having to hold down the household for nearly 2 weeks without the support and assistance of a partner.  He was battle weary.  I was lost, trying to transition from my friends and work back into my family and responsibilities.  I was straddling two different worlds, not sure which one I best belonged in.

It is not uncommon for many of us, particularly parents, to be challenged by the disruption caused by immersing oneself into work and then trying to emerge and return to “normal” life.  Those of us who travel a lot for work or who have particularly intense jobs often live in a suspended state where we love everything in our lives but sometimes wish we were at work when we are at home with our families and desperately miss our families when we are away at work.  It’s a classic Catch 22 scenario.  Layer on top of that the guilt associated with feeling like you are not completely present in either (frankly, in my case, I feel like I am always more present at work and tend to be less present when it comes to my family and, for this, I am not proud).  I feel like I spend so much of my time lamenting about what I am not doing that I find it difficult to simply enjoy wherever it is that I am.  After all, both sides of my life are very appealing.  I love my work and my business partner is my best friend so, when we get to be together working, it is a double pleasure.  We have a magical quality to our work and our relationship that makes work feel more like play and who wouldn’t want more of that.  On the other hand, my family is my heart.  They are what makes me tick.  My children bring joy to my life in unexplainable and unimaginable ways.  My husband is the only constant in my life for the past two decades.  He is my support system and my rock.  My friends in my community are an extension of my family and make me feel connected in the world.  Who would ever want to leave that behind?

It’s an amazing conundrum that challenges me on many fronts.  I feel like I have to work that much harder to maintain all my relationships because sometimes I only have small chunks of time to work with to make my impact.  I have to be very conscious about being present and not distracting myself with my work when I am spending time having lunch or coffee with a friend.  I have to be much more deliberate about focusing when I am doing activities with my kids and husband because it is easy for me to pull out the phone, check my email or let my mind wander to the many details of my business.  I need to release myself from the guilt I feel when I am away from kids, trusting that they will not be blogging 20 years from now to try to overcome the pain they endured by having a sometimes-absentee mom.  It’s a lot to manage.  But, in the end, I suppose this would be what they refer to as a “first world problem.”  I am so fortunate to be able to get to run my own business, travel, luxuriate in collaboration and imagination.  And, I am even more fortunate to have love everywhere I turn.  I am blessed with children who, while growing by leaps and bounds every time I turn my back, give me the grounding I need to find my footing when I seem to be a little off balance.

I know I am not alone in this.  I know, even in my intimate circle of friends, there are many of us who struggle in a similar way.  Nonetheless, sometimes it feels really lonely and isolating and sometimes getting lost in my thoughts about this takes me away from some pretty important stuff – like remembering to blog…

WORK LIFE DRAMA CLUB


“Man plans, God laughs” — Yiddish Proverb

This whole conversation of work/life balance is definitely fraught with controversy.  Many, including myself, would argue that there is no such thing as balance.  As a friend said to me recently, you’re always giving 100% – no matter what.  And, in my house, it is not just me giving 100% to everything, my husband does the same.  One would assume that with that 200% effort, we would actually be on top of it all but, in reality we still struggle to hold everything together.

Any of us who have spent any time working on, talking about or researching work/life will tell you that even if you have developed the best plan, it will all go out the window the minute something out of the ordinary pops up.  Whether it be an unexpected illness, a last-minute business trip, a crisis at the office or some other wrinkle that was not included in that original master plan, suddenly your strategy is blown and chaos ensues.  It is a tightrope walk for sure.

In my house, last week was one of those times when our perfectly planned strategy was abolished by a series of unplanned problems and interferences that threw everything out of whack.  On a positive note, it also forced us to regroup and reprioritize.  For someone like me who is a planner and likes to have a handle on what is happening at all times, unexpected events and challenges often throw me for a loop.  However, these occurrences are also often a chance to reset ourselves and force us to revisit our priorities and make some adjustments.  For my family, last week was just one of those times.

I was out of town on a business trip in the midwest the week before last.  Since I own my own business and pay for all of my own travel expenses, I tend to try to find the rock-bottom cheapest flights.  This often forces me to travel at inopportune times like super early in the morning or returning on a weekend day rather than racing back as soon as my meeting is done (boy, do I miss the corporate Amex!).  For this trip, I was scheduled to fly back early on Saturday morning in order to allow me to get back in time to pick my younger son up from his show rehearsal.  He was an ensemble member in his very first performance and was extremely excited about it – as were we despite the crazy rehearsal schedule that we really did not focus too much attention on.  We had already grown accustomed to his class schedules at the performing arts school and had worked in the biweekly rehearsals but we had not yet digested the intense tech schedule for the week leading up to the show.  More on that in a minute.

On top of the show rehearsal, I had to take my older son shopping to buy clothes for his upcoming band concert as well as attend a christening for our cousin’s new baby.  Plus, we had a basketball game on Sunday, another full-day of rehearsals for younger son’s show, the Giants were playing for a spot in the Super Bowl (which automatically cuts our own team in half because husband must be granted clemency to watch his beloved Giants clinch a spot) and I had to prepare for a client meeting on Monday for which I had to leave early as we were making a 4-hour drive (to save on travel costs).  Sigh…  Everything was planned down to the last minute.  Frankly, I really had not even planned beyond Monday because it was enough to just get us there.

Well, for those of you living in the NYC metro area, you will recall that last weekend we were going to have that first big winter storm and, in preparation, Continental Airlines cancelled my flight (and all flights) home to NJ on Saturday.  This all before a single flake had fallen or before they learned that the big storm would result in a massive 3 inches.  So, I was stuck in the midwest for an additional day and, right there, in a split second, the plan was blown.

There would be no pickup from rehearsal by me and now I had to coordinate all kinds of carpooling the next day to ensure that not only would my younger son have a ride to and from the theater but I would also have my own pickup from the airport.

My husband was tasked with the job of going out with my older son to procure black pants and a white shirt for the winter band concert (which, surprisingly enough, he did a great job with).

No one from my clan attended the cousin’s child’s christening as we were either in flight, at rehearsal, driving to or from rehearsal, procuring clothing or otherwise occupied picking up the slack.

There was little time for preparation for the important client meeting and we had to do a little bit of “winging it.” (That worked out surprisingly well too!)

Miraculously, we managed to do everything we needed to get through Monday.  But, in all of the angst of preparing for my return from the business trip and leaving on the next one, I really had not prepared for the week ahead.  First, I did not factor in that my younger son’s big musical production would require him to be at a theater 30 minutes away for two rehearsals during the week and all weekend long.  I had not realized that I was invited to attend my older son’s winter band concert which of course takes place smack in the middle of the workday (and would be expected – no excuses – to attend said concert).  I did not expect that our meeting would go so well on Monday that I would have two proposals to write during the week on top of the other work that was already piling up (since I had been out of town all the previous week).

Are you following all this?

Yes, a bit of a mess indeed.  It was Wednesday when I first began to process the magnitude of all that I had forgotten.  I knew that our weekend was pretty much tied up with my son’s show although I was committed to squeezing in a girl’s night with some friends and let my husband be the dutiful parent watching the show that night.  (Needless to say, that was one of the first alterations to the plan.)

I have probably been labeled a “joiner” more than once.  I tend to be very liberal with my volunteering and can easily be convinced (coerced) into helping out.  So, probably because of the meeting I had agreed to kick off on Tuesday night and the various breakfast meetings I agreed to attend as part of my volunteer work, I was tired and my resistance was low when my younger son asked me to hang around for his 5 hour rehearsal at the theater 30 minutes away from my home on Thursday (which sounded like a clever plan since I could make myself useful rather than schlepping back and forth).  The day before, I nearly ran out of gas on my way to the theater 30 minutes away from my home as I failed to actually pay attention to the loud beeps coming from my car telling me I was running out of gas.  Picture me navigating myself around towns without any clue as to where there might be a gas station and praying dearly that my limited fumes of gas would get us to a service station.  (Thankfully, my older son managed to keep his cool rather than his normal dialogue pointing out what a dope I am for not remembering to fill up before we got on the highway.) And, of course, I am managing all this while on a call with a colleague!

When I called my friend who was serving as a stage manager for the show to ask if I could be of any help while I was hanging around for the 5 hour rehearsal on Thursday, I was done in.  I had inadvertently sucked myself into the show and landed myself a role as a stage hand.  (By the way, after watching way too many episodes of “Dance Moms,” I was doing my best to stay away from the director and choreographers so as to not insert any additional drama!) I had become ingratiated with this show and was committed to supporting it for the entire weekend.

And I could not have been happier.

I had to throw all my plans out the window.  There would be no girls’ night for me.  I would be able to watch the show but wanted to be certain that I managed the responsibilities I had committed myself to.  I took this on like I would any project for work and gave it everything I had.  I raised my white flag, surrendered the schedule and just become part of this production to support my younger son.  Even though he had only a small part in the ensemble and spent most of his time hanging out with his little friends in between numbers and costume changes, I knew my being there and being part of the crew made him feel more special.  Granted, I was a bit of a theater geek back in high school so this was like a little flashback and I loved it.  I was cheering for all the leads and watching them do their pre-show routines.  I marveled at all the work that went into the quick costume changes, prop placement, moving of sets and all the other wonderful drama that goes on behind the scenes.  For several blissful days, nothing existed but the show and I forgot about all the foibles of the week that screwed up my schedule.  All that really mattered now was getting this production off and supporting my son in his FIRST BIG SHOW!

On Sunday morning when we were preparing for the final performance, I told my friend how tired I was and how surprised I was at how the show sucked up so much of my mental and physical energy. She laughed at me and asked when I was going to blog about this experience.  Well, here you go Kim!  Thanks for letting me be part of the magic and thanks for helping me remember that what happens in between our plans is what life is all about!

And congratulations to all the amazing kids who put on an incredible show!  Count me in for next year – maybe this time I’ll put it on the schedule!

MOTHER OF THE YEAR…NOT


When I had my first child more than a decade ago, I did not give much thought to the challenges of being a working mom.  I actually looked forward to going back to work when my maternity leave was up.  I dropped my 3 month-old son off at daycare, in the caring hands of very sweet and loving women, and did not look back.  In the days and weeks following my return to work, many other mothers asked me how I was handling the transition and wanted to know how many times I had called the daycare to check on my son or how frequently I was crying.  I look at them quizzically.

No tears.

No calls.

Was there something wrong with me?  While I adored my new little precious baby, I was kind of enjoying my return to my pre-baby life and was getting on with the business of being a working mother.

After my second son was born three years later, I landed my dream job at Working Mother magazine.  I had been a huge fan of the magazine even before my kids were born and I was excited to work in an environment that was focused on and committed to working moms.  Shortly after I joined the company, my boss and I were driving to see a client and she was sharing with me one of the many ironies of parenthood.  She told me of her challenges with her children – both teenagers at the time – who were losing interest in spending time with her.  She pointed out how when our children are young and demand much of our time, we believe they need us the most.  In fact, when they are older and want little to do with us is when they need us the most.  So many women choose to stay home with their children during their infant and toddler years and return to work once their children are in school.  The reality is that the time most beneficial for us to be around for our kids is really when they are teenagers and are pushing us away.  “Bigger kids, bigger problems,” so many people told me.  I could hardly understand what my boss was talking about with a 6 month-old and nearly 4 year-old at home.  How could they need me any more than they do now?  She laughed and said “you’d like 30 minutes away from your children right now and I’d like 30 minutes with mine.  I will never forget that.  Especially now that my children are beginning to want to be with me less and less.

Many years have gone by and I no longer work at Working Mother.  In fact, I chose to leave my full-time corporate job several years ago for the reasons that my boss pointed out that day.  I was beginning to feel the need to be around my children more as they were moving ahead in elementary school because I was seeing their lives becoming more complicated.  Getting home at 7pm and leaving at 7:30am meant that I had very little time to influence them, nurture them, support them and guide them.  Suddenly, homework was an issue.  Now, they had schedules for sports and other extracurricular activities and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to transport them places with just my husband (who was already working from home full-time) at the ready.  I knew it was time for a transition for me because, while they did not think so, my kids needed me – and I needed to be there for them.  I did not think much about my changing role because I still had the same independent mindset that I had when my children were babies.  I still wanted to have “me” time and I did not feel any compulsion to hover over them.  I know myself well enough to know that if I spent too much time with my kids, we would all be very unhappy.  However, I did not want my time with them limited to 2 hours per day because they needed much more from me.  We had to find a happy medium and we did.

So, we fast forward the clock to today.  As a family, we have settled into a new normal with mommy and daddy both working either from home or locally, with mommy taking sporadic business trips and being with clients a few days per week but mostly available.  My life is still very busy because, as a type A, I am always looking for more projects to fill my day.  If I do not have client work, I volunteer my time.  I sit on two boards, I have friends I like to spend time with, I exercise three or four times a week and I have hobbies.  Suddenly that 9-5 job with commuting seems like a walk in the park.

This week I had a little – well, maybe a big – eye-opener.  Last night, after I spent the day with a client in the city, went to kickboxing and then came home to force down some dinner before chatting with a colleague about some challenges from day, I realized both of my children had either not started or not completed their homework.  It was 9pm and definitely time for bed.  My younger son decided he wanted to attempt to do some of his homework before bed and my older one just abandoned it and said he would finish it up in the morning.  To top it off, my younger son showed me a paper from class that identified him as “star of the week” which was set to begin on Monday and now it was Wednesday and we had done nothing.  I was mortified.  Where had I been?  Why was I not checking in on my kids?  I had worked out every day, had a dinner meeting, had work calls every night and an assortment of other matters that I had tended to yet I had not noticed that my children were spending their afternoons and evenings playing xbox and not attending to their schoolwork.

While I have avoided getting caught up in working mom drama and guilt for many years, I was suddenly in the midst of an emotional downward spiral.  I felt really horrible that I had fallen asleep at the wheel and neglected my responsibility of parenting my bigger kids with bigger problems.  Then I started thinking about all the things I had forgotten to take care of while I was “selfishly” attending to work and other matters.  My younger son’s costume for his show was due in a week and I had not yet even begun to deal with that.  I realized that I had not even had a conversation with my kids since Monday – how did that happen and why hadn’t they noticed either?

Mother of the year, that is me for sure.

So, I did what any good mother would do.  I punished them.  I took away their xbox privileges, removed additional electronics from their weekday lives and instituted some new policies around homework.  But, truth be told, I am punishing myself the most.  I feel guilty and neglectful and, while I know that it is not the end of the world and it happens to everyone, I am committed to doing better.  I am not prepared to give up my work or my “me” time but I am prepared to struggle with the battle my boss told me about all those years ago.  I need to be more conscious and committed to getting that time with my children now that they are far less interested in giving in to me.  I am going to demand and prioritize my 30 minutes a day.  Maybe then I can throw away my  thorny MOTY crown.

EXPOSE YOURSELF


I am about to launch my very first company website. I boldly made the announcement on Facebook several days ago that I was going to get it done by the end of the day and I was then accountable to my virtual network who was (no doubt) waiting with anticipation for the finished product. After months of researching design tools, hosts and all the other assorted options associated with building a website, I settled on a platform that I felt was sufficient to communicate the message of my new company. I worked tirelessly, with the help of my village of colleagues, family members and friends, to develop content that would effectively communicate our mission and provide a good marketing tool for our services to our clients. And, finally, the site is done.

Holy cow!

When I thought about the website, it felt like a necessity that I had to deal with and I knew I wanted it to look good. I’ll admit it – aesthetics are important to me. And, while I am a staunch advocate of and believer in the power of social media, I was surprisingly reluctant to finish this project because I did not believe that it would make a hill of beans of difference to my business. After all, I do my best work face-to-face with the client and who is really going to look at that website anyway? So, despite my resistance, I just went with it. Well, mostly because my husband kept nagging me, relentlessly asking me at the end of every day that I complained about clients not returning my calls or expressed fears about not generating enough new business, “Did you finish your website today?”

I decided not to hire an outside firm to design the site because I knew I had the capability to handle this myself the same way I designed my beautiful logo and business cards. Besides, that is an enormous expense for a new business and I would rather spend the money on attending a conference where I can network with clients. I could do it but would I?

Finally, when push came to shove, I forged ahead and ripped the bandaid off really fast and just did it. I locked myself in my purple office (which was simply the perfect spot for me to do this work) and I worked and worked until I was done. I suffered through highs and lows, both loving and hating the site at various intervals. I ignored all the tips about not comparing your site to others and scoured the web for friends’ and competitors’ sites to set the bar and measure my site against theirs. Not surprisingly, in my state of feeling very anxious and vulnerable about my work, my site always fell short. But I persevered, called in my mafia to edit and review and was done!

I had my big big girl pants on and finally had a company website!!! I felt excited and accomplished and ready to take on the world…until it was time for me to share the site with the world. The minute I turned the site live (if a website goes live in the woods and no one knows about it, is it really live?), I felt anxious. Now anyone could see my work and I was exposed to the world. I was now available to anyone who might want to google me or type in my company name. Now, one might presume, after having this blog out there in cyberspace, I would not really worry about a company website that is professional and well-written but, in fact, I actually felt more vulnerable and more exposed by that website than I do with this blog. Intriguing.

I spent most of yesterday trying to understand my feelings while mustering up the courage to send out the email blast to my many contacts who I have known for many years to let them know that my site is live. It was time to put my company and myself on the market and, hopefully, generate some interest in the work that we do. And, I realized that it was a watershed moment for me. For the very first time in my life I was standing on my own two feet, not hiding behind anyone else, and putting myself out there. I was ready to be accepted, rejected, measured and critiqued. And while this all excited me a lot, just a small part of me was scared and wanted to run and hide behind someone who could serve as my armor and defense. But, as with many other aspects of my life, I no longer need to cover up or hide because I can step forward and take on whatever is being thrown my way. So, today we go live for real and anyone and everyone can take a look at my new website.

Even better, now this blog also lives on my corporate website so everyone can learn who I really am and understand the authenticity I bring to the work that I do. Now, I will just stand naked before the world and hope that nobody laughs too hard.

PATIENCE


This first week of the new year presents a period of rebirth and reawakening. Not just because the calendar has marked the birth of a new year filled with promise and opportunity but also because it is a time that many of us return to work after a much-needed respite from our daily grind. For many professionals, this time of year is the only time that such a break is possible and it is a great chance to truly break away and recharge your battery.

In my old corporate life, I could not wait for my holiday break and was often even more thrilled with my return to work. Despite the volumes of emails and countless voicemails, despite the inevitable crisis that arose while I was out (but could not be handled until I returned, naturally), there was a calm that came with the familiar chaos. While I love my husband and children, two weeks of non-stop interaction with distractions only to shop, cook, eat and sleep, is frankly a bit more than I can tolerate.

In my new life as an independent consultant, the new year has a very different flavor for me. I definitely feel refreshed and excited about the possibilities but instead of me pouring through my endless emails, I am waiting on clients who have to sort through their chaos before they can turn their attention to me and my emails and voicemails. I need to have patience – something that is in short supply with me.

Yesterday, a friend shared a blog written by a woman in her community because she knew how much I enjoy writing and thought I would appreciate her friend’s work and writing style.  She warned me about the backstory of her friend and suggested that I arm myself with tissues before I dove in to read.  Her friend is an average woman with two children living in the suburbs talking about her daily travails.  Her anecdotes were funny and touching and I found myself engrossed with getting to know her and her family a little bit better.  Then the bomb dropped when, last September, she told the story of the tragic death of her 12 year-old son.  Being a parent (to an 11 year-old son, no less), her story was my worst nightmare.  She lost her son in a freak accident that, upon replaying it in her mind hundreds, if not thousands of times, she believed could have been avoided.  After her son’s death, her blog became a place of solace for her to rant and seek comfort and pay tribute to all the magic her son brought to her life.  One particular post I had to re-read several times and became the catalyst for this one for me.  It was all about patience.  It was so striking for me because it was if she and her son were giving me some guidance that I really did not know I needed at that moment.

As I said, patience is in short supply with me.  I want everything done yesterday.  I hate waiting – not because I am demanding or think I am entitled or privileged – because I want to rush to the next step, the next milestone.  I want to know the answer, I need to know the outcome.  When I was pregnant with both my children, I laughed when I talked to other expectant moms who said they were going to wait until the delivery room to learn the sex of their child.  How could you possibly wait?  It was non-negotiable that I would find out what I was having and, quite, frankly, 20 weeks was far too long to wait for that information!

When I was a kid, I often unwrapped and re-wrapped presents because I could not handle the anticipation and needed to know what I was getting.  That always backfired because it killed the surprise, but I had no patience.  How many times I read the last page of a book when I was a kid because I simply could not wait to find out what was going to happen.  Surely, patience is a virtue.  Patience is worth it.  Patience pays off.  Sadly, I have none.

Yesterday, as I settled in to my back-to-work-after-the-holidays routine of beginning to hunt down clients to try to get higher on their priority lists and get answers to my questions and find out what was coming next for my business, I was thoroughly without patience.  Once again, I wanted life to work on my timetable and anything less was going to truly bum me out.  And then, a little boy who tragically left this world and his mom whose life has an enormous hole that I can’t imagine anything in the universe could ever fill taught me a lesson about the power of patience that I hope will help me grow and learn.

And that is the beauty of the world we live in.  Thank you Jack.

SHIFTING GEARS


“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson

It’s January 3rd and the year is freshly minted but still quite the newborn who is just beginning to open its eyes and learn to cry.  How much can happen in three days and how can we possibly derail ourselves so quickly?  Ha!  What happened to my plan to eat healthy after New Year’s?  Well, who doesn’t need a greasy breakfast to tame a hangover?  What happened to exercising every day?  Well, I was really tired from eating that greasy breakfast and the hangover and needed to rest for a while.  That is the funny thing about life.  It just sort of happens no matter how much planning you do.  Hence, the need to avoid resolutions.

I woke up this morning inspired and ready to get back to work.  It has been two weeks since I have actually sat down at my desk and even thought about the work that lies ahead of me.  I abandoned efforts to build my website and decided to give my clients a reprieve from follow-up emails (I guessed that no one would actually be around to respond anyway).  But, today, the world woke up again.  I got my energy flowing with a 6am kickboxing class – which always sparks both my mental and physical juices – and then was ready to take on the day.  As I sat here at my desk, trying to continue my commitment to my new ritual of writing every morning (which has actually taken a holiday since last year too), I looked for some inspiration.  The last few days have been personally very challenging and have initiated a lot of thoughts in my mind about the fluidity of life.  I used to think that our lives had a linear path with some clear-cut choices.  Even now, whenever I lament about “what could have been”, it is usually in the context of a road I could have chosen and implies that, by not taking that road, it has adversely impacted the entire outcome of my life.  Of course, that is simply not the case.  Decisions certainly impact our outcomes in both positive and negative ways and, since life is fluid and we are always changing, we need to continually revisit our decisions and strategies.

From a professional standpoint, I have often looked at people who have stayed in one job for many years or who have chosen careers that did not require them to re-invent themselves after downsizing or boredom hit.  The idea of such career longevity is so tantalizing to me because it suggests (albeit falsely) the you have a level of security and assurance that the course chosen was the right one because it sustained you for so long.  In my discussions with people who have chosen such careers as well as with those who have had multiple careers in their life, they all agree that the linear career path has its pros and cons.  Many people have told me that the only reason they have stayed with one company for 10 or 20 years was out of fear of leaving.  They feared losing their pension or other perks that came with the tenure of being with a company for so long.  They worried about how they might function and thrive in another organization where they were not a known entity and did not have advocates to support them.  Those same people have told me that they envy those who have the opportunity to figure themselves out and create new career paths for themselves at midlife because their needs have changed along with their ideals about their jobs and careers.  The grass is always greener on the other side.

Life is complicated and very scary at times because it feels like so much rides on every decision we make.  We can definitely get caught up in the notion that every decision is make-or-break and there is no room for a do-over.  It is a very overwhelming feeling because what if we make the wrong choice but don’t realize it until it is too late?  In truth, we are making little decisions all the time.  We typically only focus on the big ones that seem to have great impact.  Yesterday, I was talking with a friend about how we have to decide to continually recommit ourselves to the various parts of our life – our careers, our marriages, our friendships, our life goals.  It is so easy for us to take these things for granted, assuming they will run on auto-pilot simply because we made a decision at some point that this is what we wanted.  Because we are constantly morphing, it is critical that we check in with ourselves and with our relationships to ensure that we are tending to these and making sure they are still aligned with our ever-evolving selves.

Today, as I am wrapping up this blog post and getting ready to tackle the rest of the items on my list, I am deciding to both believe in my decision-making skills (most of the time, they are good and my friends often tell me to trust my gut) and be conscious about my commitments in all aspects of my life.  Life is moving really fast and I don’t want to find out that 20 years has gone by and I forgot to look up.