When my daughter was younger, like many parents, we marked important days with a photo.

First day of school for every grade, first rock concert, plays, awards and music performances.

Beginnings and endings are the tidy bookends we use to mark time and make sense of all that messy stuff in the middle.

But now the milestones and moments zip by mostly unmarked.

Tomorrow my daughter and I will drive 10 hours to her college (Go Badgers!) to move her into her first apartment. A car full of kitchenware, clothes and few decorative items to be merged into a household with a couple of roommates.

For whatever reason this transition is landing a bit harder than move-in-day at the dorm.

The dog days of August always trigger a melancholy, nostalgic mix of sadness, excitement and fear that, for much of my youth, was sparked by the announcement of the fall schedule by network TV.

Summer ends, you get a new pair of jeans, school starts, and boom – there are new episodes of M.A.S.H and Happy Days to look forward to.

Somewhere between my first grade excitement of new pencils & crayons, and chucking everything in my locker into a trash can the last day of high school, a whole buncha life happened.

And now my kid somehow has gone from running away from me on the playground, to running away to college and never coming back.

Ok it’s not that bad.

But like I said, something about her moving into an apartment feels more permanent. As in her life is now permanently on a parallel track to the track her father and I are chugging down.

Now we are separate. As we should be.

And that’s another first.

I’ll be happy and sad, irritated and irritating, a helpful mom & a bossy pain in the ass before it’s all over. It’s how it always goes when we surf these transitions together, and we end up just fine.

Got a bag of potato chips, a package of Tim-Tams and an excellent Spotify playlist ready for the drive.

One of our favorite sing-a-long at the top of your voice road trip songs to start the trip.

**** postscript****

By the way- writing a blog post on an airplane at 1 am almost guarantees that you will forget to hit publish. The 10 hour drive is nearly done.

For the first time since the slaughter of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, hearing news made me cry.

Make no mistake there has been a nonstop parade of horrifying and repugnant behavior since 2012, but for whatever reason, the mass shooting in El Paso brought me to tears.

Later that same day I was having a discussion with a prospective client about how I facilitate discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They wanted implicit bias training but were worried about “blame and shame” – that I would be “too angry” or make their participants feel bad about racism.

This is a legitimate fear. Most discussions of “isms” will feel risky to somebody in the room.

In this case, talking about bias felt so risky to the client that they put off hiring a DEI consultant for two years following their decision to “offer education on the topic”.

As I explained how I work, I realized that I should probably need to include some description of my values and belief system on my website and in my proposals.

I need to be explicit about the change theories I ascribe to, and the evidence based research I utilize. These are the bits and pieces that help folks see the rigorous underpinnings that support my DEI work.

In the meantime, I told this prospective client that I don’t believe in “blame and shame”. My workshops, facilitation and coaching are always centered on individual growth. People shut down and dig their heels in when they are attacked. I don’t like when it’s done to me so I don’t make a habit of doing it to others.

That said, what I do instead is invite folks to be uncomfortable.

Think of it like when you go to the beach, or to the pool on a cool day. Some folks creep into the water slowly, some dive in and get it over with quickly, and others stop when the water reaches their ankles.

But they are all in the water.

Getting in that water – those discussions of racism, sexism, xenophobia and so on – is a choice for most people. And if you don’t know how to swim it can be scary, even life-threatening.

What I do when I facilitate is invite you to be uncomfortable.

I invite you to be brave and get in the water with me. To be cold, to flail and to tread water. To hold your breath and go all the way under.

To learn to swim.

I never throw anyone in the deep end by themselves. That’s not my style. I am right there with you in the deep or the shallow. You can trust me. I won’t let you drown.

Now more than ever we need to understand our role in shaping the society we live in.

We need to commit to the actions and behaviors that will make our “good intentions” reality.

We can do better.

If you work with me for more than five minutes you’ll know that’s one of my signature phrases. I use it to remind myself to start where people are to help them move forward. It keeps me in a place of hope and out of that cozy place of judgement.

“We can do better. We are all good people doing the best we can, and we can do better.”

I don’t know about you but I seem to have an almost magical ability to catalog every moment in my life where I fell short.

All those times I was “too much” –  too loud, too enthusiastic, too big, too flashy, too standoffish, too serious, too jokey.

And of course all the times I was “not enough” – not smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough or thin enough. Or plain old just “not good enough”, what ever the hell that means.

I consider this Too Much/NotEnough habit a special subset of the occassional 3 am litany of every wrong I have ever done to another person starting from grade 2 through yesterday.

That’s a different blog post.

The Too Much/NotEnough habit snaps to the front of my mind whenever I accidentally grab the wrong mental yardstick. I have several I reach for out of habit.

The first one was a gift from my mother – “Some people don’t have any legs”. Designed to remind her children that someone else always has it worse, this phrase was deployed to silence complaints big and small, from a skinned knee to a lost job. No whining, suck it up.

I agree that remembering that others have it worse is a valuable exercise to remind us to be grateful for what we have. Sometimes. But not all the time.

Comparison done right can remind you of what’s important. It can refocus gratitude and build resilience. It can even motivate us in a healthy way to get back up, try harder, or emulate those we admire.

But the wrong yard stick leads to dissatisfaction at best, and misery at worst.

My second yard stick is of the “Someone announced a new job/ promotion on Linked-In” variety. My dad always had those “gimme” yard sticks with hardware store names on them, so I picture this one with FOMO written in big red block letters.

That “too much/not enough” refrain starts playing to the tune of “should”, as in ‘I should be at that point in my career!’, ‘I should have that title by now!’, and ‘I should work harder!’ This particular measure highlights what’s missing like the tick marks on the door jamb that showing you are always shorter than your older sister.

The last stick in my mental tool box is the (unreali) stick. Not sure that worked but anyway…

This is where I compare myself to someone famous like like Brené Brown and discover …

“I am a FAILURE!!! We are the same age! Look at all she has accomplished! The books she has written! The people she helps! How brave she is! I never even got the PhD! Why would anyone want to work with me when they can just go hire Cook-Ross or Brené Brown? I should just quit!”

Once I peel that cudgel out of my hand and take a breath, I remember that comparison can also be a “Carrot” as in…

“Wow. Brené Brown’s success proves folks are willing to engage in change and transformation on a personal, vulnerable level. That is so cool. That means I can do DEI workshops and coaching from that same personal, vulnerable place.”

Now before anyone takes offense, know that I do not think I have Brené Brown’s chops, I am not a professor or an LISW, nor do I do the kind of leadership training she does. This isn’t really about Brené, although I do think she’s amazing.

What this is all about is the frequency with which I forget that we can choose how we measure ourselves.

Nobody makes me compare myself to Brené Brown, or a successful colleague, or a person struggling to make ends meet. That’s all straight from my tricky little mind.

Most days, when I beat back the “shoulds” and “too much/not enough” monsters, I work on replacing the carrot & stick with a clear picture of my personal best. Where I am today, how I got here and where I want to go.

So if I compare me today to with me five years ago, I can really appreciate what I’ve learned and how much my skills have improved. I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished and still focus on where I want to go next.

As I expand my consulting and coaching I am keeping this idea of personal best front and center because I want to work with folks interested in meaningful, sustainable change, achieved through self-knowledge and vulnerability.

I know where I want to go,  how I want to get there, and how I will measure success.

And I’m sure hoping you want to come along.

Onward and upward!

There are some milestones in life where there is an expectation that we engage in a little self-reflection. Big moments like the birth of a child, or the death of a parent, and small moments that mark the passing of time like school graduations, the new year and birthdays.

Time spent reflecting is never wasted in my book. Usually when I reflect, I write.  I write for my clients, for the “book-in-progress” that remains in-progress, and for this blog.

Since June 2017, for a variety of reasons, I have become increasing reluctant to push the publish button on my blog.

In honor of my birthday today I am giving myself permission to publicly reflect on my last trip (or two) around the sun.

13 Things I’ve Done (most with Mr. Man by my side):

  1. Sold a house
  2. Moved three times – in two years – to two different cities
  3. Downsized three times (So! Much! Stuff!)
  4. Sent a daughter off to college
  5. Changed jobs twice
  6. Lived apart from Mr. Man for extended stretches of time
  7. Put down one of our cats
  8. Gave away almost all of my house plants
  9. Buried my childhood friend
  10. Reconnected with some friends from the past
  11. Welcomed a new cat to our family
  12. Made some new pals
  13. Met a whole lot of people from other parts of the US

6 Things Learned while Reflecting on 13 Things I’ve Done:

  1. Needing people doesn’t make me needy, it makes me human. Wanting connection and community isn’t a flaw, or evidence of weakness, it’s part of who I am as an extrovert. Being upfront about asking for help & friendship falls into that “big learning” category, but without friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers I’m not sure I could have managed all the transitions.  So an extra thanks to all the folks who loved, helped and/or put up with me over the last few years.
  2. I discovered I have a unique set of skills that makes me good at what I do. I’ve always downplayed any “uniqueness” because I thought – wrongly it turns out – that a) if I could do it anyone can, and b) people doing my kind of work are a dime a dozen so nothing makes me particularly special. Let’s file that under “wrong-headed things I believed for the last 10 years” and leave it at that.
  3. Humidity makes me crabby. I think I knew this in theory but living in a sub-tropical climate really brought it home.
  4. I get depressed if I have to work in an office without a window. This is now officially a deal breaker for any future work offer. After 7 months of 8 – 10 hour days with no window, part of that during the short winter months,  I was flabbergasted at how quickly my mood improved with daily sunlight. Never again.
  5. While I still love phone calls, letters and cards, I discovered you can actually maintain long-distance friendships through text, messenger and SnapChat and still feel connected when you see each other in person.
  6. I can endure a lot of change and discomfort but it takes strenuous attention and determination to learn from it. A friend shared a meme recently that said “I just want some experiences that don’t make me stronger!” Yeah, I can get behind that.

So from a distance, looking back at my trips around the sun, I wouldn’t actually change much about the past two years because they got me here.

And I like here.

Here has my favorite things because when you winnow and winnow and downsize and donate you end up with just your favorite things.

Here has Mr. Man and being in the same city and time zone as your partner is a big perk.

Here has a great deal of potential for me to do even more of the work that I love and that is double plus good.

And finally, here is the place where I will commit to writing and sharing my thoughts during this next trip around the sun because I remembered that it helps me think and it makes me happy.

Many happy returns of the day to me!

birthday wishes

In my current love/hate relationship with social media its easy to forget why I liked it in the first place.

Facebook was a great solace during the three years when my office was isolated and I could go entire days not speaking to anyone except by email. Have I mentioned I’m an extrovert?

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Insta linked me to the outside world. And Pandora.

One big benefit of working alone in an almost empty building was that I could play music as loud as I liked – electronica & jazz for writing workshops, grants or  PowerPoints,  classic rock & funk for collating binders.

Social media connected me with folks I’d never meet in person (friends of friends, journalists, activists etc.) and more importantly created a much larger circle of information. I know we all live in our bubble of self-selected media, but having FB friends outside of my regular friend group continues to introduce information I might otherwise ignore or miss.

For instance, a Native artist I follow  introduced me to Indian Country Media so I learned of the DAPL protest actions long before it surfaced in the New York Times. Social media introduced me to, among other things, emergencies and issues affecting women of color, the LGBTQ community, Black Americans and native peoples.

I’ve read perspectives that I agreed and disagreed with from Libertarians, Bernie progressives, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and international citizens, activists and journalists.

So it’s not all bad.

However.

Since the election I have decided that social media and journalism has to be balanced with conversations In Real Life (IRL).

I’ve started reaching out to old friends and acquaintances to schedule chats over coffee, phone, or Skype. I’ve started reaching out to make new acquaintances and friends to meet and chat. Did I mention I’m a shy extrovert who doesn’t make friends easily?

It’s hard to be the initiator all the time (no one likes rejection), and time is as limited as ever, but committing to In Real Life is helping me feel hopeful in a way that liking folks social media posts isn’t.

Hearing opinions and updates accompanied by voice and body language puts me back in the “I – Thou” that I know I need.

So hit me up for a coffee date or drink.

Meanwhile, this brilliant animation my inspire you to join me IRL.

 

Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to American women since Seneca Falls.

In my work I get to facilitate conversations about implicit bias (racism, sexism, classism etc.) usually by using logic and humor, evidence and anecdote. These are calm, introspective, respectful conversations designed to be a thought-provoking means for people to understand that implicit bias is a human problem.

But now, with Donald Trump saying, or being accused of, something biased nearly every time he opens his mouth, the reality of assorted -isms is front and center in the public dialogue. No more pussyfooting around! Women are speaking up every day about the appalling, pervasive reality of sexist behavior and the weight of the evidence is to great too ignore.  And I am grateful.

The reason I named my blog Amandatoryrant was because once upon a time I facilitated conversations and trainings around bias that were mandated. This often seems like a good solution to the folks mandating, but its a tough go for those who don’t want to be in the room.

Like with many change initiatives, the first hurdle with bias is understanding there is in fact a problem. The second much larger hurdle is understanding that you – yes you – are part of the problem. This is a dangerous and fertile ground. Rich bottom land ripe for planting new ideas that is studded with landmines.

No one wants to be accused of being racist, sexist or think of themselves as guilty of any other bias. We are all good people.

However, thanks to Trumps unrelenting sexism and the growing evidence presented by women he has groped and assaulted, we are experiencing a crack in the complacency that normally surrounds these “minor incidents.”

The fact that millions of women are now sharing stories of how their bodies are touched against their will is making it easier to talk about everyday, casual sexism. This isn’t “he said, she said” this is millions of assertions of “that is my experience”, which makes it harder for reasonable people to ignore or discount.

So thanks Trump, for showing the world that sexism is really, really a thing. And its huge. It’s a disaster.

Once we accept that bias (implicit and overt) is a thing – and that we can do something to change it – the final hurdle is deciding what that something will be.

This is where I come in. I spend a great deal of my life (professional and personal) talking, training, and writing about bias in one form or another.

Coaching individual women (and some men) to surf, survive, and thrive inside systems where implicit bias burdens them with invisible obstacles. Coaching individual men (and some women) to examine and change systems where implicit bias has taken root.  And helping groups, large and small, to articulate their ideals and wrestle with how to live by them every day.

Our country is on track to [continue to] experience sexist, racist, xenophobic backlash for the next 8 – 12 years. And, thanks to Trump ripping the band-aid off our complacency, we are also on track to make progress around issues that will no longer remain under the surface.

I suspect that I will have a lot more folks knocking on my door looking for a consultant to help reduce bias and improve their culture of inclusion.

Call me. I can’t wait to get started.

mommy