Heart-melting talent lights up A Night to Shine

When I volunteered at Night to Shine Tallahassee two years ago, I didn’t really know how things worked. (Night to Shine is an event through the Tim Tebow Foundation to give people with special needs ages 14 and up a “prom night” experience.) I signed up to volunteer wherever I was needed. As a result, I ended up volunteering at the “Parent Prom,” which is an opportunity for the parents of the guests to have their own relaxing dinner.

Serving the Parent Prom was fun, and I know it filled a need, but I knew that the next time I volunteered, I wanted to do so as a “buddy” (a volunteer paired with a guest to help them enjoy all the festivities).

I knew the box to check this time, submitted to the background check, went to the required training, and became a buddy!

Night to Shine Tallahassee 2020
My Buddy badge

When the guests arrive, they are paired up with their buddies and enter the Night to Shine event through a lighted archway, traversing a red carpet, as “paparazzi” cheer them on (and do silent cheers for guests who have autism or other reasons to prefer a more quiet tribute).

My new friend, Stephanie

I was paired with Stephanie, who definitely wanted applause! With her beautiful dress and infectious smile, she definitely deserved the enthusiastic welcome she got.

Night to Shine Tallahassee 2020
(Her beautiful dress is a bit covered up here because she has a cape on during the hair and makeup phase, but trust me it was gorgeous!)

The surprise of the night

The list of activities at Night to Shine is lengthy. We went to hair and makeup, petted a bunny, saw a “zebra” and a llama, enjoyed a meal, and went dancing.

At one point, other attendees told us to re-line up at the red carpet for a “surprise.” (I knew it had to be a big surprise, because by then it had gotten pretty cold outside!)

I had an idea of what the surprise may be, partially because I heard similar rumors the last time I served at NTS. The founder, Tim Tebow, doesn’t live all that far away (Jacksonville). Would *he* be the surprise?

Before I reveal the surprise, let me say this. As a Florida State fan, it’s possible I have been involved in a few snarky conversations over the years involving Tebow because he was the quarterback for our big rival, the University of Florida.

There’s no debating his athletic talent.

But I’ve learned about a different talent of Tim’s. I’ve seen him grant the wish of my sweet young friend, Lauren, a cancer survivor. I heard him speak to the NTS attendees (his speech is broadcast simultaneously to the 721 participating locations) the last time I volunteered. He is using his talents to lift others up and to inspire the 215,000 volunteers who serve the roughly 115,000 guests.

And (drum roll please and also please disregard the fact that I took this video vertically!), he showed up in person to the Tallahassee Night to Shine 2020!

But there was talent all around

I was excited that Tim Tebow showed up, mainly because I know how much it meant to the guests, who were *enthralled*!

It was the less famous talents, though, that really made the night magical to me. The people with logistical talent who put the whole event together. The artists who performed (cheerleaders, baton twirlers, bands), the hair and makeup artists, the animal therapy facilitators, whoever had the creativity to bring the “Greatest Show” theme to life.

A more personal moment toward the end of the night melted my heart. Stephanie wanted to do something else besides dance and participate in the “longest conga line” so although the evening was winding down, we headed to the music therapy activity.

The music therapist knew Stephanie, and was not surprised when her request was “Tears in Heaven.” Stephanie had told me earlier in the evening that her grandmother had taken care of her; I gathered that it was after her grandmother died that she ended up living in her current group home facility. She said the song was for her grandparents.

And God bless this music therapist; she anticipated the request, had been practicing it and somehow in the midst of a loud and fairly hectic room, made a “moment” and played “Tears in Heaven” just for Stephanie. It brought back so many memories of the music therapists who used to come to our house when my father-in-law was with us, and how something deep in his brain was awakened by the music in a way nothing else could.

It was a memorable night, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. Here’s a wrapup video shot by someone with a bit more video expertise than I have!

I am linking up with Five Minute Friday for the prompt “talent” (even though this took longer than five minutes to put together!).

I am also linking up with Kat Bouska’s blog for the prompt, “The last time my heart melted was because…”

Night to Shine Tallahassee 2020

Learn About ACEs and Create a Healthier Future

This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.

In 2019, I read more than 1,500 articles about social work in my role as the editor of a nonprofit social work membership organization’s newsletter.

Here’s something that is emerging as a common thread more and more often as I choose stories each day: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs for short). 

Each time I’ve read that acronym, it has registered in my brain in a “yes, that makes sense” kind of way, partially because my undergraduate degree is in child development and my graduate degree is in counseling. But college was a long time ago, and the amount of research on the topic has expanded a great deal. It’s time to learn more about the details behind the acronym. I hope you’ll join me. It’s something we all need to know.

What is an ACE?

ACEs happen to children between birth and age 17. These potentially traumatic occurrences include things such as experiencing abuse or violence; witnessing violence in the community or at home; and the death by suicide (or attempt) of a family member.

Environmental factors can also play a part in ACEs. The presence of a family member with mental health problems, substance abuse, or the type of instability that comes from having a parent incarcerated or a divorce or separation.

The long-term effects of ACEs sometimes don’t show up until years later. Adults who experienced ACEs as children have been shown to have higher rates of smoking, heart disease, death by suicide, and depression among other health issues. 

This article explains more about ACEs and how they can show up in adulthood. 

ACEs are not destiny, and we can be the ones to change things

All of us can help prevent ACEs and lead children toward a healthier adulthood. Preventing ACEs makes a huge difference. Intervening in situations causing ACEs can reduce the number of adults with depression by 44%.

Our involvement — by providing safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments in childhood — can have so many beneficial long-term effects, such as more robust brain architecture and more consistent employment. 

That safety and stability can provide a sort of “reset” and keep the body’s stress system from succumbing to the health and behavior compromises that result from ACEs.

Learn About ACEs and Create a Healthier Future

The way women in prison have challenged my thinking

As I’ve been writing this post, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the women I have met through my volunteer work at a prison. I think of them for two reasons. One is the way they talk about the direction their lives have taken and the experiences of their childhoods. Obviously, every story is different, and some people end up incarcerated who experienced no ACEs. 

Research, though, points to the disproportionate amount of ACEs experienced by incarcerated people in childhood. If those ACEs could be reduced, the outcome could be less crime and reduced spending on correctional facilities.

More than talking about themselves and their lives before prison, the absolute first thing every one of them who is a mother discusses is her children. They look forward to making their children’s upcoming visits meaningful; they think — hard — about how the networks of support back at home are helping their children navigate life. They want safety, stability and nurturing for their kids.

It takes reinforcements to provide safe, stable and nurturing environments

If there are children in your life, you can be a part of creating safety and stability while providing a nurturing environment. The way that plays out may be different if, unlike me, you still have children at home, but there are ways each one of us can make a difference for kids in our homes, in our lives, or both.

As I’ve learned more about ACEs, I’ve been thinking about three people who have helped strengthen me emotionally so I can be in a position to help lessen the chances that ACEs will occur for kids I know and love.

  1. Melanie. My therapist, Melanie Pelc of The Living Room, has made a difference for me. Before starting a more formal relationship, she was the social worker for our family when my father-in-law was in hospice. It helped to start our relationship at a place beyond “square one,” since she already knew a good bit about our family dynamics. Also, she comes to my house, which is *huge* because it makes it that much harder to back out of an appointment.        
  2. Sandy. My friend, Sandy P., would make the list anyway, but there’s a particular reason I think of her. We got to know each other through the running community. Although I’m not running anymore, she still makes a huge effort to stay in touch. The most important element that puts her on the list is that she organized volunteer opportunities for us after Hurricane Michael. Even though we like purely social occasions, something was different about volunteering together.
  3. Barb. My mother-in-law, Barb, passed away in 2013, but she was the type of person we all need in our lives. I remember my sister-in-law saying, “you can tell her anything, and she won’t look down on you for it but she’ll help you get perspective.” This is a bit of a paraphrase, not a direct quote, but it captures her spirit. She went through some excruciating trials (such as becoming blind in mid-life) that could have made her bitter or resigned, but she did quite the opposite. 

What are your three sources of support?

What are the three people or resources that will help you create safe, stable and nurturing relationships in your world? I’d love to hear about them in the comments! Or better yet, tweet them to social media with the hashtag #FindYour3.

Can cuttlefish wear glasses? And other SmartBrief highlights

Welcome to the “trying to keep it brief” edition of my favorite SmartBrief stories from the prior month. (We just closed on our house Friday and immediately headed out of town. Hence the shorter commentary today!)


My favorite BoardSource story was in the Jan. 15 issue and discussed nonprofit mergers. In this podcast, the guest talks about going to the location of a nonprofit that was the result of a merger, and how there were still two separate reception desks for the two previous organizations. Clearly the merger still had some bumps to overcome! The discussion happens at the 8:54 point in this podcast.

Business Transformation SmartBriefI

In the Jan. 22 issue of the Business Transformation SmartBrief, we featured an interview with the Chief Information Officer of Target. When he talked about the challenges of recruiting IT talent away from Silicon Valley to Minneapolis at a time when Target did not have a great reputation in this area, he said, “It was about selling people on the future, not the present.” I felt so much optimism in the way he framed this challenge.

International City/County Management Association

There’s a town in Austria that is said to have inspired the setting of “Frozen,” the Disney movie, and that connection has attracted tourists in droves. Mayor Alexander Scheutz is begging the tourists (around 10,000 a day) who want their own look at the Arendelle-like town to stay away. It’s causing multiple issues and he wants them to just let it go (couldn’t help the pun there!). We discussed this story in the Jan. 9 issue.

I also wrote a post in January based on a session I attended at the ICMA conference in Nashville last October. It’s about the manager of Meridian Township, Mich., and what he did when he discovered a report about Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of a resident was reported in 2004 (14 years prior) and not acted upon. Although he had not been manager at the time, he found it necessary to apologize.

Can cuttlefish wear glasses? And other SmartBrief highlights

National Association of Social Workers

Mental health parity is a topic we discuss often in the NASW newsletter. An article in the Jan. 14 issue talked about a young woman named Emma who died by suicide and how her father is supporting the bill. He blogs at GlitchesAndSmiles.com, which is worth a visit.

National Emergency Number Association

Burnout is an issue with the industry of first responders, and in the case of NENA, dispatchers particularly. In our Jan. 23 issue, we shared an article about reducing burnout and stress, something we do frequently. What I liked about this one was the relative simplicity of the concept and its emphasis on the power of writing. Dispatchers were encouraged to write about their experiences in response to email prompts. The writing, and the sharing among each other, led to significant reductions in scores on a burnout assessment.

Reserve Officers Association

In our Jan. 6 issue, we had a story about an Army Reserve unit preparing to deploy. This passage was heart-rending to me, as it would be to anyone with a heart:

Taylor’s 2-year-old son Axl toddled from his third row seat to embrace his father’s legs.

Taylor shooed the young boy at first, but as Axl clung to his legs, Taylor gave in with a pat to his head. Smiles filled the faces of families that admired the heartwarming yet heartbreaking moment.

“Honestly, I wanted to cry,” said Taylor.

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society

This one goes under the “wow — science requires people to do interesting things” category. For a study of depth perception, some scientist(s) put tiny 3D glasses on cuttlefish, as we shared in the Jan. 9 issue.

@Doug_Ellison, who is the Engineering Camera Team Lead of the Mars Curiosity Rover (cool gig, eh?), sent a tweet that was a reminder that all science should be questioned.

Can cuttlefish wear glasses? And other SmartBrief highlights

UN Wire

The United Nations began celebrating 2020 as its 75th anniversary year as January began. We discussed this and the “Decade of Action” plan in our Jan. 24 issue. As he briefed the UN General Assembly, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the dangers the world faces from “epic geopolitical tensions, the climate crisis, global mistrust and the downsides of technology.” He said, “commemorating the 75th anniversary with nice speeches won’t do” and encouraged “21st-century solutions” instead. I agree – we need so much more than “nice speeches” right now.

Employment opportunities at SmartBrief and Future

Each month, I share the open positions at SmartBrief and Future for anyone who is interested in being a part of finding and sharing similar fantastic stories.

wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the process.

Open positions at SmartBrief and Future plc can be found at this link.

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer or email me so we can discuss further.

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including 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 at the site of our parent company, Future; on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram.

*Note: My opinions about the stories are my personal viewpoint; they do not reflect an endorsement by my employer.

Moving: What a relief

Moving: What a relief

This week’s Five Minute Friday prompt is “relief.”

I was talking with my neighbor/friend last night about how I feel about leaving our neighborhood after living here 15 years.

I discussed how — several years ago — I would be running in Hawk’s Landing, which is laid out perfectly for running workouts, and thinking, “I could never leave this.” That’s silly of course because I *could* leave.

From the moment we bought here, I knew we had bitten off more than we could chew financially, but that definitely needs to be in the “what’s done is done” category at this point.

All those running mornings (and afternoons … and evenings), though, were really the common thread that had me processing what it would mean to leave. Even then I think I realized I was pre-grieving the fact that we would have to leave eventually.

And now that it’s down to just Wayne and me, the decision has been made. The new family of six moves in Friday.

Despite the grieving, it’s also a relief.

A relief from the debt of being in a house that has always been more than we could afford.

A relief for me, fairly housekeeping incompetent, to stop having to worry about 2500+ square feet. (From the beginning, the thought was that we would be able to eventually afford a housekeeper. That was quaint LOL.)

A relief for Wayne, who has grown tired of the commute (I realize our Tallahassee commutes are *nothing* compared to an Atlanta or NYC situation, but still — I respect his feelings on the topic. I work from home, so it doesn’t matter to me.

It’s a relief, yet it’s also a bittersweet goodbye.

Moving: What a relief

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

At loose ends about my hairstylist

Apps make appointment-setting easier. Take StyleSeat, for example. My last two stylists have used StyleSeat, which allows you to schedule hair appointments at any time of the night or day without having to say a word or interact with another human being.

Unfortunately, although there may be an app for discontinuing your relationship with your stylist, that isn’t the way to go, in my opinion.

A brief history of the past 25 years

Regarding my hair history, the past 25 years is very uneventful for 22 of those years. Once I started going to Bonnie, I stayed. I was with her through both of my children being born, and through her being at three different buildings.

Then she moved to Nashville. Sigh.

At loose ends about my hairstylist

I went to one person right after Bonnie moved to Nashville. She was really nice (we are Facebook friends to this day based on one haircut), but from a hair perspective, it just wasn’t a great fit.

The next person I went to, I stayed with. I don’t recall how we got connected exactly, except that my daughter had used her.

We’ve been together roughly 2.5 years. We have had so many good conversations. We had enough people in common that we never ran out of things to discuss. She was with me through the death of my father-in-law and the death of my mom, through the years of freelancing until I got my full-time job. She recently showed extreme patience while trying to cut my hair as I juggled a small work issue that required an immediate response. Yes, I was that obnoxious person moving my head to exactly the wrong angle (for her) as I tried to deal with the work issue (for me).

Yet, I never got to the point that I walked out loving my haircut.

In December, I had an appointment with my usual stylist, but I had to cancel it because a work meeting came up.

By the time I tried to reschedule, she couldn’t fit me in. I desperately needed a haircut before leaving for D.C. to spend a couple of days at my work HQ and attend its holiday party. Going with shaggy hair was not an option.

I posted my dilemma to Facebook, and got several great recommendations. My friend, Mike (check out his pedicab business if you’re local to Tallahassee!), tagged Chop Barbershops as one of the options.

Chop Barbershop wasn’t high on my list as an alternative. However, I had been to one of their three locations last summer when I reviewed “Musicals on the Move.” Chop Barbershop was the location of the “Sweeney Todd” component of the event, so I got a glimpse of their environment and figured out that these people must be pretty open to fun (although “Sweeney Todd” probably deserves other adjectives than “fun”!).

At loose ends about my hairstylist
Photo credit: Erich D. Martin

I decided to check out Chop’s Eastside location, which was closest to my house. I discovered that I could book via their website and still not have to pick up a phone, so I persevered. I figured out who had availability that day. Then I looked at Instagram to explore the work of various stylists.

That’s how I ended up being Sean‘s client.

When I arrived for my appointment, I explained my situation — that I had a business trip coming up and needed a cut, but had been unable to use my regular stylists. I also explained the things I hadn’t been entirely happy with about my cuts in the couple of years I had been with her and showed him a picture of a time when my hair looked great.

People, he got it on the first try! There are a few small things that I want him to modify as we continue to work together, but I walked out of there truly happy with my hair for the first time since Bonnie moved to Music City.

(We also had a great talk, always a plus.)

Breaking up is hard to do

Now that I’ve found someone who does for my hair what I want, I needed to figure out what to do about the person I’ve used the last few years.

I don’t feel right ghosting her. There are several reasons for this. One of them is the fact that I love her story. She got a business degree. She may have even gotten a graduate business degree (I don’t recall). But after all that, she said, “I couldn’t turn away from the fact that hair is my passion.” I get that, and I think there’s a lot to be said for finding your professional groove (trust me — it took me until I was 54 to really get there, which doesn’t mean all the years before that were a waste…).

I chatted with a few people on Twitter about this dilemma.

My ever-resourceful friend Rachel shared this “Ask a Stylist” about how to change hairdressers in the least awkward way possible. It’s a good read, with plenty of thoughtful advice. Ultimately, celebrity stylist Mark Townsend recommended honesty.

And that’s what I’ve decided to do.

I just composed a note to her thanking her for the years we spent together and expressing my appreciation for all we’ve shared. As far as the hair, I just said I’ve decided to “go a new direction.”

I know how it has felt at points throughout my career when someone stopped using me with no notice or explanation. Sometimes, the notice and explanation don’t feel good, but they at least eliminate the mystery of not knowing whether my work was inferior or they just truly decided to do something different.

Even though there may be apps for breaking up with your stylist, this situation calls for a more old-school approach. Hence the handwritten note.

It’s a note that may not technically be necessary in this situation, but it’s the right thing to do to avoid leaving loose ends.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

You can write more than 1,000 blog posts spanning a decade and still be surprised at which posts perform well and which don’t.

I’m sharing my top 12 posts of 2019 here, but two posts I wrote in earlier years, 10 Lessons from Lumosity and 6 Ways Our Marriage Resembles a Tree, still performed best. (They finally knocked out Get Groovy with Hippie Juice: Cocktail Recipes for Spring, which held the top spot for a long time!)

Remembering Mia

I am so thrilled that this post got the most views in 2019. I wish I hadn’t had to write it at all, but I love how so many people who loved Mia and her parents gathered around, in real life and here in the cyberworld, to support this family and help more hospitals get Cuddle Cots.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Ration Challenge 2019: How Eating Less Taught Me More

Not only did participating in the Ration Challenge help me raise $634.14 for Church World Service and its efforts to help refugees, but it also helped me kick the caffeine and artificially-sweetened soda habit. I’m still waiting for flavored sparkling water to still taste like — something — but I’m healthier for the effort.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

3 Commercials That Don’t Make Sense

I guess writing about causes is *really* my favorite, but this type of writing is the most fun to me. I like trying to make sense of the world, and my blog is a main way I do that. If you didn’t watch the “Failing” video before, I highly recommend it. It’s so much better than the nonsensical commercial starring the same actress.

Guest Post: Being Your Own Medical Advocate

I’m so excited that this guest post by Hannah of Feeding Tube Fitness, who I met through a friend, was my fourth most viewed post of the year. Learning to advocate for yourself in a medical setting is challenging, and Hannah gives great advice. She’s also exceptionally fun and motivating on Instagram, so follow her!

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

The Surprise of Early Menopause

I really enjoyed participating in this AARP Disrupt Aging campaign to help dispel myths about menopause. I’m sure one of the reasons it did well is because those of us participating in the campaign supported each other by sharing. It’s one of the reasons I love doing blog campaigns!

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Should Office Plants be Banned?

If we didn’t have cats who like to nibble on (and knock over/vomit up) plants, I could have whatever “office” plants I want since I work from home. As this blog explored, a proposed ban on office plants by the State of Florida branched out into an uproar (of sorts). It was also yet another example of how there is often more to the story with questions like this.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Aging is Not a Hammer

I’m glad I started out the year advocating for people to see aging as a positive thing. I feel young at heart almost every day, and hope I’ll never devalue the importance of the wisdom the years have brought me.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

June News Developments That Made Me Say “WOW”

I’m so excited that this post made the top 12. When I first became an editor at SmartBrief, I wanted a way to share our open positions with people who might be good candidates. The first month, introduced the open positions by talking about my favorite stories that month. I thought I might switch to quarterly at some point, but so far I’ve stayed with monthly and it has been 16 months and I don’t want to change. It’s a good exercise for me every month to think back on what stories meant the most, and I like giving my partners a little extra social media boost by linking to them.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

“Be Pretty” and Other Lessons from Mom

This may not have been the post with the most views, but it was a tribute to my mom, so it deserves number one status as far as I’m concerned! Maybe my mom is hanging out with Mia in Heaven, and I can only imagine how happy it would make her to love on a baby girl.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019
This look on her face captures who she was.

3 Tips for Better iPhone Food Photography

I had so much fun and learned so many great tips for taking better food photos from this evening (and tried to summarize them in the blog). Yet — I still take quick pix of my food so I can get to the enjoyment rather than applying most of what I learned. Anyway, any time I hang out with “the other Paula” is a win.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Safety is the Deepest Gift of All

I enjoyed writing this post and I’m glad it did well. But dang it now I’ll have a “Shallow” earworm all night!

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

3 Fabulous Women to Follow on Twitter

This was my response to the #WomenToFollow project developed by Rose Horowitz. Rose is a true champion of women, and I’m glad this post did well.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

I’m linking up this week with Kat Bouska for the prompt “Share your top 12 blog posts from 2019.” And thank you to Vivid Image for their helpful post How to Find Your Most Popular Content Using Google Analytics.

12 posts that rose to the top in 2019

Golden stories for a new year

Golden stories for a new year

Some months, I sit down to compile my post of my favorite SmartBrief stories from the prior month, and I’ve populated the draft post with stories already. (This is my preference, because it makes the final writing a bit easier. A story that merited me taking a moment in the middle of a workday to log in to my blog site and add the link RIGHT THAT MOMENT is a golden story). There have been months when I sat down to write my post and had to start from scratch, either because the prior month was just too busy to jot down the fave stories or because nothing had jumped out to me yet. December was pretty good from that standpoint, because most of my favorite stories were already here when I started to write. It was also just a great month in general. Here’s why.


The beauty of working on business to business newsletters in the nonprofit sector is the huge variety of topics I read about every day. In the case of a story in the December 19 BoardSource newsletter about Sioux Falls Thrive, which is working to identify children and families struggling with food scarcity in Sioux Falls, S.D., and coordinate relief efforts with local nonprofits, the standout sentence was the one that contained a huge amount of common sense in 24 words about one of the Food Security Action Team members:

She recalled visiting a mother during her tenure, who didn’t have access to a can opener, but had a stack of canned goods nearby. 

How many times do we give in order to make ourselves feel we are making a difference, yet not take responsibility to look at the bigger picture and make sure our “help” is actually helping?

Golden stories for a new year

For the top 12 stories in the BoardSource newsletter from SmartBrief in 2019, please visit this link.

Business Transformation SmartBrief

Over the time I have been editing at SmartBrief, I have said goodbye to being responsible for the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association SmartBrief, the SmartCities SmartBrief and a newsletter for the American Society for Public Administration. I’m sure as time goes on, there will be more changes, and it’s always a bit of a challenge because I get attached to the subjects and the partners.

The newest entry in my lineup, the Business Transformation SmartBrief, will always have the distinction of being my first brief for which I was the initial editor, and for which I was involved in the team that put the brief together for the very first time. The brief covers many areas of business transformation, including environmental, social and governance investing, digital transformation and research related to these topics. I’m excited to be doing it and hope you’ll consider subscribing.

The story that has stayed in my mind the most during the Business Transformation SmartBrief’s first month is one in the December 16 issue about the Mexican chemical company Orbia, which used to be Mexichem. Many parts of this article interested me, but none more than the company’s “living logo.” The logo “changes yearly to reflect how well the company is doing in meeting a series of sustainability and profit goals.” I’m no logo expert, but I tend to see logos as static. It’ll be interesting to see how this idea goes. For what it’s worth, here’s the 2016/2017/2018 version:

Golden stories for a new year

For the top 12 stories in the Business Transformation newsletter from SmartBrief in 2019, please visit this link.

International City/County Management Association

I had never heard of the Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving Sunrise Ceremony until this year. We discussed the November 28 event held on Alcatraz Island in our December 2 issue. Were these comfortable articles to read about how “Native people were banned from practicing a Sunrise Ceremony” or how “Native Americans call the federal holiday the National Day of Mourning“? They absolutely were not. But city and county managers (and people in general) need to be aware of the perspectives of all within their municipalities, and this piece opened my eyes wide.

The ICMA SmartBrief did not have a “top 12 stories” issue.

National Association of Social Workers

My favorite NASW SmartBrief story of December aligned so well with one of my core beliefs in general: that reading makes us all better at what we do. In this case, social worker Michael Laird discussed how reading literary fiction had deepened his insight into the human condition.

He talks about “The Box Man” by Kobo Abe, a Japanese novel that explores issues of identity. Laird writes:

As social workers, we can think of the box as a metaphor for escaping shame and the sense that one is different and unaccepted by peers, family members, and the community. 

Golden stories for a new year

For the top 12 stories in the NASW newsletter from SmartBrief in 2019, please visit this link.

National Emergency Number Association

I fully understand that it’s my role to present the story of my partners from their perspective and to retain objectivity, but in the case of the need for passage of the 911 SAVES Act, which would reclassify dispatchers as “protective service occupation” workers (rather than clerical), I am firmly with the dispatchers.

In the December 17 issue of the Public Safety SmartBrief, we shared how reclassification had not been included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. However, we had an opportunity in a subsequent issue to describe how 38 of the 55 counties in West Virginia have given first responder status to dispatchers (with an effort to seek a statewide designation underway).

The Public Safety SmartBrief did not have a “top 12 stories” issue.

Reserve Officers Association

Unless you were under a rock in December, you’ll recall that Giving Tuesday took place on December 3. Three military spouses, including the National Guard Military Spouse of the Year, organized a Giving Tuesday campaign that had a slightly different twist from all the Giving Tuesday initiatives focused on raising funds. It sought to reach 1 million acts of kindness. We talked about this in the December 2 ROA SmartBrief.

“I truly believe in the power of kindness and that it can save lives,” said Jessica Manfre.

Me too, Jessica.

For the top 12 stories in the ROA newsletter from SmartBrief in 2019, please visit this link.

Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society

Just imagine being a humble citizen scientist whose passion and hard work lead NASA to credit you in a tweet. I mean … just imagine!

That’s exactly what happened for Shanmuga Subramanian. In the December 4 issue of the Sigma Xi SmartBrief, we shared the story of how Subramanian’s analysis of a NASA image of the Vikram lander’s debris field on the moon led to NASA confirming its crash site.

Golden stories for a new year

I simply love this vindication of doing what you love to do; that by doing so, you sometimes earn proper recognition.

For the top 12 stories in the Sigma Xi newsletter from SmartBrief in 2019, please visit this link.

United Nations Foundation

Every UN Wire SmartBrief has 14 items. Three days a week, 14 items, and a high proportion of these items address refugee issues. One story about refugees in the December 18 newsletter that covered the Global Refugee Forum featured a woman who left Syria and became a refugee in 2013 when someone shot a gun into her car. She discussed how education and job assistance do help refugees. However, she noted the more difficult shadow of racism and stigma.

“Becoming a refugee doesn’t change who you are,” she said. “I am still the same woman.”

For the top 12 stories in the UN Wire newsletter from SmartBrief in 2019, please visit this link.

A visit to HQ

Another reason December was “golden” was my opportunity to visit our Washington, D.C., headquarters. This was my first visit since we were purchased by Future plc. I got to see some of the cosmetic changes (more Future red, for example).

Golden stories for a new year

I also got to squeeze in a visit to the National Christmas Tree the night I arrived.

Golden stories for a new year

The most delightful part, though, was spending time with my colleagues. I love remote worker life, but I also truly enjoy my coworkers. I’m so grateful for two days with them.

Employment opportunities at SmartBrief and Future

If you’d like to discover your own “golden stories” as part of SmartBrief (or our parent company, Future plc), this is your section.

wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the process.

Open positions at SmartBrief and Future plc can be found at this link.

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer or email me so we can discuss further.

This video gives a quick summary of our 2019 at SmartBrief. I have learned so much and dealt with so many interesting people. I’m looking forward to more golden opportunities in 2020.

A Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including 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 at the site of our parent company, Future; on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram.

I’m linking this post up at Kat Bouska’s blog for the prompt, “Write a blog post inspired by GOLD.”

Golden stories for a new year

*Note: My opinions about the stories are my personal viewpoint; they do not reflect an endorsement by my employer.

Please don’t call me Karen

People show disrespect for others in many ways.

In 2019, discord among people has reached new lows.

There were the horrific tragedies such as the 41 US mass killings in which 210 people died. Children are still being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

To shift from the obvious and massive examples to the (possibly) trivial, can we talk about what we call each other?

At the risk of earning an “OK Boomer” from you, can I just ask that you call me (and every other human being) by the name they want?

Please don’t call me “Karen,” to my face or behind my back.

“Karen” has become the go-to for anytime a white woman loses touch with her common sense and perspective and seeks out the manager.

Please don't call me Karen

Here’s Dictionary.com’s take:

Karen is a mocking slang term for an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman. Especially as featured in memes, Karen is generally stereotyped as having a blonde bob haircut, asking to speak to retail and restaurant managers to voice complaints or make demands, and being a nagging, often divorced mother from Generation X.

There’s an assumption (often deserved, sadly), that a “Karen” action reeks of white privilege.

“Karens” ask for the manager when their food is lukewarm, when their tea is not sweet enough, when their perfect angels (children) are chastised when they are behaving in a way that endangers others, etc. (There are examples at Comic Sands, on Quora and on Reddit.) It’s possible the proportion of “Karens” rushing to get the grocery divider down rapidly is higher than the general population.

Although the woman referenced here and here really is named Karen, the letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun about how Lamar Jackson should have donated to a charity rather than giving his offensive linemen Rolexes, along with its Karen-generating headlines, seems to be part of the Karen-verse. (Note: Among his charitable activities is Jackson’s $25,000 gift to the Blessings in a Backpack program last year.)

Please don't call me Karen

Here’s the thing. “Karen” behavior is egregious (usually — but also in this day and age when customer services has gotten so marginal, we all find ourselves in infuriating situations that are prone to bring out our inner Karens).

But cramming every middle-aged white woman with a bad haircut and a Volvo into the tiny compartment of a joke name only hurts us all.

Please don't call me Karen

Karen Cyphers Breaks it Down

This piece by Karen Cyphers (yes, she really is named Karen) is the one I wish I had written, to be honest. I love the way she delineates the history of this usage of “Karen” and ties in some research that tries to figure out if Karens really do get more aggravated than Dorothys, Janes and Marys.

Sarah Miller Tries to Break it Down

I didn’t love this piece as much (note the paywall, by the way), because of all the stereotypes and assumptions. “Karens are going to Karen. They are unstoppable. All they see are open doors. We should blame the Karens, but maybe we should blame the doors too?”

Names are More than Names

I wouldn’t call a black woman “Nia” (a relatively common name for black women) just because I didn’t have the mental dexterity to try to find out her correct name. If I had an issue with a black woman (or a woman of any ethnicity), I would hopefully have the good sense to try to resolve it using old-fashioned conflict resolution skills (while calling them by the right name).

The big conflicts in our society, I think, often have their seeds in the small choices we make.

If we don’t respect each other enough to call each other the right thing and refrain from stooping to stereotypes and memes, it’s possible we have already lost the battle.

What are printer brownies?

I am a pretty literal thinker.

Last holiday season, a colleague who works remote (vs. my organization’s brick-and-mortar office) and I were talking about the unique parts of being a remote worker. She said, “Even though I’m not in the office, when someone says there are brownies by the printer, I still look.”


That’s how printer brownies were born at my office last year. (I shared them in our Slack channel for remote workers.)

What are printer brownies?

But 2019 calls for something more (plus I wanted to make brownies and Santa is craving brownies with his milk Christmas Eve night). Therefore, I added a task to my list for tonight.

What are printer brownies?

Why does it matter to serve “printer brownies”? It matters because 30% of US workers work remotely full-time (according to Owl Labs). Telecommuting is growing, with FlexJobs reporting a 22% increase in people working remotely between 2017 and 2018. Despite this growth, Owl Labs reported that “38% of remote workers and 15% of remote managers received no training on how to work remotely.”

There are lots more stats to show how much remote work is growing and the uneven nature of how people learn to work remotely. I had never worked remote until I started a several-year period of freelancing in 2014. Then when I got my current job (at a place where I had been freelancing), I was officially a full-time remote worker.

Of all the things I’ve learned about remote work (which are almost exclusively self-taught and not lessons I always learned well the first time), the biggest one is that connection matters whether you sit across from each other in a physical office or you only ever chat digitally with someone thousands of miles away.

That’s why when someone looks for the brownies by the printer, I try to help them feel more connected than disappointed.

What are printer brownies?

I’m linking this post up at Kat Bouska’s blog for the prompt, ” Write a blog post inspired by the word ‘task.'”


What leaders can do

“… everyone is employed for the things they can do, no one is employed for the things they can’t do.”

I read this quote in Leadership Lessons In The Age Of Technology by Sophia Matveeva, and I felt like a little beacon was shining out from the page, a little beacon generated by all the truth in that statement by Clive Punter of Outfront Media.

In her article, Matveeva asserts that “good leadership remains the domain of humans” amid a world worried about artificial intelligence taking over. For the record, I agree with her.

She also encourages readers to share the leadership lessons they’ve learned in their organizations.

They’re not necessarily from my current organization, but here are three leadership lessons that are on my mind. Although they’re not from my current organization specifically, they are informed by the fact that I started a second career after two decades in an entirely different industry. My current situation is also different because my first career was at a place where I was literally at its inception. In my current career, the organization had existed for 17 years before I arrived, so I don’t know every single development over its evolution (although I made it my business to try to figure out as much of it as possible).

Be a person others can trust

When someone can trust you, whether it be a subordinate, a peer or someone higher on the org chart than you, the benefit is that you gain a deeper understanding of interpersonal dynamics and organizational goings-on than you would otherwise.

Nothing erodes team unity like unauthorized sharing of others’ information. Nothing cements it like knowing personal concerns can be shared in confidence and sensitive organizational developments will stay protected until the time is right to see the light of day.

Don’t rely on digital communications

This is one thing that has really been on my mind in this new career. So much communication is handled through email and Slack. I know that comes with the territory in 2019. However, it’s so easy for intent to get lost in translation or misinterpreted.

I had a coworker in my previous career who was extremely terse in her email responses. (I don’t know where along the line in my career I heard “if an email has grown to 10 in the thread, it’s time to pick up the phone,” but it’s true and even 10 may be too much.) I got to the point with her that I would pick up the phone and address whatever the question was. Why did we take so long to get to the “real talking” point?

My current job is the first full-time job I’ve had that is a hybrid (a physical headquarters office with many of us being remote workers). I started as a freelancer, communicating almost exclusively via Slack and email (with the exception of a few phone calls with my coordinator).

As a full-time employee, I still interact with everyone mostly via Slack and email, but now there are video conferences as well, and the occasional in-person meeting. I have become a big believer in the power of meeting your co-workers in real life when possible, at least briefly. It just makes a difference to have looked someone in the eyes at some point and spent social time together.

I also always let the freelancers working on my newsletters know I am available via phone or Skype if they prefer that to Slack/email. No one has ever taken me up on that, but I hope it gives them some reassurance that it’s an option.

Leave room for the unspoken priorities

I often think back on the time I was given a lateral transfer at my previous organization that led me to report to a friend, and to no longer have any direct reports. I was a different subordinate after I had been a supervisor.

I had a new appreciation for the pressures an organization’s leaders face that may lead them to make inscrutable decisions.

When I learned in July that my current employer had been purchased, that put some developments in the preceding few months in better context. They were developments that didn’t seem obviously necessary or productive at the time, but they contributed to the adjustments my organization needed to make to prepare for an acquisition. I’m not advising people to avoid being inquisitive, but there’s a difference between being inquisitive and being resistant to change that doesn’t make obvious sense.

Be an encourager

Let’s get back to Clive Punter and the idea that “everyone is employed for the things they can do, no one is employed for the things they can’t do.”

I struggle hard with being critical of myself. My mind has been preoccupied over the past week with an error or two I made that I could have avoided had I slowed down, been more careful, approached things more methodically. I didn’t give the things I had done well equal time.

When I read Punter’s quote, I thought of those things I was frustrated about. I reminded myself about the things I can do, that I do especially well. I had a freelancer thank me for the way I keep them in the loop. I coordinated our afternoon publication three out of five days last week on top of traveling to DC. I kept the balls up in the air that had to be there, and made a solid contribution to putting out a great product.

We need to encourage those around us whose inner monologues are heavier on what they haven’t done right and help them celebrate the ways in which they have been assets. This includes encouraging ourselves.

Leaders are trustworthy. They are direct when they need to be, understand the big picture and encourage.

They do the things they were employed to do.