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.

Behavior modification

I’m actually kind of shocked that no one mentioned that the same lessons I want to teach my daughter, noted last week in my post Best behavior, would be just as valuable to my maba_pleasebemindful_signson. In fact, I was kicking myself for not acknowledging this in my post, because it’s 100% true. In any case, something had me thinking about my daughter that day and how girls need strong role models, and well, I won’t bore you with the rest. Just know that I desperately want my son to benefit equally from those lessons.

Which brings me to today’s musings. I had a conversation a couple of days ago with a friend, who shared with me her escalating frustration with her ex. The guy lives a couple of hours away, so they meet in the middle to pick up/drop off their son for visitation. It seems that lately, Mr. Ex has been getting quite handsy with my friend.

She told me that it started with Mr. Ex grabbing her backside while she was buckling her school-aged son into his car seat. She ignored it, but she noticed that her son was positioned to see everything.

The next time, Mr. Ex got bolder. He made the same grabbing move, but this time on the front side–if you know what I mean. My friend swatted his hand away and silently swallowed her indignation. Once again, she tried to ignore it.

I asked her why she didn’t tell him to keep his hands to himself (read: to get the he** away from her). She gave me an answer about not wanting her son to see his mom and dad fighting or to see his dad in a bad light or some such.

Back. The. Truck. Up.

I couldn’t stop myself from blurting, So you want your son to think that it’s okay to touch women inappropriately and without their permission? You want him to think it’s no big deal for a married man to grope a woman who is not his wife? You want him to grow up thinking this behavior is perfectly normal?

My friend stopped for a second and blinked. She hadn’t thought of it that way at all. She hadn’t realized that her lack of response was also teaching him a lesson.

My friend is a contemplative woman; she been on a constant journey of self-examination for the past several years. I know she has been chewing on this since our conversation, and I’m pretty sure she’ll handle similar circumstances much differently from now on–for her son’s sake, if not her own.

As I thought about her situation, it just reinforced my conviction about sending messages with our behavior. What we don’t do can be just as powerful as what we do.

Be mindful, always.

PS. In case you were wondering, my friend gave me permission to share her story here. 

Break it down

Years ago when I started working for my current employer, my boss put together an immersion plan for me to get to know the company. In addition to a fair amount of meet-and-greet activity, he made sure I got some hands-on experience.

Hands-on, in this case, bore little resemblance to what you might expect for someone who was supposed to learn the ins and outs of marketing in a polished office space. It didn’t just consist of customer visits or research projects or deep dives into spreadsheets. Hands-on also meant that shortly after my arrival, I found myself headed to our lab to get to know the product. Intimately.

Dressed in my professional best, I donned a lab apron and gloves and settled in for a day and a half at a workbench. Our lab techs and engineers introduced me to motors from the outside in. I learned what each part did, piece by piece, as I disassembled different variations of our products. My colleagues quizzed me along the way until I reached the defining moment: I had to put the motors back together and they had to work.

Always up for a challenge and knowing all eyes were upon me because I was a young, ahem, girl, I quickly mastered the task–as much out of spite as skill.

In the years that have followed, I have never again had cause to tear down or reassemble a motor. I’m also pretty sure that without that experience, I could have done just fine as a marketer. However, I’m just as sure that my apron-clad day in the lab made me a much better employee. That experience quickly demystified our products for me and made them approachable to my non-technical self. It allowed me to speak intelligently to engineers and product managers, calling parts by their specific names and knowing where to find them and what they do. It gave me credibility with my coworkers. It gave me a chance to work with and get to know people with whom my paths would not normally cross regularly. It helped me understand what we do.

I value that lab experience to this day. Most of all, it taught me that the only way to be really good at something is to learn about it from all angles. Just because something is “not my job”–and maybe never will be–doesn’t mean that knowing the whats and hows and whys won’t help me do the job I have been assigned that much better.