I just got back from a week long excursion to catch up on my Continuing Education Units (CEU) for my Coaching practice.

A lot of professions require Continuing Ed so you stay current with ethics and techniques, and often its viewed as a hassle so people wait to the very last minute. I had an attorney friend who every year crammed all her credits into day long online classes in December to make the deadline.

I could do my CEU’s online but it had been several years since I had an opportunity to get back to my Gestalt roots so I signed up for two different sessions. Because my little sister lives 10 minutes down the road from the institute this plan had the added bonus of hanging out with family in the evenings.

Those five days I spent immersed in Gestalt process really felt luxurious like a reward or treat.

Don’t get me wrong our highly skilled instructors pushed and pulled and modeled and it was completely exhausting.

But I had a chance to observe other coaches and facilitators and appreciate methods and  possibilities that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I had space and time to practice techniques that I’m good, at and re-learn those skills that have gotten a bit rusty.

I know CEU’s are in service to the client and regulating the profession, but this was more like I had checked into a Spa where all I had to think about was myself. Turning my phone off for 4 hours at a time, trying to capture insights in my journal, reevaluating what I thought I knew about myself as a coach and facilitator.

When I was describing my enjoyment to a colleague as a treat that I gave myself, it reminded me of a meme my daughter shared.

I hope all your CEU’s for the coming year are Spa CEU’s.

Amanda can have a treat

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

When I tell the story of my career path I often use the image of a mosaic.

I sometimes use the words “Once upon a time…” to help bridge the distance between the idea of “job” and “career path” for audiences who may be more comfortable with one word and not the other.

At one point in my life I had jobs in what is now called “the gig economy”, scraping by in the nonprofit world doing what I loved. To make that possible I also worked cash registers, served fast food, cleaned houses, sold advertising and hustled for free lance.

When I was a child I loved books, and school, and my teachers so I thought I would also be a teacher.

As a young adult I imagined my life would always include the arts (Once upon a time I was an actor & director…), or arts management (I spent years at Cleveland Public Theatre & then founded and ran Red Hen Productions, Feminist Theatre…), or some creativity (play and story writing…), outside of this peripatetic blog.

Then I imagined I would spend my life in the academy reading, writing, discussing and teaching philosophy. (That’s a longer story…)

I was lucky to find my true vocation (coaching & facilitating change) and now devote most of my time and energy to working with people and organizations who do good in the world.

Because I was a citizen of the USA and worked at liberal (or tolerant) organizations, I always had the freedom (within reason) to be politically active without fearing repercussions or retaliation.

Now, as someone who is self-employed, my job is my career.

That means I have thought long and hard about what repercussions my opinions and political activity will have on my ability to get work. I know that I am a small fish in a small pond, and maybe (hopefully!) I am being paranoid, but the world seems to be titling toward those who take names and make lists.

Years ago, while canvassing for domestic partner registration, I spoke with an elderly Jewish man who said “I will never vote for this! It is a terrible idea! Lists make it too easy for them to find you.”

Thinking of this Jewish man, and with conscious choice, I have decided to resume writing about my politics on this blog. It is part of the mosaic of who I am and will only become more so if we continue our drift toward despotism. (Please watch this crystal clear 10 minute explanation of despotism if you think my use of that phrase is hyperbolic.)

And, as an American citizen, I believe political engagement really is my job.

mommy

 

It’s not quite time yet for looking back on the highs and lows of 2016, but going to the Board of Elections and voting today threw me into a reflective mood. Off the top of my head I counted five unexpected milestones in my life so far this year.

#5 – Charging what I’m worth.

When I started consulting years ago it never occurred to me that I should be paid. I was very invested in helping people and using my skills for good. I was doing people “favors.”

One day a good friend expressed shock  when he found out that I didn’t charge for consulting and it woke me up to the fact that I was perpetuating another female stereotype by not valuing myself. Of course I started by charging ridiculously low fees and being embarrassed by the transaction.

I have been slowly creeping up to industry norms for coaching and consulting even though my impulse is to offer a discount to every nonprofit, or women’s organization, or client who I imagine is paid poorly.

It was never about the money but now that I have quit my job to consult, the reality of paying bills and a kid soon to be in college means I am biting my tongue and charging what I am worth. And so far no one is complaining. Which brings me to…

#4 – Quitting my job.

When I resigned from Case Western Reserve I had been employed there in one position or another since 2001. I was hired one week after I’d finished my Masters and two weeks before my mother died. It was a big transition year.

I loved many things about my work at CWRU, and I accomplished a great deal over the years, but it was time to move on.  Letting go of the habit of over work has been the strangest transition so far. Between consulting nights & weekends, and volunteering various places, I was working a 60-70 hour week for about five years. Now working 40 hours feels lazy. If I take on more clients that may change but right now it gives me time for …

#3 – Separating from my kid.

Along with the frenzied senior year activities of college visits, applications, essays and, of course the FAFSA, I am getting a glimpse of the future where our daughter is no longer a satellite in our orbit, and we become a satellite in hers. This is a very good thing and a very deep lesson that won’t be mastered quickly.

In the meantime because I am working from home I can generally stop what I am doing and have lunch with her and hear about her day when she gets home. I joke that for her senior year she gets the stay-at-home mother she craved when she was in elementary school.

It’s actually an unexpected and lovely byproduct of quitting my job that we have extra time together for the next 10 months. Even though she is spending a great deal of time out of the house taking some college courses, doing her extra curriculars, and volunteering as a fall fellow for the Clinton campaign. Which brings me to …

#2 – Voting for Hillary Clinton.

That was one for the books. Even though our entire family and almost everyone we know is donating money and working like crazy for the Clinton campaign, I paused before I filled in the bubble on my ballot. I suddenly felt emotional that I was actually voting for a woman for president.

And specifically this woman who I admire and respect and disagree with.

So far during this election cycle I have cried three times. First during Hillary’s acceptance speech at the convention, and then while watching some particularly disturbing reporting and awful backlash about sexism, and today when I filled out my ballot. I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime.

#1 – Milestone for 2016

I am planning to add the final milestone to this list on November 9th with something else that I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime. And I’ll probably cry.

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I was rummaging around in envelopes of old photos when I came across one of me ironing when I was a child. I am three or four years old, in the kitchen, happily ironing the quilt my grandmother made for my Mrs Beasley doll. I distinctly remember getting this ironing board and iron for Christmas.

Normally, a photo of me performing this gendered work would have only registered as cute and ironic given the fact that my husband now does this chore for both of us.

Instead I had an epiphany about value. Staring, and staring at the triptych of images I could see how the seeds of both my feminism and self-sabotage were planted with that child-size electric iron.

At a lecture I recently attended the presenter talked about how women are taught their value. As children girls are usually praised and complimented for learning tasks or completing chores, while boys are generally paid. This system is roughly Men work for money and Women work for love.

She gave examples of babysitters who when asked what their rate is, reply “pay me what ever you think is fair.” These examples where from her personal experience in the last several years, not the distant past. She went on to point out how leaving payment up to the client teaches them (and you) that you have no value.

This is something I carefully coached my daughter about when she started babysitting so she would state her rates upfront. I even helped her figure out how to inform clients that she had an increased rate now that she is in High School. I am helping her learn her value.

Unfortunately, as I stared at those pictures of me ironing I realized I had failed to do the same for myself in my coaching business.  I set my rate but immediately discounted it because of the need to rapidly accumulate hours for my accreditation. I finished my certification but have yet to enforce my rates. I was horrified to realize this.

I am now determined to not only set and keep to my rate because what I do has tremendous value to my clients, but I am also going to establish standing days and hours for appointments. Not that I won’t be accommodating, but I need to set clear boundaries. For myself.

Because I know what I am worth.

Amanda ironing 1968_1 Amanda ironing 1968_2 Amanda ironing 1968_3

It was my birthday the other day. Normally I’m not one for taking stock on anniversaries, but a number of things swirling around have left me in a pensive mood. In addition to being a year older, my daughter recently attended her first semi-formal dance.

Short dress, high heels, boyfriend at the door, the whole magilla. Nothing too terrible there. She looked very beautiful, sweet and appropriate to an 8th grade dance. Continue reading

I am currently reading Isabel Allende’s Zorro. It has been on my nightstand for roughly a year in the “to be read next pile”, but I gave in after a friend’s gentle, if loud, hectoring that I need to “do something that’s not work related!”

I often read fiction but have been swamping myself lately with what my daughter calls my “boring books” whose titles almost always include a colon or subtitle. Two examples next to me on my desk as I type: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions and Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing your Career.  I read the first one when it came out years ago and wanted to pull some examples, and the other I’m reading because some folks I’m working with are going through big transitions right now.

This post isn’t really about my boring reading habits, its more about unmasking. I have been considering putting this blog under my own name – leaving the clever title of course because I like it – but allowing a public profile & my real name to be shown. When I started it years ago the anonymity was partially because I thought it was pretentious to call myself a writer, even of a blog, so I wanted to hide. And partially because I was afraid the writing was just crap anyway and if it was anonymous I could be less embarrassed about my desire to write and my lack of skill.

Now I don’t know. Some folks who I admire and trust have said its not half bad. Some say writing an anonymous blog is exaggerating your own importance – that no one will actually care. And that your readers are less connected to you if they don’t “know you” through your profile. So I am looking for feedback.

If you read this blog, or have just read this post, what do you think? Anonymous or no?

I had an interesting conversation with my husband last night and discovered I am as finicky as a cat with a bowl of discount food.

I was explaining how I was having a hard time believing folks when they told me I was good at certain things. He said “Well you’ve been that way for the last twenty years.” I told him that since I had not mastered some of the skills, it would be presumptuous of me to say I was “good at something”. Continue reading

I was leading a discussion of a group of professional women about time management and work/life integration strategies and someone said something I had not heard before. This doesn’t happen often.

One woman, whose husband and child live 8 hours away because they could not find positions in the same city, said she has been put under even more pressure to be productive because “a woman without children doesn’t have any responsibilities.” (I will explore the cruel depth of that insult another day.) The pressure, she said, was coming from her supervisor, her mentor, her husband and her mother. There may have been others but that’s all I remember.

Seems everyone felt she was living the single life and should work 18 hour days to make the most of this gift she was given. And if she was not working 18 hour days she was being ungrateful about the sacrifice her husband and child were making. The result was that she never feels she is working enough, is wracked with guilt for stopping to eat or sleep and looks like she is hovering on the edge of a physical and/or mental collapse.

There was very little anyone could do for her in the limited amount of time we were together, but I touched on few points that I hope helped.

First, I always use the term work/life integration because balance implies equity or somehow tracking how much you put in the home bucket and how much in the work bucket. The first problem is that there are more than two buckets as most folks would also like to spend time with friends, doing service in their community, participating in religion and maybe doing something by themselves once in a while. When someone says work life balance they usually mean a nuclear family and a job, but that is narrow definition of life. Integration is less precarious and leaves some mental room for mixing instead of score keeping. Helping women understand that striving for balance can undermine enjoyment is a recurring theme.

Secondly, the Eleanor Roosevelt pearl “No one makes you feel inferior without your consent”. And that means you. Part of the problem with work life issues is that we are often willing to believe that others have succeeded where we have failed. Another scale where we can come up short. I call this the Bad Mommy syndrome in the realm I work in.  Here her peers were willing to share their disastrous attempts at balance and their ongoing, and sometimes hilarious, failures at taming the Bad Mommy syndrome and finally convinced her that she was not alone. Cathartic all around.

The last thought I left her with that turned into a bit of a back and forth as she challenged me, was that ultimately it all comes down to her deciding to be Be Here Now. If she is working, just work and don’t think of anything else. If she is writing just write, if she is spending time with her child, do only that. Commit to what she is doing and stop wasting energy on guilt.

Here and now is the easiest concept to talk about and the hardest to practice. It is counter to the multi-tasking world we live in, but putting your attention fully on one task at hand can make you feel you have actually accomplished something. How many days do you leave work thinking you didn’t get anything done? Its hard. But it is one way this woman might address her rampaging guilt and sometime paralysis.

The good news was at the end of the session the exhausted woman said she was happy that taking the time to attend the session didn’t make her feel worse about what she should have been doing. I’m going to count that as progress on her behalf.

Taking my own medicine I committed fully to this blog post for 30 minutes, I have spell/grammar checked and am now publishing without guilt. There are probably typos, but at least there is no guilt.

I work with a lot of highly accomplished women scientists who are invested in promoting gender equity in some traditionally male dominated areas. So I often hear lectures about new research, or meta-analysis of old research, searching for the elusive, persuasive evidence that

a) women and men are equally capable intellectually,
b) that women continue to experience discrimination in myriad forms, and
c) we should do something about it.

Almost all of these are accompanied by “d” the what and how to do it, but its easy to ignore that when you get hung up on “a”. There is a point where some women will get uncomfortable in these discussions and its usually around motherhood. This is a very stylized skirmish in the Mommy Wars that is often akin to Hari Kari.

Recently I was at a talk where the speaker was discussing the history of marriage (why this was the topic for a science crowd is too convoluted to go into) and how women’s work became almost exclusively house & child related and then devalued. How we define traditional marriage (and why) became secondary to the heated discussion around parenting choices.

The evidence that the stay-at-home mom was a phenomena limited to the 1945 – 1970 “boomer” years and TV reruns did nothing to reduce the outpouring of mommy guilt and frustration.

A lot of the women in the audience were “firsts” – first woman to attend that university, first to get that degree, first female in that department – and so on. I categorize them (not to their faces) as The Tough Old Broads. These are women who lived their lives as “Super-Women” with a marriage, a kid, a successful career and four hours of sleep a night for the last 30 years.

The 50 and under crowd was a mixed bag of married and unmarried (mostly with children), second-wave feminists, and some who don’t use the F-word about themselves.

One woman, a very senior administrator & researcher, described how she was held hostage (my words not hers) by her two children who refused to eat any food she did not prepare from scratch. She even hired a chef service for a while and they would not eat the meals.

Now I would have been very sad to watch those children get scurvy and starve to death, but I can’t imagine the depth of guilt that allowed her to put up with that.

Other women joked about husbands who didn’t know how to pack a lunch or run a washing machine, comments you often hear from working women. A few were outraged that the term “working mother” still existed when “working dad” never has.

One or two trotted out their Utopian same sex relationships where all child care and housework was split 50/50. I didn’t buy that for a minute – even the best relationship would be 60/40 most days and those are ever shifting numbers in either direction IMHO.

The real drag was that there was so much “Bad Mommy” vibe even in this rarefied atmosphere where everyone knows (intellectually at least) that we have a societal problem rather than a personal problem when it comes to parenting and work. There was such undercurrent of guilt over sacrifices made or not made as people compared choices and actions, but at least it exposed the lie that everyone but you has it all together.

When do we collectively give up the June Cleaver model and define “Good Mommy” on our own terms? I am as guilty as the next person about setting ridiculous standards and self-flagellating over what I “should” be doing. There has to be some middle ground between Roseanne, June Cleaver and the  24-hour Enjoli woman.

I jokingly made a logic model to capture my theory of parenting. Maybe I should work on a Mommy Logic Model next.  As always suggestions welcome.