I’m updating my website with the help of a super talented, visually oriented friend.

An unexpected response to the necessary questions like “who is your audience?”, and “what do you want people to feel when they visit your website?”, is my deep and sincere sense of panic at answering them.

Do I tell the truth? Or do I stick with my default of describing my work with simple, practical language in as spare a way as possible. The goal is to convey a professional persona that makes people think “reliable”, “serious”, “focused”, “knowledgeable”… “Let’s hire her!” and so forth.

Along the way I completely stripped out that I am any fun or even have a personality.

I could justify this mode of communication because of the need to be professional, and blah, and blah and blah. Truthfully, it was a fear based choice.

I was afraid that if the messy bits of who I am get out again they would undermine the image I should portray to the world. Yeah I said “should.”

The reality is that its a lot of work to live up to “shoulds”: to monitor and suppress parts of yourself that you or society deem “unacceptable.” My little problem stems from years of being told that my personality was “too much”, “too big”, and “intimidating”.  That I needed to “tone it down”.

I believed the criticism and developed a serious style as a form of self-preservation and as a way to fit in where I was told I didn’t.

The serious style stuck because there is a risk to being complex and nuanced in a sound-bite world. A world where we can know and share everything instantly and no communication is immune to a well-timed screen shot.

As I am now writing descriptions to represent how and what I do when I coach & facilitate, I’m looking for ways to create a more authentic picture of myself that includes the flash and flamboyance, the irreverence and humor, that I (mostly) keep wrapped up and out of site.

The reason for the change is at this point in my career I prefer to work with people who know and accept who I am as a whole person, rather than continue to squeeze myself into a non-threatening, low-risk, “toned down” black suited shape.

Nearly everything I do when coaching and facilitating starts in a place of discomfort for participants. Its a risk to engage in personal development, or talk about race/gender/LGBTQ bias, equity and inclusion, and discomfort accompanies progress.

So with less attention on the risk of my being “too much”, I’ll work with my friend to see if we can get my website to authentically reflect who I am, how I work and what to expect when you hire me as your coach or facilitator.

With or without the black suit and serious expression.

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A New York Times opinion piece about work/life balance (“A Toxic Work World“) is making the rounds and stirring up a storm of comments. The author points out, among other things, that the culture of  overwork is not a gender issue but a work issue where equity will mean we value care giving.

We have a definite bias towards exhaustion and “110%” as proof of value in our culture. Its a system that benefits men overwhelmingly as Joan Williams brilliantly explains in her book and in nice bite sized video bits.

My reaction to the piece was colored by a conversation I had a few days before it came out. I was in a salon getting a service and chatting as you do about kids and current events and the nice for a change weather.

The woman waiting on me has a daughter a year older than mine and is deep in the college selection process that we’ve been nibbling around the edges. She was telling me her daughter wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer and was working with the guidance counselor trying to find the right school in their price range.

But she was convincing her daughter to drop law because no one can have a family with that kind of lifestyle. If she goes into the health field she doesn’t have to be a doctor, she can be something where she can go part time for a while when she has kids.

I understand that every family is different. I understand that we all have our own values.

But I don’t understand why a 17 year old girl should make life choices today to accommodate possible future children that she may or may not want or need to stay home while they’re young.

I tried a few examples, anecdotes and facts to shake the mothers view. But she would not be persuaded her daughter could have it all. She knew better.

Our culture limits us and we limit ourselves.

Lets try not to limit our children.

“Waiting your time, dreaming of a better life
Waiting your time, you’re more than just a wife
You don’t want to do what your mother has done…”

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I recently described the last six months of my life as a time of “unprecedented stress.”

What would have been more accurate is if I had said to my friend “I am experiencing a time of unrelenting pressure to deliver an increasing number of outcomes in ever shorter amounts of time.” Sort of like running in front of lava or a landslide. Funny in a Looney Tunes cartoon, less so in real life.  Maybe if I could make my feet do those fast wheelie things it would be okay.wile-e-coyote-3

There are a lot of reasons for the additional pressures and the explosion of work, some positive & some negative, but its important to keep in mind we have suffered no tragedy, no one is ill, none of the top 10 Life-Stress Events are currently present. (Touch wood)

Add to this mix the fact that my husband and daughter have also had a tough few months and we have a heady brew of cortisol and other assorted hormones making for one jagged household.

On top of the tightly booked calendar there always seems to be something that needs doing: a client that needs a follow up, laundry that needs folding, an email that needs a reply, so its easy to just go, go, go. And we get good at it don’t we?

The tough part is figuring out how to come out of it.

Last night after dinner I changed into my robe and lounged on the couch and re-read a favorite Terry Pratchett book (Making Money) and realized that it felt like a vacation day.

Home on time, no meetings, no events, no four-more-hours-of-work waiting for me before bed. Just decompressing with a thinly veiled sci-fi fantasy commentary on modern banking and economics.

It was a reminder, not of the mythical work life balance we all strive for, but what a danger it is to let urgency become the default groove. Sometimes it’s necessary and you have to push through and get it done (Hello January through June 2015!), but we humans love our habits and emergency mode is as addicting as any other form of adrenaline.

I’m a creature of words. I need time to think. And write my blog. And lots and lots of time to socialize and talk about what I think. And when the schedule is this heavy and the stress is this steady, I can’t think properly anymore.

Time to step back and see how to lower the stress level.

Because crazy busy is not a thing, it’s a habit.

Over-scheduling is either a choice, or it has a solution called “cutting something.” Everything feeling like an emergency because of over-scheduling is also a choice. I can’t always control my schedule, but I can control my attitude.

My goal for June – December of 2015 is surface tension rather than “crazy busy.”  Float delicately on my calendar (and life) like a water strider, poised and professional. And the house may have to clean itself.

I’m not sure it’s ever done, but I’m strongly considering a blanket email to my entire contact list as a kind of apology – “I’m sorry I’ve become that person who hasn’t replied to your email for six weeks. It’s not you its me.” But maybe everyone has forgotten what they wanted and moved on by now.

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I am very bad at relaxing.

That sentence is a good indicator of my poor showing at R&R. I always assume there must be some way to excel at activities and I have yet to acquire the skills around relaxing. Apparently I am a small doses person. A little work, a little rest, a little more work. A little more work…

Sometimes I indulge in a lazy day at home (no matter what my husband says) and just lay around for hours reading on the couch. It’s still a lazy day in my mind if I get up occasionally to throw in some laundry or straighten the linen closet.

I have long dreamed of having a sabbatical from work. Six months off where I might fuss around the house and get all those little jobs done that nudge the back of my mind when I want to  relax. The photo albums that need finishing and the basement that needs cleaning, the caulking, patching and painting that seems to lurk in every room in the house.

Maybe I have an eyesight problem – I always see what needs doing rather than what’s done.

For now I am practicing relaxing.  I am viewing it as a form of personal maintenance like working out and haircuts. And if it’s a “practice” I don’t have to be good at it do I?

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I have many fond childhood memories of Wallace Lake.

 

 

It happened again yesterday.

An acquaintance introduced me to her other friend, and when we got through names, titles and work places, I remarked that we did similar kinds of work. The mutual acquaintance immediately said “No. She has a PhD. She’s Dr. So-and-So.” As if this changed the fact that we had the same titles and did the same job.

I deal with this all the time in academia. A subtle or not so subtle belief that everything tastes better with a PhD.

I respect the work it takes for someone to get a PhD. I know it means they automatically have higher status than I do. I know it means that they know more than I do about any and every subject. I also know I will never have a PhD.

Once upon a time I thought I would get a PhD and teach, write and go to meetings for a living. And then life happened. I went in a different direction. I am not ashamed of my education or lack of a doctorate. Here I am and no regrets. And I still get to go to meetings for a living.

When all is said and done, some days it’s still hard to take the conscious/unconscious slights that come my way just because I don’t have a terminal degree. If I didn’t have a solid word-of-mouth reputation in my work it would be a sad state of affairs indeed. The higher ed system is a terminal case and the only cure for me is exit.

There are a lot of smart, dedicated people out there. So in this season of graduations I applaud the accomplishments of everyone getting a degree.  I am sure I missed a few:

  • general equivalency degree
  • high school diploma
  • associate of arts
  • associate of science
  • associate of applied science
  • associate of occupational studies
  • bachelor of arts
  • bachelor of science
  • master of arts
  • master of science
  • master of business administration
  • doctor of philosophy
  • juris doctor
  • doctor of medicine
  • doctor of dental surgery
  • O.W.L.S
  • N.E.W.T.s

Worthy accomplishments all.

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After ten years in the same location at work I’m being relocated. It’s a good thing for my office. A central location, easy access to parking, closer to all the meetings I need to walk to, a reception space for my assistant. But.

I am leaving my corner office which is a wood lined parlor in an old mansion, for a space that was created by using modular frosted-glass walls. I will say goodbye to my floor to ceiling windows, marble fireplace and pocket doors and say hello to minimalism, electric light and blaring music from the nearby campus bar. 9e57f272461611e2b65722000a1fb376_5

It will take some getting used to.

I will take down 10 years worth of kid drawings and school photos. Ten years worth of political cartoons and quotes.

I will sort through 10 years of papers, conference proceedings and files that were important enough to save, but not important enough to ever read again.

I will try not to get distracted by reading while boxing up my books and files.

I will finally get rid of all those binders that I’ve saved thinking they will come in handy sometime.  Sometime has come & gone and to save them now I have to pay the moving guys to carry them.

Moving is in the top 10 Stressful Situations (along with death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, major illness etc.) because of the way it disrupts routine. Moving your office isn’t quite the same but surely it breaks the top 100. Or at least it does for me.

Random photos of my life in my current office.

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Remember this?

 

 

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Window behind my desk shaded by a giant oak tree

 

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The kid. First day of 1st grade.

Every once in a while when I am coaching a client I get to witness a moment when they realize possibility. An almost audible “click” as thoughts crystallize and the top comes off the box.

Most people who come to me for coaching are looking for some way out of their box. That box, which keeps them from change or risk or hope, is usually constructed out of fear.

Usually there is a density to fear that prevents people from seeing possibility, potential or any way forward. It clouds the path, minimizes the value of the goal and maximizes the potential danger. Fear can seep in and color all rational thinking. What I’ve discovered, personally and professionally, is that many of us need help to see past the fear. Friends, spouses, partners can help but sometimes you really need a coach.

My coaching – poking with questions and nudging with insights and reframing the words to clarify meaning – sometimes works as a lever under the lid of a client’s box. I’m always upfront with clients that I can’t and don’t actually apply any pressure to their lever, but I’m happy to stand next to them and hand them the tool.

When it works it’s a beautiful thing.

I selfishly enjoy these moments like I accomplished something when the client has actually done all the work. It’s why I coach. Its addictive. When someone finally gets the lid off that jar they keep themselves in (it was a jar not a box btw) they discover, like Pandora, that what’s inside that box is hope.

All in all a good day.

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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.

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