New beginnings

I have struggled mightily this holiday season. I can’t say what brought it on or why it seemed to take hold so deeply, but I’ve been depressed and angry. I’ll spare you the details; there’s not much to tell anyway. I was just in a bad place.

This morning my kids and I exchanged gifts and I’ve been thinking all day about the choices my kids made for me. I’ve been teary and reflective since they left to celebrate with their dad, but this time I’m teary in a good way.

Allow me to share.

My son gave me a balaclava, ski goggles, and long ski socks. I don’t ski. I’ve tried a couple of times–one dismal and one mildly successful–but that was years ago and with my wonky knees, I never really had any intention of doing it again. Besides that, I live in the glacially-leveled Hoosier heartland. There are no mountains here, not even hills where I live. Potholes provide the only elevation changes I see around home.

But I. Love. This. Gift.

It means that my son, who now lives in Colorado during the academic year and has taken up snowboarding, wants to share his world with me. He has asked me repeatedly to come visit and hit the slopes. With his gift, he’s asking me to spend time with him doing something he loves. I don’t care about the goggles so much as the wish behind them. You can bet I’ll be heading to the Colorado Rockies soon, wonky knees and all.

And my daughter. That beautiful, wonderful girl saved my life.

Her gift to me was a small book entitled 1: How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference? It seemed modest at first glance, but I’ve already read it cover to cover and it has started to heal my heart. I’ve been so focused on myself and how bad I felt that I didn’t realize all I was doing was digging my pit of misery deeper and deeper. That little book is so full of wisdom that I’m going to have to reread it several times to take it all in.

Its message? GET OVER YOURSELF. Well, okay, it doesn’t say exactly that, but that’s the sentiment I took from it. Get over yourself, stop focusing on YOU, look outside yourself, and do good. And it’s sort of an activity book, too–it has spaces for thoughts, ideas, and goals.

Here’s the thing. Just like the ski gear, it’s not the book. First, my daughter sensed I was struggling and wanted to help. Second, I’m not sure how anyone else would receive the wisdom in the pages or even how it would have struck me a few months ago. I just know that in this moment, it offered what I needed. Words. Do. Matter. Especially the right ones at the right time.

I’ve had a cathartic few hours since my kids hugged me goodbye for the day. I’ve been finding myself again under the muck and the junk that has buried me for weeks. Some of the thoughts bogging me down–sorry, they’re too personal to share–found their foil in the printed words my daughter gave me. I have started to find my way back from a place I thought I might never leave.

So maybe it’s a week early, and I don’t usually do them anyway, but this year I’m making a resolution for the New Year.

This year, I’m going to focus less on me. Not just a little less, but a lot less. I’m going to get over myself and see where it takes me. And I’m going to write about it here.

Hold me to it.

A Cherokee elder was teaching his children about life. He said to them, “A terrible fight is going on inside me. It is a fight between two wolves. One is the wolf of joy, love, hope, kindness, and compassion. The other is the wolf of fear, anger, cynicism, indifference, and greed. The same fight is going on inside of you and every other person, too.” The children thought about it for a moment, and then one child asked, “Which wolf will win?” The elder replied, “Whichever one you feed.”

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A few good men

img_00272-e1537882454171.jpgEvery day, I read about someone else’s #MeToo experience. Stories abound of frat boy culture and locker room talk being excused or even nurtured in schools, the workplace–everywhere, really. Women still earn roughly 80 cents for every dollar of the salary of a man in a comparable position, and we remain far outnumbered in positions of power. With every new story, we have to decide whom to believe, and frankly, that sucks.

Now it’s my turn to tell my story, but it’s not what you think.

Twenty-three years ago, I desperately wanted a new job. I applied to a company and ended up as one of the final candidates for the position. I didn’t get it, but the company president thought I had potential and hired me anyway. He dropped me unheralded on the VP of marketing and told him to find something for me to do.

(Lovable) curmudgeon that he was, my new boss didn’t want to be bothered with me so he found someone else to give me busy work. Within a few weeks, I had proven myself enough that my boss decided I might be worth mentoring. He moved me into the office next to his so we could work more closely together.

The problem was that my office wasn’t just adjacent to his; it adjoined his, with a door between the two. To everyone else, I looked like his secretary. Naive as I was, I didn’t even think about what that meant.

But he did.

Before I had put my things into my new desk, my boss laid out the ground rules. I was to position one of my visitors’ chairs in front of the adjoining door so no one could use it. (His office had another door for access.) He intentionally didn’t share his calendar with me so I couldn’t schedule appointments for him or look up his whereabouts for others. He handled his own correspondence, got his own coffee, and generally handled his own business. In no uncertain terms, he did not want me to look like his admin. That wasn’t why I was hired and he didn’t want anyone to pigeonhole me into the position.

His foresight and concern for my development became the launching point for my career in marketing. I worked hard for him, and he advocated for me. By the time he retired many years later, I had become director of corporate communications, reporting to the company’s CEO.

To be clear, I’m not tooting my own horn, but his. In a world where the battle of the sexes has become increasingly contentious, I bring you this glimmer of hope. There are good people out there. There are good men out there, men who are concerned about appearances, men who look at a person’s work instead of her gender, men who champion opportunities for those who deserve them.

I write this not to discredit the realities of sexism. Believe me, I’ve experienced that, too–in the very same workplace. My intent is to remind myself and maybe you, too, that we can still find good among the bad. And while we need to assign culpability and consequences for injurious behavior, we also need to effect a culture shift that eschews this behavior in the first place. We need more advocacy and less abuse. I just hope we don’t kill each other as we work toward it.

PS. Thanks, DRH. Under your gruff facade, you always had my back, even when I didn’t realize it.

Never, ever forget

Never forgetNever forget.

That’s what everyone is posting today. Hashtags abound as the entire nation reflects on a shimmering September morning seventeen years ago when disaster struck in the form of maliciously-guided airplanes.

Once in the north tower.

A second time in the south tower.

A third time in the Pentagon.

A fourth time in a Pennsylvania field.

And many times over in the prejudices so many Americans now harbor against people who don’t share our views.

“Never forget!” we cry. “Remember September 11th!”

Yes, please. Let’s remember September 11th. Let’s remember the people who lost their lives for doing nothing more sinister than going to work that day, or for getting on an airplane, or for just going about their regular routines. Let’s remember the spouses and children and parents who still suffer the gut-wrenching loss of someone they loved with their very soul. Remember them, grieve them, celebrate them, and carry on–for them.

Let’s especially remember the first responders and the ordinary people, heroes all, who turned toward danger when all odds were against them. Let’s remember how they raced into smoke and flames and blood and gore to save anyone they could, without regard for race, religion, nationality, or political affiliation. Let’s remember the day we were reduced to our very humanity and wanted nothing more than to help somehow, some way.

#NeverForget should not become a rallying cry for hatred and intolerance. (Isn’t that what redirected those airplanes in the first place? I can still hear my mom saying ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right!’) Instead, I choose to not forget the selflessness that took over so many people in a moment of unimaginable crisis. #NeverForget is my catalyst to do the right thing, to make the world a better place, to build bridges instead of walls.

Don’t get me wrong. Bad people committed unspeakable horrors on September 11th. There is no excuse, and we must work to eradicate the terror-mongering that holds people hostage to fear. But that also means we have to surrender our own tendency to react to others out of fear just because they look, act, or think differently. Accepting others doesn’t mean we have to agree with them.

We can’t sacrifice our humanity for the sake of our existence.

Live in peace. React in love. Help whenever you can. Never forget.

 

Trading places

change your lifeEarlier this week, a woman I admire bravely hugged her 14YO son goodbye as he set off on a European adventure. Underneath a healthy dose of momma-trepidation, she’s thrilled for him to have this experience. We’ve had a few conversations about what he’ll gain from it, and I–for the millionth time–thought, We need more international youth exchange programs.

Then this morning, a colleague forwarded an article about the Christian church struggling to come to terms with racism. (You can read it HERE, if you’re interested.) It’s crazy to me how segregated the vast majority of American churches remain, and I thought, We really need a church exchange program.

Somehow that thought took me back nearly twenty years, when I was a young whippersnapper with all the answers at a global company. Every time someone from a non-US location would visit or one of my American colleagues would grouse about someone from “over there” just not getting it, I’d think, We really need a business exchange program. In fact, I even tried to float it by HR a couple of times.

Then I remembered that a couple of months ago, while I visited the parent company of my current employer, I was confronted by the diversity of the different lines of business housed in each of our subsidiaries. I found myself surprised at how uninformed our parent was about what we do, and vice versa. Again I thought, We really need a company exchange program.

It seems to have become second nature for me to think of a culture swap any time communication or behavioral hurdles arise, and I thank my experience with youth exchange for that. You see, immersing oneself in a different culture–whether it be geographical, religious, commercial, racial, or pretty much anything else–allows you to get a little bit closer to understanding the why in someone else’s actions. It also breaks relationships into individual encounters, rather than sweeping judgments about a broader group. It not only shapes the person going on the exchange, but also the people receiving her on the other end.

If I had to pick a metaphor to describe the effects of exchange, it would look something like this video that went viral yesterday (PLEASE watch it):

https://www.nbcnews.com/widget/video-embed/1254293059903

As the winning pitcher consoles the friend he just struck out, I’m internally screaming YES! YES! YES! We CAN be friends with someone on a different team.

So get out there and explore someone else’s world. Get to know your neighbors, near and far. Spend time with people who don’t look/think/eat/believe like you. They might be across the ocean or across the street. We don’t always have to agree, but we’ll all be better for it.

P.S. Thanks, Amy, for giving your son this incredible gift.

P.P.S. Here’s a link to another article, shared recently by a friend. Kumbaya, everyone.

Discography

06_Cervical_MRI_scan_R_T1WFSE_G_T2WfrFSE_STIR_BFor well over a year, maybe a year and a half, I’ve been plagued by a steadily worsening, sore shoulder. Some days it bothered me so much that it limited how far I could run, because even just holding up my arm was too much. Even so, I figured I could tough it out until it eventually healed itself.

After nearly a year of ridiculous denial, punctuated occasionally by internet searches that told me I suffered from maladies ranging from stress to cancer, I finally went to the doctor. Four hundred dollars and an MRI later, I learned my shoulder pain actually radiated from a bulging disc in my neck. Good to know.

A spinal cortisone shot and many more dollars later, nothing had changed. I frittered away the calendar days suffering in (relative) silence until I found myself a quarter of the way into a new year and a new, unmet deductible. That seemed as good a time as any to finally pick up the script the doctor had written and make an appointment for physical therapy.

Two months later, I’ve found significant relief. I had started to believe the light at the end of the tunnel was getting pretty bright–until last weekend. I had a regression, and many of my symptoms came back hot-and-heavy.

The thing is, I knew it was my fault. I had gotten sloppy with my posture again. It’s not comfortable to stand/sit up straight all the time. All those neglected muscles get sore from walking around at attention. It’s so much easier to just relax in a slouch. After all, I feel kind of silly carrying myself like a soldier, and it takes so much focus to not slip into old habits. (Excuses, excuses.)

Even so, I knew when I went back to PT this morning that I needed to fess up and ask for a taping treatment.* I really, really, really didn’t want to; it’s not super comfortable to maintain a rigid posture when you’re body’s not used to it, and sometimes it gives me a slightly claustrophobic feeling. Oh, and did I mention that after awhile, it makes my back itchy. No, no, no…please no.

But I did it. I asked to be taped again, because I knew that whatever amount of discomfort I would experience would ultimately lead to the healing of my root problem.

And there’s the metaphor.

Another kind of therapist–the head kind–tried and tried to tell me that years ago, though I shunned her advice. It figures that my stubbornness only led to being presented with the same lesson in a physical manifestation.

Sometimes you have to go through hurt so you can heal.

*My PT uses a technique where he applies tape to a patient in slightly exaggerated, good posture. When the patient starts to slouch or to return to bad form, the tape pulls, giving a physical reminder of the lapse. Essentially, it gently forces the patient to maintain good posture. Different problem areas call for different taping techniques. If you don’t believe me, you can learn more HERE.

My checkered past

The_Childrens_Museum_of_Indianapolis_-_CheckersReminiscing with my dad the other day, we started talking about the way different family members had shaped our lives–even through lessons they may have never intended to teach.

Enter my grandpa.

I was by far his favorite granddaughter–so what if I was the ONLY granddaughter he knew before he died–and we adored each other. He was sick a lot in the years I had with him, so our time was spent mostly indoors, where he would read or recite poetry to me and we would play games.

Grandpa was a killer checkers player, and even at five and six years old, I couldn’t wait to break out the board. It didn’t matter that I never won; I could feel myself getting better each time, and I just KNEW that the next time we played, I was going to win.

Of course, I never won. Ever. As much as he loved me, Grandpa never let me win. What would have been the purpose? Having achieved my goal, I likely would have flitted to a new favorite pastime, and I definitely wouldn’t have learned much.

Grandpa really played it smart. He could have trounced me from the get-go, but I probably would have lost interest pretty quickly. Instead, he backed off his game just enough to keep me engaged. Every game played meant I learned something new about strategy. I remember him pointing out moves and showing what I could have done, my young brain eager to take it all in. (Once in a while he even let me have a do-over so I could take advantage of the move he had just shown me. He did have a soft spot for me, after all.) I kept playing and playing, my little bitty self just knowing the next game would be my first win.

Although my grandpa died when I was just eight years old, his lessons have affected me all my life. Earn your win. Learn along the way. Spend time with people you love.

Splitting hairs

MF2-2201I work in a building full of office suites, and everyone on the same floor shares a restroom. Frequently, I cross paths there with a woman from a neighboring company, and she almost always comments on my hair–its thickness, the cut, the color. This woman always makes me feel good about a feature that normally gives me a lot of headaches (yeah, I did that on purpose), especially when I’ve never seen her anything but perfectly coiffed.

Until today.

I walked into the restroom, where she stood in front of the mirror with her head bent down. She popped up like a shot when I said hello and immediately began apologizing. I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought she had just been brushing her hair, but she was super embarrassed and said as much.

It turns out that my office neighbor wears a wig. When I walked into the bathroom, she had just put it back on and was adjusting its fit. She told me how several years ago she had experienced a period of extreme stress and lost much of her hair. Of course, the hair loss added to her stress and contributed to this vicious cycle. Eventually she bought a wig to relieve herself of at least that worry.

We had a nice chat, in which I told her I had no idea her beautiful ‘do was actually a wig. (I really didn’t.) When I finally walked back to my office, I couldn’t help thinking that there was a lesson in this. I could never figure out why this lady seemed so fascinated with my hair when hers was always perfect. Now I know that the story ran much deeper.

What a great reminder that things aren’t always what they seem. Everyone has a story, and it’s probably not the one we imagine from the outside looking in.