TELL (FMF31 2019 Day 20)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: TELL

Editing and live tweeting are very different things, but they do something for me that I appreciate — they make me pay closer attention to whatever is being written or said.

With live tweeting, it makes me attend more closely to the content a speaker is sharing. Also, as someone who doesn’t get to go to all the conferences I would like (who does, really?), I appreciate when someone else live tweets because it gives me access to something I wouldn’t otherwise hear.

With editing, I have to process what has been written more deeply than if I were just skimming it. Liz Kislik’s blog about how to tell someone something they needed to do differently in their work is a perfect example. Our goal is to provide two-sentence summaries of full-length pieces, something that is more challenging than you might think.

It appeared in Thursday’s SmartBrief on Leadership, which I was editing in my managing editor’s absence. Her point? People can wilt if their feedback is the combo of “you did x well” but “you need to do y differently.” The “but” is a sure way to deflate someone before even getting out the words to explain what needs to be improved upon.

She briefly discussed the “and” option, which I also loved because I believe improv is an important tool for all communicators.

However, she transitioned to suggesting “now” instead of “but.” It makes so much sense when you think about it. Such a more hopeful word that implies forward movement and potential rather than some sort of deficit.

Now, how can you relate differently to someone you need to coach today?

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

Missing The Boat

I left my job of almost 20 years on May 2, 2014.

For someone who could dedicate an entire blog post to something trivial like convenience store bathrooms or safety pins, I imagine it has been unusual that I have been silent on this topic for more than half a year.

Although the below account is not “starting at the beginning,” it captures important emotions and touchpoints of the decision, with vivid imagery.

Here’s the backstory: a few years ago, each of our board members received an anonymous letter outlining the author’s grievances. Topics included lack of cost of living increases and perceived favoritism, among other concerns. After that letter was distributed to our board, our Executive Director scheduled one-on-one meetings with each of us to “really hear our concerns.”

He had led the organization for several years by this point, and my initial optimism that had been born partly from a trusted individual saying “Oh I have worked for him; you’ll love him” had deteriorated. I decided in this one on one to be completely trusting and say exactly what I thought, which included some of my thoughts on the issues posed in the letter (which I didn’t write). As the meeting wound down, his statement to me was, “I still think you put your family ahead of your job.” Talk about a disappointing close to what I felt like was a productive meeting.

That evening, I had this dream:

A line of kayaks stretched out as far as my eye could see, buoyantly poised on gentle waves.

I was supposed to be with this group but had not realized I was supposed to be in a kayak – I was still walking.

It was a beautiful, sunny, calm day.

I pleaded with a leader to help me get my own kayak to join the group.

He somewhat reluctantly agreed and got me set up with a kayak and a paddle.

As he and I paddled toward the group, the weather worsened rapidly; there were dark clouds gathering and the wind was whipping up. The waves were intense. It was like white water rafting – the dangerous conditions were just like a book I read where the father who wasn’t especially trusted and had been drinking took the young son out for what was supposed to be an easy trip which turned into a white water disaster. We ducked and dodged huge waves like the kind you see surfers in Hawaii dealing with. We eventually decided we would have to wait it out.

Abruptly, the water receded. My leader and I started off on foot, following the path of everyone who had gone before us.

It was a dirt road made of light clay. There were very clear marks where the others had tried to leave us messages regarding their status.

As the leader and I walked on, the marks faded and grew more difficult to interpret. Blood stains began to appear among the marks. The stains were pinkish brown – they weren’t red and fresh but it was clear there had been a struggle.

We never found our group.

I had missed the boat.

The next day, I went to work.

The next day, I pulled into my parking lot at work and saw my Executive Director’s car, loaded up with a kayak.*

Leaving Work


This dream happened in 2012; I didn’t leave the organization until mid-2014 (after that Executive Director had moved on). Although it took me a long time to decide about leaving work, and the navigational maps for the next steps still feel a little fuzzy, the dream precisely represented where my spirit was at that time.

When I sat at my desk in early April 2014, having cleaned out all of my email streams, professional and personal, and feeling “I don’t have anything to do,” I called my husband and said “I have to go.”

And go, I did.

*Looking at it now, several years later, I realize maybe the “kayak” was actually a small boat (is that a motor I see?). But all I saw when I pulled up that day was “kayak kayak kayak.”


1,000 Marbles, A Year Late

There are so many things floating around in my head tonight that I want to write about. Here is the one that has percolated to the top. It is a message I should have shared with seven people a year ago.


In October 2009, a day or two after being given a nice “Boss’s Day” card from my staff, I was informed that I was being transferred from my position as Director of Customer Service at Healthy Kids to Director of Health Plan Services and Contract Management. One thing the change meant was leaving behind seven people who had reported to me; in my new position I do not directly supervise anyone. 
I had a “plan” for closure. I wanted to take them all to lunch, give them a little jar of marbles, and give them a copy of A Thousand Marbles, and, in so doing, create a moment of transition, a time in which I could say goodbye and share some time with them as this reporting relationship ended. I never did that. As personal expenses mounted, I couldn’t afford to take everyone to lunch (or so I thought). One thing led to another and before I knew it, a full year had passed and I had never formally done anything. It comes up in my mind as I pass them in the hall every day, and when they pass me on their way to talk to their new supervisor. 
I do want to point out that one thing that has struck me the most about this transition is the mixture of complete relief at the freedom that comes from not being responsible for seven other people’s professional environment and, conversely, utter loss at the void that comes from not having a leadership role in seven other people’s professional journeys. As much as I struggled with the intense demands of coordinating so many moving parts in our organization, I also felt a very deep desire to help these people move toward finding their professional and personal “bliss”. 

To those people, here is a taste of what has gone unsaid:

I love this place and this cause. I have loved it since I first got “in the loop” of this concept way back in 1991, before the first child was ever enrolled. I have not been the kind of supervisor I wanted to be – I wanted to be the kind of supervisor I look up to the most – one who understands enough of the details about what we do that they can converse intelligently about it but also one who has the management skills to help people want to be the best they can be and not operate out of a position of fear. I believe in being proactive rather than reactive. I believe that people respond to many different types of incentives, not just financial. I believe that people need to understand how their responsibilities fit in to the big picture. I believe that every employee of Healthy Kids and its contractors does a better job if they have met one of our beneficiaries or have somehow “walked in those shoes.”  It made me proud when employees said how much they enjoyed and took pride in working through the challenging process of developing custody procedures. I felt hopeful about the dialogue we were having as I was sharing the results of my 360 evaluation and the feedback you were giving me about how I could be a more effective leader. I loved sharing various pieces of writing and videos I had run across that I thought may help you like what you did better. 

To summarize, I think there were things I did well as a supervisor and things that I did abysmally. I hope you know that I hold a deep respect for each of you as individuals and want the best for you. 

One of my favorite statements about work, by Hugh MacLeod, is contained on a Gaping Void cartoon that I have taped to my door: 

You don’t have to get a job with a famous company or hot-shot industry in order to have a spectacular career. You just have to do what you do with reverence.
I believe that loving what you do enough that you approach it with reverence is half of the equation for a happy life. I wish each of you this happiness and thank you for the privilege of having been your supervisor.