Safety Is the Deepest Gift of All

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper got two standing ovations for their performance of “Shallow” at the Academy Awards. One immediately followed the performance, and another occurred as they returned to their seats.

Those standing ovations were well-deserved. The performance was momentous.

It was the intimate, compelling nature of the performance that led some people to theorize that the chemistry displayed by the two was more than an act.

It has been a week since the performance, and my earworm of “Shallow” has not dissipated (it doesn’t help that I finally saw the movie last night…).

Not only was a star born, but the hashtag #BraGa was born.

Safety is the Deepest Gift

I didn’t take away the idea that the two of them are going to be romantically linked in the future. I saw something else.

Ed. Note: I used to have the video of the performance embedded here, but the version I chose is no longer available. You can watch it through this link.

I saw the safety in quietly believing in each other

When Wayne and I were watching the show, I remember thinking “this may be going downhill” when Bradley Cooper’s voice hit a hitch at the 0:57 point. Gaga just stood there, believing in him. A few seconds later, she almost imperceptibly nods at him.

As the world can attest, everything got better from that point on.

It made me think of all the years I sat on the sidelines at a gym mom, watching young gymnasts learn the tiniest of skills that were intended to lead to the big breakthroughs.

As a parent, I was more inclined to push my kids than to give them the time to work through those repetitive practices and difficult times (sorry, kids!). I watched coaches stand by balance beams, seeing gymnasts execute drill after drill, day after day, with relatively impassive looks on their faces. But I also watched them erupt with pride when one of the gymnasts reached that breakthrough or succeeded at a meet. They believed.

Don’t we all need someone in our lives who quietly believes in us, who gives us the imperceptible positive nod instead of asking “why don’t you try this?” or advice such as “you are the one holding your own self back”?

I saw safety in making space for each other

At around the 3:20 mark in the video, as Bradley Cooper walks around the piano to sit down with Lady Gaga, she moves to her right imperceptibly and doesn’t miss a beat in playing the piano or singing.

Obviously there had been plenty of rehearsal for this moment and it wasn’t by chance … Bradley Cooper didn’t just “show up” there at the piano bench. Yet … the image spoke to me. She accommodated him and trusted that she could keep singing and playing, knowing that the two of them were committed to the success of the moment.

Speaking of safety

One of the things I do at SmartBrief is to co-manage the SBLeaders Twitter account. As any enterprising Twitter user knows, there’s nothing like a popular story to give you an opportunity to breathe life into a good post. I wanted to tweet about the post Lessons from Bradley Cooper in empowering people. I had some favorite passages and wanted to include one in a graphic.

Even though much of the piece was about Cooper’s generosity in giving credit where credit was due, there was also a strong thread about how performers, including Dave Chappelle, felt safe as part of the project.

Safety is the Deepest GiftDiscerning the shallow from the deep

Ed. Note: Tallahassee (and specifically our neighborhood) has been under a tornado warning for the past hour and the power is out. I’m running on battery for the computer and hotspot for the phone, so I’m deviating a bit from the plan (which involved lots more meticulous combing of the internet for links related to my points). Here goes a free write about what I think, because I never miss a Sunday posting and I’m not going to let some bad weather keep me from being consistent! I hope it all gels, because this passage is pretty fundamental to my view of things, and I hope it’s a perspective that inspires thought among some of you.

I loved everything about that performance. I wish I had the musical and acting chops (and the general audience-pleasing aesthetic) to do the same. I love performing, and I have such incredible respect for what Cooper and Gaga did up there.

About the chemistry they shared, though, I am more of a long view person about chemistry. There have been people in my life with whom I felt a that magic, and choosing to walk away from the temptation of that intensity was difficult. I have had two different therapists who, when I described some of the history of how I came to be in my marriage, implied that I should have felt something more, something more fiery, something that the “audience” watching us on life’s stage would stand up and applaud. Not that chemistry is overrated, but it’s part of a bigger equation.

The entire job of actors is to make us believe (which Cooper and Gaga most definitely did, if you ask me). Anyone who knows me well knows how firmly I believe that deep friendships between men and women are absolutely a good thing.

Fate will laugh at me if the headlines tomorrow, next month, or next year blare, “Cooper and Gaga confirm they’re a romantic couple.” But I will be surprised.

I think, instead, they embarked on a joint endeavor that involved believing in each other, making space for each other, and trusting the safety that had grown between them.

Then they sang about it.

They are, as the song says, far from the shallow. But … the way they went about it served less as a weight that would eventually pull them both down and more as a pair of life preservers.

Writing Creates Knowing: Inspiration from Patrice Gopo

Does the word “essay” immediately take your mind back to the pressure of writing the perfect admissions essay as part of a college application or give you flashbacks to pressure-filled language arts exercises in high school or college? If so, spend a half hour listening to Patrice Gopo talk about her journey toward being an essayist, and you may associate personal essays with a more positive idea.

Note: I chose to watch the profile of Patrice as I was seeking a blogging topic for today. The profile is part of the Flourish Writers Conference a free online gathering of “authors … as they share personal insights into the challenges and victories faced by every writer.” 

After perusing the videos available as part of the conference, I decided to watch and reflect on Patrice’s, due to this three-word description in a summary of the video in the email introduction: “writing creates knowing.”

Here are my takeaways:

Chance plays a role in our destinies

Patrice is not a writer by training; she is a chemical engineer with graduate credentials in public policy. Had she not moved to Cape Town, South Africa, after marrying her husband, and found herself unable to do her usual work because she lacked a work permit, she may not have begun this type of writing. Maybe it wasn’t chance that led her to that place and the choice to write, but something more serendipitous.

A reminder to keep trying

Patrice explained that the word “essay” has its roots in the concept of “to try.” The Online Etymology Dictionary says it comes from the Latin “exigere” (“drive out; require, exact; examine, try, test”). I like the idea that a personal essay is less a finality than it is a query.

Patrice discusses one of her goals: to “demystify.” This is something I aim to do with my blog. In my mind (and in my experience), demystifying things we don’t understand dilutes the fear surrounding them. If an explanation, accompanied by putting a human face on a problem, can make a difference for the better, I have done what I set out to do.

Encouragement to be kind to ourselves (yet tenacious simultaneously)

One topic Patrice addressed is whether there are certain boxes that must be checked off for someone to call themselves a writer. Do they have to be published? Do they have to get paid for their writing? When is a writer “a writer”?

You don’t have to be published to be a writer, Patrice contends. I agree. I would argue there are snippets of excellent writing in some of my friends’ Facebook comments, run-of-the-mill emails and other exchanges that say “I am a writer” about that person even if the words never make a formal publication.

One of the interesting parts of the discussion was regarding the role of writing classes, coaches and conferences. Patrice says finding a balance between “learning more about writing” and doing the writing itself is an individual thing. However, she says some of us get so wrapped up in the “how” of writing that we never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were).

It is easy to conclude that our time has passed us by as writers, that we are too old, too inexperienced, too [insert factor hindering progress here] to succeed. I liked the example facilitator Mindy Kiker used of William Zinsser, whose On Writing Well was published when Zinsser was in his 50s. “Zinsser said he didn’t really find his voice until he wrote that book in his early 50s,” said Mindy.

Although the Ken Follett example I think of frequently isn’t solely about age, it is about defying expectations of others. He had become a bestselling spy novelist by the time he discussed Pillars of the Earth with his agent. This is what he said:

My publishers were nervous. They wanted another spy story. My friends were also apprehensive. They know that I enjoy success. I’m not the kind of writer who would deal with a failure by saying that the book was good but the readers were inadequate. I write to entertain, and I’m happy doing so. A failure would make me miserable. No one tried to talk me out of it, but lots of people expressed anxious reservations.

If you feel that you are too old, to connected to a particular genre, too undeveloped as a writer, keep going. And, Patrice urges, enjoy the journey.

To learn more about Patrice

Patrice’s website: patricegopo.com

Patrice’s book, which “examines the complexities of identity in our turbulent yet hopeful time of intersecting heritages”: All the Colors We Will See

patrice gopo

A favorite line I selected while perusing one of Patrice’s essays: “When the brain decides to forget, to carve out gaps in memory, why does it leave the hands idle?”

Keep up with all things Patrice by subscribing to her newsletter. (I did, and I RARELY subscribe to anything these days, given the high volume of my email inbox.)

And as a side note, learn more about the Flourish Conference here.

In closing

My half hour with Patrice (and Mindy) was time well spent. I agree that “writing creates knowing.” For me, sometimes the “knowing” has more to do with the additional clarity the process of writing brings to me personally. Other times, it is my hope my writing helps others have a wider perspective about a contentious or misunderstood topic.

If you have felt the pull to write, but haven’t found your way around the obstacles that have arisen, there’s no better time than now to “create knowing.”

Patrice Gopo

 

“Be Pretty” and Other Lessons from Mom

My mom spent roughly an hour last year on February 13 “on hospice.” Then she was gone.

The story leading up to that hour was complicated and ran through three hospital stays, two intubations, a broken wrist and about 24 hours at home. The final hospital stay started when she fell and broke her wrist, but deteriorated into the breathing issues that had characterized the first of the three stays and landed her in the ICU.

When she developed severe breathing issues on February 13, a decision was made not to intubate her and that closed any door except letting things play out until she passed away.

I didn’t know “hospice” in this case meant, essentially, leaving her in the same bed at the hospital and changing her treatment plan. I suppose it didn’t matter, because she passed away within an hour of the plan’s change.

It’s difficult to believe it has been almost a year.

I am thinking back on the year, and how I can honor her in the way I apply her lessons to my life. Here are the five things that come to mind when I think about her:

“Be Pretty”

This was my mom’s admonition every time I left the house. I hated it. It felt so … inclined toward the polite. Of course being polite is often a good thing, but it has been challenging for me to square that admonition — especially as I grew older — with the fact that having an influence on the world, especially being a part of making things better for people who have been wronged, by its nature involves getting in people’s and organizations’ faces.

Even though she and I were different about that, I also know that her biggest goal was that I have a “pretty” inner core. The deeper admonition was that I should always try to see things fairly, kindly and empathically. 

Lessons from mom

Be Patient

Anyone who ever watched my mom sew a garment has seen patience at work. Each pleat, seam and hem was perfect. One of my strongest memories was of how she sat in a recliner in our living room, holding my newborn son, in the dark, the first night we were home from the hospital. I have no idea how she kept him occupied and satisfied, but she persevered, all so I could get some sleep. She was the most patient person I have ever known. Maybe the patience accompanies the “polite.” Again, this all works counter to advocacy efforts — you have to be impatient with the rate of change to be motivated to address it.

Even though patience doesn’t impel us to change things in our world, I’ve also learned to chip away at issues one constituent email or tweet at a time, and to not give up the first (or tenth) time I am told “no,” so maybe patience does pay.

Be Positive

The “be positive” header here is a bit misleading, given what I want to address. But I’m going for all “P’s,” so “positive” it is. My mom never pursued an official diagnosis, but I lived with her and am certain she went through several length periods of clinical depression. The most surreal thing was watching her affect change to normal/upbeat as, for example, she answered the phone to talk to someone outside of the immediate family or dealt with them in person. This is pretty deep to unpack (a word I hate but that fits for this context), Here’s what I struggled with during (and between) these periods: How can a person whose primary goal in life was to be a wife and mom not be as happy as she sounds as she’s talking on the phone and putting on her “happy” affect? Why can’t we help her out of this? Is this somehow about something I am doing to make this worse? Why, why why?

Now you can undoubtedly see why “be positive” is not exactly the right header for this passage. You can possibly see why I got a graduate degree in mental health and spent time as a counselor/supervisor on a crisis counseling line. What you may not be able to see but is likely true is that I became a voracious reader to escape some of that, then a writer to somehow work through it all (and honestly my love of editing/accuracy probably correlates with her attention to detail back when she was making all those perfect pleats and tiny stitches). But the main thing is this all made me a mental health advocate and explains why I am such a dogged believer in therapy and getting help. No one should have to carry the weight of untreated depression, especially someone as wonderful as she was.

Be Perspicacious

Another misleading header — I don’t think my mom and I ever spoke about my favorite word, “perspicacious.” However, it was clear to me from the time I was a young child that she was an extremely smart lady. She downplayed her intellect publicly, but it was there.

I wish the world could have seen more of her intelligence.

Be Kind

There goes the string of “p” words! I couldn’t find an equivalent “p” word for kindness. But anyone who ever heard my mom’s voice can attest its tone was “kind.” Even during the most challenging conversations of my teenage years, there was so little animosity in her voice.

I am inspired to kindness every time I think of her voice. 

In Closing

My mom talked sentimentally about her “career” days. She was very young (17, I think) when she took off for the relatively “big” municipality of Lake City from Lake Butler to start her career.

Her eyes lit up when she talked about that time. One of the stories she told most often was about the first time she “took a letter” in shorthand. She arrived back at her desk and couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. She talked about how nervous she was telling her boss that she needed to start over.

Having just made a midlife career change, I think about that often. I have had to ask so many questions. It has been humbling, but it has helped us all turn out a better product and it has given me confidence (and, truthfully, JOY) as I got a handle on things. What if she had walked away from that job and returned to tiny Union County, resigned to a life that didn’t involve asking for do-overs?

I can’t get a do-over on whatever water was left under the bridge between my mom and me, and I can’t thank her more directly and sincerely for all she did. But I can remember that “pretty” is a more versatile word than it seems on the surface.

I can also, guided by her example, be patient with others and myself.

Thanks, Mom.

This look on her face captures who she was.

 

Marching Right Past Each Other’s Humanity

I lost “friends” and sowed some discontent on Facebook when I participated in the Tallahassee Women’s March in January 2017.

Marching past humanity

Tallahassee Women’s March 2017

That’s fine. We lose connections with people, especially on social media, as our differences become too great to overlook.

However, it has bothered me ever since January 2017. My pro-life friends said, “I wouldn’t have felt comfortable there — it wasn’t for all women.” And although I argued that they would have been comfortable, while my friends who had been marching in DC also asserted the activity was for all women, I knew in my heart of hearts that they would not have been at ease.

Two Years Later — a Trip to DC’s March

When a few factors came together to make a trip to New York City possible this year, with the date being up to me, I intentionally chose something that would make it possible to get to DC. My friends, all strong advocates in their own right, and I planned to meet up in DC.

I have zero apologies for participating in the March, or for the positions about which I am most vocal. Yet, it is a challenge when those positions and my choices abut people who are dear to me.

As the time of the Women’s March drew near, friends on Facebook asked for prayers as their teenagers were headed to the March for Life, to be held the day prior to the Women’s March. Of course I wanted those teenagers to be safe, and I admired their adherence to their beliefs, but I felt conflicted.

A Woman’s Place is in the … WHAT?

As my friend Yolanda and I wound our way through the streets of DC, admiring people’s signs and reveling in the shared sense of purpose that our country has to find its way back to some semblance of equity and fairness, our attention was drawn to a group of counterprotesters on the sidewalk. They were there to express their pro-life views. A group of Women’s Marchers had stationed themselves in front of them to try to block their message.

Honestly, I barely looked at them. I was processing things. But I remember Yolanda reading one of their signs: “A woman’s place is in the kitchen.” Their other messages were along the same lines and they were screaming at us about killing babies.

Where in the world is the middle ground?

As the day went on, chatter about the interactions between the students from Covington High School, the Native American Elder and the Black Israelites started to fill Twitter and other news channels. (Here is the BBC’s coverage because it’s virtually impossible to choose objective press about the event here in the US.)

Something in my gut told me to hold off favoriting/sharing on social media. My friend and I were running around, and it was extremely difficult to get a handle on what was happening. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an Indigenous People’s March, much less on the same day as the March for Life.

What I am about to say may be the single most naive thing I’ve ever written in 10+ years of blogging, but here goes:

Choosing to share your side of a situation in a public demonstration is not the time to have any hope of finding middle ground; that happens person-to-person, face-to-face, in our everyday lives. Our living rooms, the vantage point of a parent in a driver’s seat speaking to a kid in the passenger seat being driven to dance, soccer or lacrosse, and hopefully the classroom or place of worship. But not a protest situation.

Here’s how much a parent can control what their teenager does:

(Slight hyperbole alert here):

ZERO.

One of the first things you learn as a parent is that your child is their own person. I always cringe a bit at the “this all starts at home” line of reasoning when a young person does something unaccepting or otherwise meanspirited.

What I do know, however, is that a school that allowed a situation to escalate in the way the Covington situation escalated is probably not one where my children would have remained enrolled very long.

I know, too, that is entirely imperfect as my children’s parents are, they have seen two parents who each tried to model fairness, appreciation of diversity and inclusion.

Social media is misleading

Did you see the picture of Prince William “shooting a bird“? It turns out the truth is in the camera angle.

There are things about the Covington situation that speak their truth beyond the camera angles:

  • the body space invasion of Sandmann and Phillips in each other’s personal boundaries
  • the MAGA hats
  • the chanting

Some authors, such as Andrew Sullivan in the Intelligencer, claim the Covington students were sort of captive (waiting for a bus, at the mercy of the Black Hebrew Israelites). After watching 100 minutes of footage before, during and after the most widely promoted moments Sullivan said, “This is a moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror of social media and see what we have become.”

I appreciate Sullivan’s perspective, yet I tend to align most closely with Average White Guy via Black Girl in Maine, who said, “Wearing a MAGA hat and approaching any person of color, but most particularly Black or Indigenous people of color, is an act of aggression by its very nature.”

Protesting is hard

I feel ridiculous typing “protesting is hard,” because I really don’t know “hard.” As a white, middle-class woman who has definitely gotten everything I need in life and more than my share of what I wanted, I am aware that “hard” is something I do not know.

This is the section where I tell you I don’t know the answer (ha!). It’s the section where I admit that my entire upbringing under a lovely Southern mom was geared toward being polite, not making waves.

When I was at We Won’t Wait 2016, and trans women talked about how they disrupted a panel at a conference, making it impossible for the presenters to continue and essentially holding the entire gathering hostage until someone would let them share their message, my inclination was to say, “but do you know how hard those people worked to make their presentation? The conference fees they paid? The years of research?”

I don’t know the answer, but I also know Rosa Parks didn’t exactly wait until a passenger gave her a seat. At that same conference (We Won’t Wait), a speaker said, “Rosa Parks wasn’t tired of racism … Rosa Parks was TIRED.” (I know she was probably both, but the point was well taken.) The big changes in our society don’t happen quietly or politely. They get people’s attention and make us uncomfortable.

Were the Covington students doing something hard to further a greater social good or doing something self-centered to which they were relatively accustomed to further their own discriminatory agendas?

There’s no talking sense into a fundamentalist

Once I learned more about the Black Hebrew Israelites, I had a better understanding of the elements at play that day. And ultimately, there’s no reasoning with a group that far on the fringes.

Megan Roper, who grew up as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, known for rigidity and especially for protesting funerals and expressing hatred toward gay people, left that all behind. She now says, ” They [people she met on Twitter who were from outside her church] approached me as a human being and that was more transformative than two full decades of outrage, disdain and violence.”

Marching past humanity

 

Finding the human beings beneath it all

In January 2017, my pro-life friends protested that they would not have felt welcome at Tallahassee’s Women’s March and in January 2019, people I loved marched to espouse the right to life the day before I marched for women’s rights (and other rights) while being yelled at to “get back in the kitchen.” Somewhere in the middle of all that, a group of high school boys from Kentucky came face to face with a Native American Elder while another group of extremists egged everyone on (it appears).

What I can’t reconcile is why no one in that entire mix approached anyone else as a human being. It seems like it would have been more transformative.

Marching past humanity

 

Not Every Leader Wears a Business Suit

Power of mothers

I saw lots of stock photos in my four years of doing freelance social media work, writing, and editing. If I used a search term like “leader,” I could predict the types of images I’ would find. The one above is an example.

But I could also predict the types of images I would not be likely to detect:
Power of mothers

Leading in the Mountains

I have been involved for years in Unbound, a non-profit program that works to help people in poverty. When I participated in a blogger trip in 2014 and had an opportunity to meet participants in El Salvador up close, one of the most memorable activities was a meeting with a mothers’ group high in the mountains.

The organization’s philosophy revolves around the concept that people benefit more from learning to help themselves (with support, as needed) than from handouts.

That’s where the mothers come in. As the organization found in a 2017 report, “mother and guardian empowerment” in topics such as decision-making, community involvement, and employment leads to “increased choices in life, positive change and greater personal control.”

The rural areas of El Salvador are far removed physically from typical corporate board rooms, but the qualities I saw among these moms paralleled what I would see in a C-Suite officer trying to make sense of corporate finance numbers for the upcoming fiscal year.

Accountability

When a mother’s group meets in El Salvador, the roll is taken scrupulously. A participant who does not show up and sign in is not eligible to participate in decisions or have a hand in how funding is allocated.

Doesn’t it work the same way in mainstream corporate America? Despite the fact that, as a Harvard Business Review article notes, “one out of every two managers is terrible at accountability,” the expectation is that accountability helps organizations maintain integrity and therefore increase their chances of being profitable.

Being Scrupulous about Setting a Good Example

The mother’s group was populated by moms of varying ages, some still bearing and raising families, others further along in life. These women were conscious of setting an example for one another (and for their children, some of whom were present at the meeting). The tone I got from them was, “as we go, so goes our community.” They meant business, and they loved their community.

Here in the US, employees also look up to leaders to set a good example. “[G]iving people a reason to believe and to follow,” is how the American Management Association puts it, and I agree.

Helping Each Other’s Children

These women didn’t watch for their own children solely – every child was every mother’s responsibility, to an extent. It may be a slight over-generalization, but it is what I have observed consistently in Central America: the presence of a commodity (food, a job opportunity, other resources) is treated as a welcome benefit to all, not to just one.

I wish I could say this is true or something I have read or seen in the US, but we all too easily devolve into a me-first culture. In The Collateral Damage of Selfish Leadership, Dan Pontefract wrote, “But it’s the selfish leader [emphasis his] – those choosing to lead with a perilous fixation on power, pay and/or profit – that might be causing much of the disengagement and dissatisfaction in today’s organization.”

Honoring the Culture

Our visit was a “special occasion” (that was humbling), so there was a gracious reception for us with local foods, fresh flowers, and unique decorations. The group didn’t try to adjust for what they thought we wanted; they brought out the best in their cultural expression.

This is a time of many mergers in the global economy. Merging two organizations can’t be easy; it occurs to me these newly joined organizations could take a page from the mothers of El Salvador and figure out what each partner’s roots are before digging everything up and trying to graft two companies together.

Moms Know

True leadership doesn’t require a fancy briefcase, a bespoke business suit, or an advanced degree from an Ivy League institution. Sometimes it shows up most when a Salvadoran mom takes the lead.

A version of this post was originally published by the Lead Change Group as Not All Leaders Wear Suits.

 

Aging is Not a Hammer

How hard did aging hit you?

This is the wording of the latest social media challenge making the rounds. The wording is accompanied by a Facebook user’s collage containing their first-ever profile picture and their most recent.

I resisted at first, partially because it is impossible to make my original picture and my current picture symmetrical (the 2007 picture of Tenley and me is taken from a distance; my current profile picture is a headshot). I still shared it on Instagram, but the inability to make the two images symmetrical was a hurdle.

The other hurdle? I am not a fan of the challenge’s name. 

“How hard did aging hit you?” makes it sound as though we are at the mercy of aging. I also almost physically recoil at the imagery related to “hitting.”

First, Here’s What I Think

It’s not that aging doesn’t bring hits

I’ve had my share of adversity as I have grown older. I suspect anyone could say the same thing. Wayne’s job loss (twice), my mom’s death, the consequences of making financial decisions that turned out to be poor choices.

For all the pain, every one of those “hits” have been a part of making me better and forcing new growth. Wayne’s job loss made us communicate differently as a couple. My mom’s death brought priorities into sharp relief. Poor financial decisions made me be crystal clear to my kids about what to look out for in their spending decisions as young adulthood approached.

The work world has changed, and I refuse to take an “I’m a victim of being “hit” mentality into my career path

I am a mid-life person and have started a career in a new (to me) profession. I have been involved in the profession (editing/writing) on a freelance basis and as a pastime for most of my career. (In addition, my co-workers from Healthy Kids would no doubt argue that my tendency to edit everything gave me away.)

The work world is changing. People don’t stay in their positions as long as they used to. Offices are literally structured differently, and more people (such as me) work 100% from home. People communicate in less direct ways (most of my communication is by email and Slack).

I have had peers lose opportunities because they “couldn’t keep up.” I don’t want to be blind to my shortcomings, but I will fight hard to be well-versed on changes in technology and work life. These are not things people who have caved to being “hit” are willing or able to do.

Life is so much broader than pictures from the beginning of Facebook until now can communicate

Most of these “first profile pictures” come from 2007 (or so). And this is a non-scientific observation, but most of the participants are women. The number of men chiming in when I asked about this on Facebook was tiny. And one of them pointed out how military service had shaped him. Not that people aren’t still serving in the military, but the period of time covered by Facebook’s existence just doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of life’s influence on our evolution. There’s more to life (looking at you, people who survived Vietnam) than our children’s prom pictures and our travelogues (not that those aren’t great!).

The Reveal

Here’s the version that is true to the challenge – first profile picture (2007 at Xanadu in NYC) and most recent (headshot by Debby Stubing).

Aging is not a hammer

Now, Here’s What My Wise Friends Think

I asked my friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Twitter for a substitute for the “being hit” imagery.

Aging is not a hammer

Here’s their hivebrain response:

“A potter’s wheel. Being guided and shaped from the inside and the outside over time. Sometimes breaking under weak spots when life spins out of control, but rebuilt with careful attention to be stronger in those areas.”

“Aging Disgracefully”

“Aging is a beautiful thing when you do it with health and a really good dose of wisdom.”

“Aging isn’t hitting me at all. It’s more like massaging me gently towards the inevitable grave.”

“Chicken or egg? Do we tell ourselves we are getting older & feel that way or, depending on one’s health, it happens. It happens. But it can happen if we are young, middle-aged or older. I like how poet @maggiesmithpoet writes each day: ‘keep moving.'”

“Evidence of a life lived”

“For a while I was annoyed that I hadn’t planned for a life that lasted so long. But I’d have to admit that’s better than planning for a long life and not getting one.”

“… hey, I’m 10 years older”

“How far I’ve come…” and “flourished”

“How has life shaped you?” would be better…

“How I have been refined…”

“…how many wonderful memories you have made between these two pictures!”

“I am wiser”

““If we’re lucky, we’ll all get old. — Mom”

“I’m a good single barrel whiskey that’s been aged to perfection. The older the whiskey ages, the more it’s worth and enjoyed…”

“Less as a sledgehammer and more like a woodcarver’s chisel. Time and experiences shape us. But it also grows us in new ways, like a tree grows around damage or obstacles.”

“…like being a teenager all over again. A blank palette. What are you going to do with your life?”

“Living life unfiltered!”

“Maybe like the patina on copper? Or weathered wood?”

“Natural wisdom, growing beautiful, enlightenment of inner peace and knowledge”

“Older, wiser and healthier. How I took better care of myself for this thing called life.”

Reducing a sauce down to increase flavor and strength!”

“…runaway steamroller”

Seasoning. Maturing. Becoming. Thriving.”

“Slide down a sometimes bumpy hill. Leaves you bruised and confused.”

“Sweet caress of a mother? Gentle head pat from Father Time?”

“…the current state is much better”

The ‘look I’ve changed over time and I’m supposed to be devastated challenge'”

“We don’t age, we just get better, like a fine wine.”

My friend Stacy said, 

In the process I’ve birthed and raised two kids, co-authored a book, written hundreds of articles, earned a good living, turned my marriage into an even more deeply satisfying partnership and stood up loudly and proudly for things that matter the most to me.

A handful of pictures don’t tell that story and never will. I have wrinkles and fat in places I’d rather not. I have bags under my eyes and a double chin. My breasts are baby chewed and my backside rather more spread out than it was when I was who I was so long ago.

I also have memories that of a life that, while not always as well lived as I have liked, has meaning and value.

No challenge can tell that extremely important truth nor can any comparison pictures tell the honest truths of our authentic lives.

 

As for me, I lean toward the image of a glassblower’s torch, transforming something that already had potential into a more beautiful sculpture, demonstrating a few imperfections, some sharp edges, and more nuanced curves than it had before.

Lastly, I’ll let my smart and insightful friend, Caroline, have the final word.

Aging is Not a Hammer

 

Toy Drops, Accountability, and the End of Overdue Book Fines

In October and December of last year, I shared posts recapping my favorite SmartBrief stories among the briefs I edit. Here’s an update:

From ASPA (The American Society of Public Administrators) and from ICMA (the International City/County Management Association)

Cities loosen penalties for transit fare evasion (ASPA)

Utah library stops charging fines for overdue books (ICMA)   

Why it’s so interesting: When I lived in New York City (1989-1992), fare evasion was definitely seen as a “no-no.” Now it’s (to an extent) in the same category as fines for overdue books. Speaking of overdue books, some cities are choosing to forgo fines for those now. This (keeping a book past its due date and owing money for it) was seen as a “no-no” long before I was a NYC resident paying my fair share for transit services. Things are changing regarding how municipalities incentivize behaviors that contribute to the greater good. The Utah library was concerned that fines exacerbated inequity, for example, and made it hard for the people who needed the library most to use its services. Also, in both cases, there were analyses of the amount of resources spent on enforcement in comparison to the revenue generated. It makes me look at the world in a different way than I did before. 

Favorite December 2018 SmartBrief stories

From Sigma Xi Science Honor Society

Invasive wasp endangers Spain’s chestnut crops

Why it’s so interesting: It’s a problem in itself that sweet chestnut production in Spain is down 30% due to an invasive Chinese parasitic insect. It’s a bigger problem that the diminished chestnut production and parasitic attack is a) affecting a struggling economy dependent on exporting sweet chestnuts to France b) contributing to an increase in forest fire risk (because some farmers are burning their crops to kill the invader c) resulting in “urban drift” as young people have become more cynical about a future in chestnut farming and d) causing more questions as one method of combating it (the release of the parasite’s natural predator) may itself cause. This is one of many stories I read that help me understand the challenges our world faces. As one government investigator said, “If we take a wider view this is another example of the unintentional globalisation of parasites and the problems facing scientists as they search for ways of eradicating, or at least limiting the pest.”

From the National Association of Social Workers

Commentary: Seeking, finding support helps former foster child

Why it’s so interesting: This story was about Deitrick Foley, who spent time in the foster care system as a child, and says his involvement in several support groups has helped him see that it is possible to find affirmation and support from people who are not relatives by blood. I loved this quote: “I learned to never give up spreading love to the people around me, and to look at one person leaving my life as leaving the door open and making space for two people to come into it.” So wise.

From UN Wire

Female Venezuelan migrants selling hair, sexual favors for income

There is absolutely nothing uplifting about this story. Nothing. As difficult and heartbreaking as it is to read stories like this, it means a lot to me to be a part of sharing them to a broader audience. For International Women’s Day 2018, Kathy Escobar wrote, “May we remember that our freedom is all tied up together, and none of us are free unless we are all free.” I concur.  

From BoardSource

Organization, bipartisanship help nonprofits excel, Bono says

Why it’s so interesting: When I first read this article, I thought about the last time I participated in “Hill Day” for Shot at Life. On Hill Day, advocates visit the offices of their congressional representatives and share their hopes for their cause. There were so many ONE advocates it was almost comical (it was heartening and wonderful, of course, but the visual was a dramatic statement). Bono, the founder, knows what he is doing and he doesn’t mind being direct and possibly even controversial. Case in point: this line from the article: “Whatever you feel about the NRA – and I don’t like them very much – they’re a very well-organized group and we want ONE to be the NRA for the world’s poor.” I admire him for his ability to praise the organizational abilities of the NRA (while also systematically working day and night to achieve goals that are mostly diametrically opposed…).

From the Reserve Officers Association

Operation Toy Drop prep involves 260 jumpmasters

Why it’s so interesting: Operation Toy Drop (not surprisingly) doesn’t involve actually “dropping” toys. In short, it’s a cooperative, multi-national training opportunity that involves paratroopers from 14 partner nations. The participating troops also collect toys for children in the surrounding area. The event started in 1998, and I enjoyed poking around to learn its historyAt a time of so much divisiveness internationally, I loved the cooperative tone of this project. 

This video gives a brief overview of the event:

(As a side note and point of personal privilege, this story was also relevant to me because my daughter went skydiving for the first time ever last month. Thank you to Jump Jasper Skydiving for delivering her back to terra firma safely. And props to Tenley for being brave enough to do something I have no desire to do. EVER.)

From the National Emergency Number Association

Peevyhouse: Trauma among 9-1-1 professionals should be given priority

Why it’s so interesting: First, I loved the title of this commentary from Jamison Peevyhouse, President of the National Emergency Number Association, “Hell is empty, & all the devils are here.” Such an evocative use of words to introduce a piece about the stresses first responders and dispatchers face. Besides the explanation of the challenges faced by dispatchers, I loved the emphasis on being observant, of being a team, such as, “Be the one who will commit to check on each coworker after a tough shift.” We should all do the same, regardless of our industry.  

From SmartBrief on Leadership

Letting employees design workflow increases engagement

I edited SmartBrief on Leadership for six days in December. This brief is how I became acquainted with SmartBrief years ago, and it has its own significance to me for that reason. Being entrusted with editing it was mixture of enthralling and nerves (but mostly enthralling!). One article from that six-day period that stood out to me was this interview with Stephen Mumford, an executive at Baton Rouge General Medical Center. In discussing employee engagement, he said this:

Listen, listen, listen! I find that sometimes my employees just want to be heard. I make rounds in the departments as much as I can. My employees really like when I come to their areas and see them in action. I also let my team design the processes and workflows for their departments. This keeps them engaged, and they hold each other accountable to the processes they build.

People like to be involved in designing “processes and workflows.” In the medical environment, who better to be a part of designing workflows than the people who do it? I can see why they are more engaged and why they emphasize accountability if they had a hand in the way things run. 

Another cool component of the leadership newsletter is its Twitter feed. Check it out by visiting @SBLeaders.

About Working at SmartBrief and Our Current Openings

When I share my recaps, I also like to give an update about openings. I wrote in more detail about my experience here.

SmartBrief’s Open Position(s)

Here are SmartBrief’s currently advertised open positions:

And in the New York office:

If you apply, please list me as your referrer. 

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including our newest, the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on Facebook, SmartBrief Twitter, Leadership SmartBrief Twitter, LinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope to play a part in keeping you informed long into the future!

Favorite December 2018 SmartBrief stories

6 Sincere Ways to Say “Thanks”

Sincere Thanks

This quote by William Arthur Ward is charming and inspirational, but may be as ill-fitting as a “Best Wishes on Your Wedding” bag among all the Santas and Snowmen under the tree, especially in the work setting.

“[T]here can be serious consequences to misusing, or overusing, displays of appreciation in the office,” says Vidyard CEO and co-founder Michael Litt in Gratitude schmatitude: How too much praise devalues appreciation.

I have had my share of curmudgeonliness here on the blog this year (looking at you, gender reveals). Since I try to position myself as someone who leans toward optimism, I don’t want to close the year out on a “but think about the downside” type of note.

Litt’s article, which appeared in SmartBrief on Dec. 19, did leave me thinking, though. Does gratitude lose its effect if said too often, too insincerely, too mechanically?

With those questions in mind, six ways we can try to be more intentional and creative with our expressions of gratitude in the coming year:

Recognition

Some people find recognition extremely rewarding; others not so much.

Case in point: My son won an award at school in the spring of his senior year (April 2017). The awards were intended to be for the “non-traditional” sort of achievement and give students who might not tend to get more conventional awards a moment of gratitude. It was a lovely ceremony, and he was given a certificate, a medal and several other mementos.

His items are still sitting in the back seat of my car … a year and a half later! (And yes, I realize this says way too much about how often I clean out the back of my car!).

Sincere Thanks

Maybe the recognition meant more to him than he let on, but given his choice of what to do with the mementos, I’m inclined to think it was not, in the scheme of things, a huge deal to him.

Consider whether the person you want to thank finds public recognition fulfilling and/or motivating.

Trust

For me, one of the best ways someone can express their appreciation for my role on a team is by trusting me with the details of “the big picture.” I simply function more effectively when I understand how my contribution fits into the overall plan.

There are some facts and details pertinent to an organization’s life that need to remain confidential for logical reasons. However, there are many more elements of an organization’s plan that are better off being exposed to broad daylight.

Transparency also has the potential to help leaders do a better job and help organizations fulfill their missions. “When employees are in the loop about an organization’s challenges, they’ll likely better understand and support the tough decisions that leaders must make,” says Rebecca Hawk in 5 Benefits of More Transparency in Your Workplace.

Is there a way you can translate your gratitude for an employee’s trustworthiness and commitment to the organizational mission into a more transparent approach?

Sing Someone’s Praises — Without Them Knowing

This may seem counterintuitive. In the context of the opening quote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” it may seem warped.

Look at it, though, as wrapping the present and then giving it … not to the recipient but to someone who can use it to the recipient’s benefit in some way.

I was involved in the freelance social media and communications world for the last four years, and trust me when I say that although its universe is broad, it’s still exceptionally common for people to know each other, or of each others’ reputations, even if they haven’t ever spoken.

If someone comes up in conversation, it never hurts to say, “[Facebook Frances] did a great job on my campaign; she made a difference for our brand. Don’t say it if it’s untrue, obviously, or if it is awkward, but if you’re talking about Facebook Frances and have an opportunity to say a kind word, go ahead and say it. That’s the kind of paying it forward that may make a difference when Facebook Frances is looking for work in the future.

Take the time to say the word of praise if it’s natural and true, even if it is not said directly to the subject of the compliment. It’s a way of giving karma a little boost.

Flexibility

Flexibility is huge. Flexibility as a reward is something many people appreciate. I would argue it also goes hand in hand with trust.

“[I]t’s becoming more common for employees to perform ‘life’ tasks during work hours and take work home during ‘off’ hours,” says the Staffing Industry Analysts group in Workplace Trends for 2019 Include Flexibility, Digital Sophistication, explaining why flexibility is gaining prominence among desired work conditions.

Although I agree that the trend SIA is discussing is happening, and employers will gain employee goodwill by accommodating it, my thoughts on flexibility are a bit different.

Now that I am a remote worker, and have a great deal of flexibility, this problem has been largely resolved for me. However, when I was in a traditional office, and still juggling the multiple balls involved when a family has active kids and both parents work, I would have had much less stress (and much higher morale) if there had been options to modify my schedule and work around everyone’s needs.

Seek ways to help people who are performing well configure their life in a way that helps them make the best use of their energy levels and helps them take care of their other obligations. They’ll be less stressed (and more productive).

A Receptive Ear

With an increasing amount of our workforce finding themselves as freelance workers, opportunities for disconnects between people engaged in mutual work grow. (Statista reports that 35% of the US workforce in 2016 were freelancers, an increase of two million over 2014.)

Throughout my four years of freelancing, I was a member of quite a few Slack groups.

Not to overdramatize, but there are times when you are a freelancer that your Slack channels are the main way you interact with other humans during the day.

I have had some pretty deep (yet brief) conversations on Slack. As my responsibilities grew in one of the organizations, and my status changed from freelancer to employee, one resolution I carried forward was a commitment to — within the bounds of professionalism and efficiency — make sure to always express my gratitude and to recognize the way personal stresses present challenges unique to freelancers.

You may not be able to see a freelancer on the other side of a Slack (or whatever system you use) exchange, but they still need to know their efforts at doing a good job matter and their stresses are acknowledged.

Money

One of Michael Litt’s points in writing about the dangers of watering down gratitude by expressing it too often and/or too insincerely was, “Money doesn’t always buy thanks.”

Litt didn’t mean that money should never be used to express gratitude. However, he says research does not substantiate the effectiveness of “short-term or one-off financial bumps” for improving performance.

Litt’s organization gives “off-cadence options” (shares in the business) in truly “exceptional” situations to demonstrate “a direct connection between an employee’s contribution and the continued success of the company.”

Don’t rule money out to demonstrate gratitude, but be deliberate in your approach and choose something that directly correlates with the difference an employee made.

In closing

I like financial rewards as much as the next person, but I agree with Litt that there are other ways to help employees feel appreciated.

For me, the most important ways to show appreciation are trusting me with glimpses into the “big picture,” honesty about where things stand (organizationally and with my performance) and appealing to my sense of teamwork.

How could an employer best show gratitude to you?

Sincere Thanks

The Simple Gift of Friendship

Simple GiftHolidays 2018 have been characterized by disorganization on my part. The tree just got put up yesterday (December 22). The stockings will (hopefully) get put up tonight. I have precisely two more hours (possibly) into which I need to squeeze the rest of my shopping.

My son’s gift was airfare for the trip he is currently on. My daughter’s requests had to do mostly with practical choices rather than things that will go under the tree. I have been pushing myself to finish some commitments that resulted in late nights at the keyboard instead of leisurely early evenings decorating. (Oh, and the cards just got mailed yesterday too. Some of my usual recipients are going to have to get New Year’s cards instead.)

Therefore, when my sweet friend asked if I could get coffee today, my first inclination was to beg off, citing all of the “not done” items on my list. One of those items? Spending an hour(ish) doing my blog (since I rarely miss a Sunday).

But you know what? The keyboard, the screen, and my opinions will be here 365/24/7 as 2019 rolls around. Time with good friends is fleeting. I spent last Christmas Eve in the ICU wondering if my mom would survive (she ultimately didn’t, and passed away the following February). That experience brought home the importance of prioritizing those who are most important to us.

I’m off to have coffee with Sandy. Blogging can wait.

Simple Gift

I’ll see you next Sunday, when I’m sure I’ll have an opinion to share, reflection to publish or cause to espouse.

Why not pick up the phone and reconnect with that friend or relative you keep putting off?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone.

This post is based on a Kat Bouska prompt, “Share a quote you love.”

Simple Gift

 

10 Lessons from Writing More Than 1000 Blog Posts

“The first thing you learn when you’re blogging is that people are one click away from leaving you” is a quote attributed to Alex Tabarrok. Through more than a decade of blogging weekly and trying to keep people from clicking away until fully digesting what I’ve had to share, these are the lessons I’ve learned.

Consistency matters

I have repeated Scott Ginsburg’s advice that led me to blog every Sunday, whether I felt inspired or not, often because it is so true. “Make a date with the page,” he said. He was right. I may have missed five Sundays out of the ten years, max. Scott’s advice made me discipline myself and overcome the mythical idea that it takes a magical shot of brilliant insight to get words from the brain, through the fingers, and onto the page. It takes dogged determination to keep at it. Period.

People are going to be insulted and hurt

Honestly, I can’t think of a topic so neutral that someone won’t object. Although my blog topic started off as something pretty specific (being a back of the pack runner), it expanded. I write what I think, and I sometimes write to spark dialogue between people. I try to do so respectfully, factually and clearly. But the online world is not a place where everyone agrees, and a blogger can’t fully control her message. One of my personal principles is to ask myself “is this something you would say in person?” This is especially true with questions that have local ties, such as the student who threatened to sue because she wasn’t selected to the cheerleading squad at my daughter’s alma mater.

Likewise, it still bothers me every day that a Facebook “friend” shared my post about gender reveals with one of her groups, that the group then raked me over the coals as I sat there, diplomatically responding to every single barb and attack, then unfriended me. I know I’m the one with the thin skin to still be bothered by it. But I stand behind what I wrote and am the kind of person who takes it to heart when I can’t come to some sort of reconciliation following a conflict. (Of course it was the attack about my writing that irritated me the most, almost more than the multiple ones about how “insensitive” I am and the fact that I must have some deep-rooted psychological issue.)

Some things are better said face to face (or not at all)

This is a bit of an offshoot of “people will be hurt and insulted,” but it involves a different nuance, I think. While I can’t think of a post that would have been better delivered face to face, I do think the things I write may be perceived differently by people who don’t know me personally than by those who have a different sense of how I conduct myself in person.

Errors happen

I am a freak about accuracy, but write more than 1,000 posts and you’re going to make mistakes. Fortunately, there is an “edit” function and mistakes can be rectified, but it’s much more pleasing to get things right from the outset.

I think way too often of the error I made on this 2012 post about the opening of Jason’s Deli. The restaurant was built on a site that had housed a previous restaurant. Having driven by the vacant building almost daily, in my head it had been several things, so I wrote it as “a location that had seen a parade of short-lived establishments.”

One of the comments (from an anonymous commenter) was:

A “Parade of short lived establishments” in that location? Umm… There was ONE short-lived establishment: Helen’s Diner. The previous occupant, Banjo’s BBQ had been there for decades. One short-lived tenant does not a parade make.

I immediately added an author’s note to respond to that comment, acknowledging that I was unable to document the “parade.” What bothers me is that I’m pretty sure I know who the commenter is. If so, it’s one of two people with whom I still interact frequently and I just wish we could talk it out!

I know I need to make like Elsa and “let it go.” It has been six years after all, but it bugs me!

The other error that sticks with me is one from this blog I wrote as a reflection on a New York Times “Modern Love” column. The column responded to a letter from a reader who had started a relationship with a man, and who wrote about how the man’s former wife was supportive of the relationship. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a former wife choosing to be supportive of a relationship, but this woman didn’t convince me with her account of how she fell in love with the guy while he was still married to his wife.

I did some very amateurish poking around on social media that led me to the inaccurate conclusion about the wrong individual, and made a few unfair and distinctly wrong leaps of “discovery” about the author’s mental health. This is not good because I consider myself a mental health advocate. Once I came to my senses (and my facts), I corrected the post and wrote a clarification. Unfortunately this all came after I had shared a link to my post in the comments of the New York Times article. Lesson learned several times over.

Our positions change

Ten years is a long time to be on this earth. And pretty much anyone, if they are dedicated to personal growth and keeping an open mind, may come to a different conclusion over time compared to what they originally said (or wrote). That said, I can’t think of many posts I look back on and think “how could I have ever felt that way?”

One of the major shifts, though, probably has to do with how I look at disabilities and how I am (hopefully) doing less “othering.” I was heavily involved in Autism Speaks around 2012. There has been quite a bit of movement among many former supporters of that organization. I think specifically of my friends Matt and Jess, who I met in 2012 when I ran a half marathon for Autism Speaks. Although I still feel strongly about supporting people with autism and their families, and especially about making sure there are options for adults with autism to have meaningful work and the opportunity to function as independently as possible, I view autism less from the perspective of “something to be fixed” now and more from the angle of “a different set of features and life skills.” I still can’t adequately address this, but Jess of Diary of a Mom can, and did so here.

Success at blogging requires more than blogging

This depends on your goals, of course. I started blogging to “flex my writing muscle,” but quickly started wanting more: more interaction with readers, more opportunities to do sponsored posts and make some money from blogging, more “community.”

If you want your blog to be more than words on a screen, you have to share it (even though being self-promotional can feel awkward). You also need to share it in other forms (such as video), because people prefer to receive information in other ways. For example, this is a video I did to support my blog about dress codes at internships.

Everyone needs feedback about their writing

Hopefully this goes without saying, but writing is one of those areas where we all need to seek (and act on) feedback. We are our own worst editors. I am thankful to Randi Atwood, who taught a fantastic writing course earlier this year, and who has helped me shape my theater reviews (and opinion pieces) for the Tallahassee Democrat.

People love food posts

Out of all my posts, the 2nd-highest performing post was one I wrote about “hippie juice,” an adult beverage made with powdered lemonade mix and flavored vodka five years ago. It was outperformed by a post I did about brain health, which reassures me a little bit! But still … hippie juice instead of white privilege, getting tested for HIV or a great book? Go figure!

People are reading, even if they don’t comment or tell you

While I know the proportion of people who comment on blogs is small relative to the number of people who read, it still surprises me when someone tells me they read my blog. I’m glad (very), and I know commenting is a pain, but I suppose I wish I could hear more about what people think after reading what I have written. My favorite was a conversation with a friend/reader and the turn the conversation took when we began talking about grocery dividers. It makes me laugh a little bit that people think about me when they are at the conveyor belt (thanks, guys). More importantly, I hope the post makes people recognize microaggressions and resolve to be more aware of them.

I still love writing

A love of writing is the main thing that propelled me down the road of being a blogger. It’s nice to interact with others. It’s really nice to make money occasionally from blogging. Most importantly, it’s rewarding to try to help people be aware of causes for which they can advocate and social problems they can help resolve — to try to help people have a broader perspective that hopefully helps them contribute more fully to the world around them.

If none of that happens, though, I usually walk away from the keyboard happy because words are so enjoyable.

NOTE: Thanks to Mona Andrei, whose How writing 500 posts for my personal blog helped position me as a writer post inspired me to write my own reflection.

lessons from blogging