Dancing with elephants

Elephant_dance_at_galleryfullWe’ve all done it. We’ve tiptoed and twirled and tap danced around an elephant. You know the one I mean; she’s the behemoth who sits in the middle of the room and won’t budge. Sometimes it’s hard to see her, but you can feel her presence. If you let her, she’ll suck the life out of the party.

And we do let her.

We cater to her. She feeds off our awkwardness and carefully chosen words and avoidance. She gets bigger and bigger as she gorges on morsels of our discomfort. And we keep dancing around her.

The thing is, she’s a cooperative soul–and a polite one, too. She’ll leave in a heartbeat; all you have to do is ask. That happened to me the other day in such an unexpected, direct way that I was awed by its simplicity.

A friend came to visit and carefully stepped over my elephant. Then he turned to me and said, “Can we get something out of the way?”

Just like that, my pervasive pachyderm disappeared. She left without a whimper, and our real conversation got started.

If we don’t want to dance around an elephant, all we have to do is confront it. Who knew it was that easy?

Week one

You can probably tell that I’ve been busy. I’ve spent the past few weeks preparing my officefor a job change, making the job change, and trying to wrap my head around it all. New extracurricular activities have filled my time outside the office, and my head is spinning. But I love it.

I figure it’s a good time to step back and take stock of what I’ve learned, to let some of my first week observations coalesce into useful tidbits for moving forward. Here goes.

  1. There’s no such thing as too much communication. Just when I thought I had found something I’m good at, I find people who do it better. A lot better. Inside and outside the office, my life is suddenly full of terrific communicators. The more you talk, the more you share ideas, thoughts, and most of all expectations, the better your interactions–and the more you can get done, faster. And there’s always room for improvement–I’m a living, breathing example.
  2. Every minute is valuable. Time management, time management, time management. I thought I was busy, but I didn’t realize how much slack I had in my life until I started watching a great bunch of people get things done. They don’t block hours and days out of their calendars; they wedge things into minutes.
  3. Meetings suck. Over the course of my career, I’ve been in meetings, meetings about those meetings, pre-meeting meetings, and meetings to discuss whether having a meeting is necessary. We’d get a lot of smart people in a room to decide…to have another meeting. What we really should have been deciding is what to get done and how to do it–and then stop meeting so we could make it happen.
  4. Less process, more results. I love processes and standards that bring clarity and repeatability. I hate process that exists for its own sake. Sometimes, you just have to get things done.
  5. You can still have fun while you work hard. Yes, at the same time! This new gig just might feature the hardest working group of colleagues I’ve ever encountered, but it’s also the coolest, most fun working environment I’ve ever encountered. What was that? A smile? Woo hoo!
  6. Jump in with both feet. You’ll have a richer experience, no matter what you do. If you don’t like it you can always do something else. In my case, whether it’s OLG or BWW, I’m all in. This is pretty awesome.

What have you learned lately?

From the mouths of babes

hula karaA couple of weeks ago I wrote about a job change. As excited as I was about the move, apparently the same enthusiasm didn’t spill over to other members of my household–specifically, to my daughter. I had never done such a thing in her lifetime; I should have known she would naturally be apprehensive.

To mitigate some of her fear of the unknown, I took her with me to lunch with my new boss as I prepped for my first day. I wanted her to own a part of the process, and I also wanted to put a human face on my new company. I figured she’d ask a bunch of questions and offer up her usual charming self. Not so. My normally gregarious child sat silently, with her eyes affixed to her plate the whole time.

Her sudden-onset, pre-teen shyness did not, however, indicate a lack of engagement, as I soon found out. On the ride home, I asked for her feedback about the meeting and my new company. Her comments took me completely by surprise.

Mom, you say mmm hmm a lot. Too much.

Excuse me?

That’s what she took from the conversation? I heard her out and moved on–or I thought I did. Darn it if every subsequent mmm hmm didn’t reverberate in my head like a bad piano chord over the next four days. Last night, I decided to revisit the topic with my lovely girlio.

What am I supposed to do? I asked. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but now that you’ve called my attention to it, I hear myself saying it all the time. Is it bad?

No standard twelve-year-old answer for this girl. She nailed it.

Mom! Of course you need to acknowledge what people are saying, but what’s wrong with WORDS? Say ‘I understand’ or ‘I can see what you mean.’ Say something like that instead of mmm hmm all the time. You’ll sound much more engaged!

She is so right and I’m proud of her.

Inspiration can come from any direction, even from the mouths of babes.

Camp notes

jrobA little more than a week ago, I delivered my son to wrestling camp three states away. For a month. I know it sounds crazy, but unlike many moms, the idea of separating myself from my firstborn for a month never gave me pause, even for a second. Truthfully, I was just as excited about it as he was.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not looking to get rid of him. He’s actually a pretty cool kid–the kind I’d like to spend more time with, not less. But I digress.

This camp is pretty hard core. When my son didn’t check in with me as promptly as I thought he should have the first couple of days, I poked him a little via text message. His response? Sorry, Mom. I’ve been sleeping every possible chance. They work the kids hard. They teach them the real meaning of hard work, dedication to a cause. Alongside the intense physical sessions (running/lifting twice a day, four times a day on the mat), they also provide classroom instruction on topics ranging from goal setting to time management to handling money. And they expect the kids to learn life skills along the way by having to take care of themselves for a month sans parents. In fact, as my son and I approached the registration table, the parents were told we had to step aside. For the duration of the camp, the kids have to be responsible for themselves and their actions. *gulp*

So what’s my point?

Something the camp founder said during the incoming parent meeting really stuck with me and really explains everything. In a hoarse voice, he boiled 36 years of camp experience into this:

Everyone has a PowerPoint these days, but you don’t get tough sitting in a room talking about getting tough. To get hard, you have to live hard.

And that’s it. If you want to become something, you have to live it. You can talk about it and plan it all you want. You can learn the technique and study the experts, but you’ll never, ever master it until you do it yourself.

Forget the wrestling part. I’m excited to see the character changes in my son when he returns from camp. I expect to see a more confident, more capable, more wizened young man when he returns. I’m already seeing it in his communication with me after a week; how will he look after another three?

You don’t change by talking about something. To get hard, you have to live hard.