Dealing with issues head on

girls fighting

Last night my 10-year old daughter learned a lesson. It was hard, and it was important.

Last night she learned that dealing with problems head on is the best way to handle of them. She learned that no matter how bad she feels, or how much she just wants to crawl under the covers and pretend that nothing had happened, she will be much, much happier if she owns her problems and addresses them as quickly as possible.

We could all learn from this. In the workplace, just as it is outside, problems come up from time to time. Most of the time, these issues have something to do with imperfect communication, and many times, can be addressed with a quick correction. But add in emotions and you have a Problem. If the Problem is not addressed quickly and directly it tends to take on a life of its own.

Here’s what happened with my daughter. Its a common problem for 10-year old girls. She and her best friend got in a fight over what game they were going to play. This time it escalated to yelling and in the heat of the moment, my daughter yelled something she could see hurt her friend. The fact that she had caused this pain threw her into a cycle of shame, embarrassment, and regret.

Her first instinct was to run home, sneak upstairs, hide under her blanket in her bed, and sob. She quickly realized this wasn’t really working and came downstairs for comfort from her parents. It took quite some time and not a little courage to share what she had done.

Together we talked through a plan. What she said she wanted to do was to simply forget that anything had happened and deal with it all tomorrow. She was certain that her friend would never talk to her again, and even if she did, her mother would never allow her over to the house again. She was so upset about the whole ordeal that we had to help her to stop hyperventilating.

What we decided to do instead, a plan she agreed to with much trepidation, was for me to text her friend’s mom and ask if we could come over to talk. She would simply apologize for her part in the disagreement and would expect nothing in return.

Her friend’s mom was quick to say yes, and we headed across the street. My daughter was incredibly courageous and apologized to her friend, and also apologized to her friend’s mom. It was awkward for a minute or two, and then, suddenly, everything was back to normal.

What could have been a long drawn-out night of tears, fears, anxiety and hyperventilation became a night of just plain normal. What could have spiraled into a major drama that ruined their last week of summer was quickly resolved and put back to right.

So, the lesson here is that the same thing works in the work world. When there is a problem:

  1. Talk to someone who can help you – just as important, don’t talk to people who can’t help you. This just adds fuel to the fire.
  2. Face the issue head on – don’t bury yourself under the blanket.
  3. Be brave.
  4. Have a plan.
  5. If called for, apologize for your part in a misunderstanding.
  6. And while there are always two sides to a misunderstanding, do not expect anything in return – but be grateful when it comes.
  7. Move on. Let go, and let things return to normal.

Sound familiar? Do you have other thoughts on addressing problems in life or at work? I’d love to hear them!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

 

Leaders, take care of yourself!

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Butter and Lily on one of our hikes

I am not entirely sure why this is happening, but recently I am seeing more and more leaders, on Facebook and in real life, reaching the point of near-burnout. In fact, just a few days ago, there was an article on this very topic on the Forbes website, and a few articles elsewhere since then. The problem is real.

Some of this could be due to over-working (in which case see this post). Some of this could be the heat of the summer (I know it makes me grouchy), or some of it could be the unsettled political environment that seems to be affecting us all. Whatever it is, burnout is real and it is seemingly everywhere.

What does burnout do to us leaders? Several things, and none of them good.

First, life becomes exhausting. Everything seems harder. I know when I was suffering from burnout, one of the first signs was difficulty getting out of bed. I knew I needed to, I knew I was going to eventually, but actually doing it was incredibly hard.

Even harder – getting out of the car at work. Have you ever done this? Just sat in the car, waiting, hoping that things would somehow miraculously get better? I know I have.

Then we fall back into bad habits. We eat poorly. We give up on our exercise. We drink more alcohol. We don’t get enough sleep. We oversleep.

On top of all of this, our attitude plummets. We develop tempers, not just at work, but at home too. Or we check out. We are not engaged, we don’t participate. Worst of all, we forget how much our attitude affects others around us.

I have talked with a whole host of employees who are angry, confused, and on the verge of burnout themselves, who simply seem to be suffering under a boss who is burned out. If for no other reason than this, we must address burnout.

Look for the signs of burnout in yourself and your employees. Be vigilant about this. As with most things, it is so much easier to correct when you catch it early. Address situations head-on and with compassion. Especially when dealing with yourself. Most importantly….

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!

There is quite a bit out there on self-care. One of the most important lessons I have learned about self-care is that self-care is NOT the same as self-comfort. Molly Mahar, the creative genius behind Stratejoy.com, shared an important essay on this on her blog, and I encourage you to check it out. The difference boils down to what you need. Molly stresses that there is a time and a place for both care and comfort.

It seems to me that we are all probably pretty good at the self-comfort piece. More often than not, though, when dealing with burnout, it is self-care that we need. Here are some ideas for taking care of yourself:

  1. Take a vacation. Something as small as just driving out of town for the afternoon. Just find a way to put yourself into a new environment. Do this on a regular basis.
  2. Take up a new hobby. Try lots of different things until you find something you love. I did a quick search for local options here and found a warehouse that will allow you to weld, a t-shirt shop that will allow you to design and produce your own shirt, a glass-blowing workshop, an archery range, several yarn shops, ballroom dancing classes, a pottery shop….so many options!
  3. Schedule those doctors and dentist appointments you’ve been putting off. I just listened to a podcast on Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam about how we all seem to avoid health information that could help us to live better lives. Take a deep breath and go take care of this.
  4. Find a new gym. There are so many interesting options out there! I met someone recently who was trying a new gym each month or so to see what option worked best for her. She was having an interesting time with this – and if nothing else, was coming away with some amazing stories!
  5. Get yourself to a therapist. Many companies have employee assistance programs that provide for free appointments. There is nothing wrong with talking to a therapist. Talking to an independent, disinterested third party can be so healing. I have done so myself when life has become overwhelming and cannot speak highly enough of the important work therapists do.
  6. Get out into nature. There is something particularly healing about being out in the woods or on a lake or in a field. Go for a walk or a hike, go fishing, or kayaking down a river. Get in touch with that side of yourself, and get some exercise while you do so.
  7. Go to the spa. Do something new while you are there. Acupuncture? Why not! Mud wrap? Sure! Float tank? Just might be your new thing.
  8. Reach outside your comfort zone. This summer, I am going to summer camp! For grown-ups! Find something that seems crazy to you, and go do it. Open mike night, poetry jam, bungee jumping, 5K, TedTalk….just go!

Burnout is real, and it affects everyone around us when we don’t address it. Take some time to take care of yourself now!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

 

 

(First Re-blog): Feel Like Giving Up? Read this. — The Art of Blogging

I find this an important reminder of all of the excuses we make up to not do the thing we need to do. For those of you who might need some help not giving up, give this a read!

I launched my first blog in January 2011. I had released my first self-published novel on Amazon. I was very excited, and I was sure that I’d soon conquer the world… I quit after three posts, no views, no comments, no nothing. Five days into my career as a blogger, I grew bitter and remorseful, […]

via Feel Like Giving Up? Read this. — The Art of Blogging

Tips for making that tough decision

decision making

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with a colleague of mine. She had come to me for help in sorting out a particularly difficult decision she needed to make.

Together, we brainstormed some creative ways she could go about making this decision, and I thought I would share these ideas with you.

Some basic assumptions first, though:

  • This was a (personal) career decision. While these ideas may very well work for other types of decisions, I am not specifically suggesting them for anything other than a personal decision.

Examples of these types of decisions: Should I take the promotion if it means I have to relocate to Texas/Iowa/Alabama? Is it time for me to switch careers? Should I take this other assignment when I think I might be getting a promotion if I just stay where I am?

  • All of these ideas were likely suggested to me by the many and various wise teachers I have met during my life. Apologies for any oversight in attribution.
  • Some of these things may seem a little “wacky” for the average business person. I simply ask you to give them a shot. At the very least, don’t dismiss them immediately.

Some things it is important to keep in mind when these types of decisions come up:

  1. It is always important that you actually make a decision. If you don’t, you give the power over to someone else (see previous post on personal accountability);
  2. Be sure you right-size the problem. By that I mean do not give your problem more importance than they deserve. In most cases, if the choice you make doesn’t work out, you then have the option to make another choice;
  3. Most of the time, we know in our gut what we should do – any of these techniques I list below will likely only function to confirm your gut instinct.

So now, the ideas! I’ll use a hypothetical situation and question to work through each suggestion:

Hypothetical Situation: I have been offered a new position within the company. It is a lateral move into an area I find interesting. I am not fully challenged in my current position, but I am concerned that there does not appear to be any upward mobility in the new area.

Question: Should I take the new position?

1. The tried-and-true method of pluses and minuses.

How this might look:
Plus

  • New area offers more of a challenge
  • I would be learning something new
  • I am genuinely interested in the new job

Minus

  • No upward mobility
  • Might lose out on a promotion opportunity in current job
  • Risky – I might not like the new job

2. List your values, what is most important to you in life, determine which choice best aligns with this.

How this might look:

Current (hypothetical) values:

I need to be challenged. When I am bored at work, I am miserable, and then my family is miserable. While salary and advancement are important, I believe that if I am doing something I love, the money will follow.

3. Journal. Spend some time with a notebook, journal, or computer, and simply pour all of your thoughts onto the page. Keep going. Don’t think about what you are writing, just write. Many times I find that I write myself right into the decision. If not, go back and read over what you have written, and see if you find any clues there.

Some tips on how to do this:

  1. Ask yourself a question, then set a timer for three minutes. Write for the full three minutes without stopping. This is important – do not stop! Do not judge what you are writing (no one else is going to read this unless you let them).
  2. Ask yourself the opposite question. If you started with “Why should I take this other position?” now ask yourself “Why should I not take this other position?”
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 as many times as necessary.
  4. Go back and underline, circle, or simply take note of what seems to rise to the surface for you.

4. The “Why” game. This works best with a journal/notebook as well. Ask yourself what decision you want to consider first and write down your answer. Follow this with the question “why”. Write that answer down, and repeat this as many times as it takes to get to the real, underlying truth.

What this looks like:

I want to stay in the position I am currently holding. Why? Because it isn’t that bad. Why? Because there is stability here. Why do I care about that? Because I have ambition and student loans to pay off.

5. Talk it out. It often helps to include movement with this – going on a walk while you talk is a great idea!

There are some very important rules for this one, and these rules are incredibly important:

  1. This person has to be someone you trust, someone you know will have your best interests at heart;
  2. This person needs to be someone who does not have a vested interest in your choice. For example, do not talk this out with your boss who might be invested in you staying put, or a colleague who might benefit if you were leave;
  3. This person should only ask questions to help you dig deeper, and/or repeat back what they hear you say. They should use phrases like, “What I hear you saying is….” and “It sounds like you are really feeling….” and “So why is that particular thing important?”
  4. This person should be patient, empathetic, open, and understanding.business meditation

6. Meditate or pray. I highly recommend guided meditations. If you do a Google search for “guided meditations for decision making,” you can find all kinds of free examples. You may need to go through a few to find one that works for you, but keep trying. Praying can also be effective, no matter what your religion. Simply focusing on your problem and then releasing it to God, the Universe, your choice of higher power, can be extremely effective.

One thing I particularly like is the Rotarian Four-Way Test. This is an ethical guide to be used in personal and professional relationships, and would be an excellent start to a mindful meditation exercise.

Of the things we think, say, or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

7. Finally, try changing your perspective.

You could do this many different ways.

  1. Consider the situation as if an employee was asking you for advice. What would you tell him or her?
  2. Take a drive. Put on some tunes. Go somewhere you have never been, or haven’t been in a long time.
  3. Get out into nature. Breathe deep. Ask the trees and the birds for advice. (You’ll have to answer for them, but then that’s the trick!)
  4. Call a friend who knew you way-back when. See what they think.
  5. Do a headstand. Sit on the other side of your desk. Drive home a different way. Anything to shake up that brain of yours.
  6. Jump on a treadmill. Try a walking meditation (Google can help here again). Or try out a new playlist.

I know there are many other things people do to help them make a big decision. What is your go-to method? I’d love to hear from you!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Why you (workaholics) should go home and take the day off

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Me and Dad enjoying a hike and a selfie one random day (2014)

Hi, my name is Melinda, and I am a workaholic.

I don’t know if you are like me – I certainly hope for your sake you aren’t! But for years, I neglected to take my vacation days. That isn’t to say I didn’t take vacation. I have three children, and between all of their activities and the need to show them the rest of the world, I have certainly had days out of the office. “Vacation Days” – or so my calendar at work calls them. Really, they just feel like “My Other Unpaid Job Days.”

My job was exceedingly demanding for several years. Luckily (for the company and for me), I thrive on ‘demanding’. I worked long hours, weekends, even became an expert on-line shopper for holidays. And I didn’t take extra days off.

It got to the point that I was “losing” days. We had a policy at that time where you could only roll over into the next year half of your vacation days. Then you had to use those days before the middle of the following year. If you used less than half, you lost the balance. If you didn’t use the days you rolled over by the June, you lost those days. I lost days in December and in June for many years.

It didn’t really matter to me – I was exceptionally happy at work. I felt like I was contributing at a high level and that kept me motivated. I loved my team, I loved my company, and most importantly I had an incredible partner at home (my husband). I made sure that every minute I spent with my kids and my husband was meaningful, if it wasn’t plentiful.

It seemed like everything was going along perfectly, until I lost my dad. I had dealt with loss in my life – just a few years before this I lost my great aunt, my grandfather and my grandmother. Loss and grief were not foreign to me.

In fact, when I lost my father, I was smart. I took care of myself, and (hopefully) my mother, my brother, my kids and my family. I took a week off of work. I turned off my phone for that entire week (I had never done this before). I never even thought about work. I took some time (its never enough time) to grieve and to heal. This post isn’t about that week.

It’s about the following year. At that point I was fortunate enough to be working with a brilliant executive coach. During one of our sessions, I mentioned that recently I had been having trouble focusing, that things weren’t coming so easily for me, and that I had been overreacting to seemingly small errors or differences in opinion. In fact, things had gotten so bad that I was not certain that I was able to contribute in a meaningful way any longer. The entire future looked bleak.

She asked me a simple question, “So what’s going on?”

Suddenly I realized that it was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death. And I was not coping well. I was relying on old habits of pushing through and working hard. It wasn’t going well. At all. I thought I would be fine. I thought a top-notch worker didn’t take days off for things like this, and I wanted to be top-notch. I thought that the strongest thing to do would be to go to work, swallow the tears, and keep moving forward.

Turns out I was wrong. For me, for this particular situation, this was the absolute worst thing (okay, maybe not the worst) I could do. My coach told me to pack up my things and head home. I can’t tell you why, but it was one of the hardest and best things I have done.

She talked to me about taking time for myself. About taking care of myself. Of listening to myself, and granting myself a little grace. She showed me that laying on the couch, staring at the ceiling with a bowl of buttered popcorn balanced on my belly was the best thing I could do for myself, if that was what I needed.

I needed to go home and take the day off.

And it turns out I only needed a day. I needed space to breathe and understand why I was feeling the way I felt. I needed to be free, for just a few hours, from the demands of other people. From the expectations of work and family.

You won’t be surprised to hear that it worked. I have a feeling that if I had I not taken that day off, I would have been miserable for much longer.

Since then, I have become a huge proponent of what I call “Mental Health Days.” If you are not going to be productive and you need some time to reflect, recharge, heal, sleep, journal, run, whatever it is, it is better that you take care of that right away rather than subjecting your unsuspecting coworkers to an ugly side of you.

In the event that you are a workaholic like me, I have some other suggestions for reasons to take a day off here and there:

  1. To help out in your child’s classroom or supervise a field trip
  2. To celebrate an anniversary with your significant other
  3. To appreciate the fall foliage or spring flowers
  4. To celebrate your birthday!
  5. To play with your puppies
  6. To just sleep in. For once.

Whatever you do, just be sure you are taking care of yourself. Do what you need to do to perform your very best each and every day.

And as always, keep it positive, and smile!

 

 

 

 

A frustrating day at work…what to do

frustrated at work

Ever have those days at work when you just want to scream?

I know I do.

Sometimes its something that happened before work – alarm didn’t work (or the snooze button worked too well), kids weren’t cooperating (“Mom, I can’t find my shoes!” “What do you mean I have to hurry?” “But I’m tiiiiired!”), or something at home goes awry (dishwasher, hairdryer, husband). While we all try to leave this stuff at the door, the emotional fallout from these encounters can follow us around all day.

Sometimes it is something that actually happens at work – a project isn’t going the way we would like, someone won’t make a decision we need to move our work forward, communication between departments has failed once again. We have all learned to control our reactions in these types of situations, but they can add significant stress to the day.

Then there are the times when the frustration is intense. We miss out on an assignment, we have to meet with that one person again (you know who I mean) and they still don’t get it, a decision is made and you know it isn’t right, or worst of all, you miss out on a promotion. Been there, done that.

Most of the time, its the small stuff that gets you. The other day, I was running late because my puppy dog decided to take some extra time with her morning routine. Then, traffic was terrible on the way in because, of all things, the city government had decided to do some tree trimming during the morning commute. I missed breakfast, probably spilled my coffee, and couldn’t find my ID badge to get into the garage at work. This, on top of the fact that my daughter had trouble sleeping the night before which of course means I had trouble sleeping.

By the time I got to work, I was a mess. That’s the day that, for some reason, I couldn’t log onto my computer. Something about profiles and VPNs and overnight updates and such – the very kind and knowledgeable people on our help desk got me back up and running, but not until I was late for a meeting (not their fault – I blame the tree trimmers). The meeting itself was awful. I don’t remember the topic, I don’t even remember who was there. All I know is I came out of the meeting feeling like my head was on fire. I was full of frustration and anger.

So, what to do?

If I continued on this way, the whole day would be ruined and I would only have myself to blame. I’d probably take that anger and frustration home with me and subject my husband, kids and dogs to a mean, ugly wife/mother/food-giver. This, in turn, would likely put them into a bad mood. Which would make me even angrier. Nobody likes angry people. And I don’t ever want to spread ugliness around.

It was at that moment I knew I needed to make a shift.

Here is what I did:

1. Deep breaths. I know this sounds obvious, but it feels so good! So often when we are tense we forget to take full, deep breaths. Sometimes we just need to stop and take a long, slow, deep breath in and then let it out, and the frustration goes out right with it. It’s magical!

2. Stretch. Again, probably obvious. Stretching puts the focus back on ourselves and helps us to relax and let go. If you can, try something outside your comfort zone. Close the door (or find a room and close the door) and stretch out on the floor. Use your desk or chair or bookshelf to do some crazy yoga poses. The point is to really let go. Maybe even laugh at yourself.

3. Vent. One of the most therapeutic techniques for me is venting. As Shrek says in his movie, “Better out than in!” That said, venting can definitely backfire if not used appropriately. Here are some basic rules for proper venting (this could almost be a post of its own!):

(a) don’t vent for very long; make it short and sweet, get it out and move on;

(b) vent to someone at your level in the organization and be sure it is someone you trust. I highly recommend you do not vent to someone above you – they should be used for coaching, not venting. Also, bosses are people of action and may respond to your venting in a way you were not expecting. Absolutely do not vent to someone below you (they will likely take your opinion as that of other leaders of the organization);

(c) be sure you make it very clear that you are just venting; failure to do so can result in some pretty dramatic unintended consequences (for example, a whole new job);

(c) be absolutely certain that you aren’t disclosing confidential information.

4. Change gears. If you are able, take a few minutes to do something you enjoy. It could even be other work stuff! (There are some reports I love to analyze. If I focus on them, my curiosity is triggered and my frustration disappears.) Or kinda work stuff. (Read a page or two from that self-improvement book you’ve been reading. I happen to be reading Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work by Dave Isay right now). Or not work at all. (Find that recipe for tonight’s dinner.) The point is to redirect yourself in a positive direction.

5. Take a walk. In the middle of the workday, this might mean just doing a lap around the floor. This last time, I did tiny laps in my office. But if you can, head outside for a minute. The fresh air can work miracles. The exercise, too, will help you rid yourself of some of the anger. I add in some jumping jacks if I can – for some reason, these in particular always help me to dispel extra energy.

6. Practice Gratitude. You may have heard about this. I believe in it 100%. You just can’t be angry when you are thinking about everything you have to be grateful for in your life.

I recently listened to a podcast where a woman shared her practice of writing a short list every morning and each night. She talked about the significant change this had brought about in her life and in her health. I know that I start off on a happier, lighter foot when I remember to write my list in the morning.

Beyond this, there are other longer-term things we all know we can all do to cut down on our frustration levels. Exercise is at the top of the list. Getting enough sleep and eating right are also right up there. Keeping a journal is a wonderful practice if you can handle the writing/typing. I personally have a couple of them – both guided journals and plain paper journals. Listen to uplifting podcasts – right now my favorites for lifting my spirits include Wild Ideas Worth Living, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, and Good Life Project. I love that they get me thinking about new and different things. Try some meditation – I highly recommend the Headspace app if you are new to the practice. Meditation is exceptionally hard for me, but I still try to do a little bit when I can. Talk it out if the frustration involves others at work. Be brave and have those difficult conversations.

Finally, if things are tougher than all of that, I am hereby giving you permission to take the day off. Some of us need to be given that permission. I am a firm believer in “mental health days,” days where you stay home and get yourself back in the right frame of mind to be productive at work. Slogging through a huge pile of negative energy will likely only make you (and possibly those around you) suffer longer.

I did, finally, get my day back on track, and got quite a bit accomplished. So I know this stuff works! I hope this gives you a few ideas to try the next time work is getting you down.

As always, keep it positive and smile! I’d love to hear what tips you use to deal with frustration at work – please share!

A note to those who manage moms (and dads)…

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My kids playing office…in my office.

I recently wrote a post about being a mom and having a career. I found that as I was writing that post, I had to resist the urge to add in comments from the point of view of a manager. The solution – write another post!

The thing about being a manager/leader is that people see you differently. When you speak, you speak on behalf of your organization. I knew a senior manager who would often tell the story of walking into work with a bad headache one day. He had his head in his hand as he walked, and likely had a sour expression on his face. Within (seemingly) moments, he was getting questions like “Did our project go off track?”, or “Did the deal fall through?”

The lesson there – people in the organization take their cues from the management. Managers have to be sure the messages they are sending are accurate reflections of the situation.

This brings me to my first thought on moms. As I have mentioned before, women, no matter how many positive experiences they have had and/or read about, are nearly always scared to tell their bosses they are pregnant. This had me wondering why that would be.

When I went back through my own experiences and the stories that have been shared with me, I saw a glimmer of what might be going on. Here are some real statements that I have collected, all from seemingly well-meaning managers:

“She’s going to be out on maternity leave in July? That’s the worst possible time for us to be short staffed.”

“You will be out the whole month of December? Again?” (I had three kids at the end of the year)

“She is pregnant again? I sure wish I could take three months off.”

I even have one for the men: “He’s taking paternity leave now? In the middle of the project?”

The thing is, as managers, we all probably think this way. Being short-staffed, especially at the busiest time of year can be an enormous burden. I can see how it might look like I wanted out of year-end craziness three different times. Three months off does seem like a vacation. And being off in the middle of a project is never convenient.

One thing I know for sure – kids are rarely convenient.

These statements, made by managers, are dangerous. They send a message that the leadership of the company is not supportive of people in this situation. And that is definitely bad for business and bad for the employees.

We need to watch what we say, and better yet, how we think.

In most instances, we managers have plenty of time to plan for these absences. Usually six months or so at least. That is an incredible amount of time! When a person quits, they give us two weeks notice. When they get sick, they give us two minutes. With six months, we can use that time to work with the employee to develop a plan. We can engage the employee in training exercises and documentation. We can turn something that might have been scary into a developmental exercise that empowers the employee rather than sidelines them.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was a front-line manager. I spent that time developing what I called the “MMP,” or “Melinda’s Maternity Plan.” I empowered myself and my employees to develop a way to cover all of my duties while I was out. My manager was incredibly supportive of this, and in the end, my associates got a chance to develop their leadership skills, and my manager had very little concern over my time out of the office.

This language problem persists after maternity leave. Here are some management quotes that illustrate what this sounds like:

“Her kids are sick again?”

“Doesn’t she have a husband? Can’t he help?”

“He is always leaving early for his kids. Why is he always leaving early for his kids?”

I am not saying we should not hold people accountable. In fact, I think we should do a much better job of holding people accountable than we do today. What I am saying is that words matter. When we say things like this, we show a strong lack of support for families and our employees. This, in turn, will lead to dissatisfied workers, and in the end, a potentially harmful corporate culture.

Here is another thing to watch for – benevolent sexism. Ever hear of this? This is when we think we are doing something nice, but really we are doing something that shows prejudice and/or bias against women. This is always done with good intent, so it can be very hard to detect. It can come from women or men, and it sounds like this:

“With her three young kids, do you think she can handle it?”

“She just got back from maternity leave. I don’t want to overwhelm her.”

“That is going to take some travel – I don’t want to take her away from her kids.”

The very, very important piece that is missing in all of these comments is any discussion with the woman herself. Start with the assumption that she can handle it, she is not overwhelmed, and if it’s going to take some travel, assume she is up to the task. Perhaps she can’t handle it – ask her first. Perhaps she is overwhelmed – check with her first. Perhaps she does not want to travel – discuss this with her to find out, if you have any concerns.

In the end, what we all want is a place to work where we feel supported and valued. As managers, we have the power to make this happen for our associates. Give some thought to how you think and speak about the parents on your team, and be sure your actions show that you support and value them.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – leave a comment or send me a message!

As always, keep it positive and smile! TGIF!!

Being a mom and having a career

Being a mom is hard.

Having a career is hard.

Studies have shown, and those of us in the thick of it can attest, trying to have both is confounding and difficult.

Are these two things even compatible? Assuming they are, since so many of us are doing both, how do we as women balance this? Is there a such thing as balance? How do we make it all work?

Through the stories of my experiences and those of women I have interviewed, I hope I can offer you all some insights, some tips, and most of all, some comfort that you are not alone. At the end of this post, I offer you four important tips to make this all work.

From the very start, motherhood is an intimidating proposition at work. I have heard story after story of women who were afraid to tell their boss they were pregnant. Nearly all of them reported positive stories when they finally did, but it does not seem to help alleviate the fear.

I’ve had three kids, and each time it was as different as my children are from one another (trust me, they are different!). The first time, I hadn’t been with the company for very long. For this reason, I wasn’t overly invested in my career, and although I waited awhile to tell my boss, and I only took 6 weeks off because of financial concerns, I wasn’t too nervous about my pregnancy.

The second pregnancy was completely different (see photo below). At this point, I was in management and was fully invested in my career. Despite the fact that I was violently ill with this pregnancy, I kept it from my boss and my teams for months. I was terrified of missing work, of missing promotions, of being held back because I would be out of the office. The funny thing is that when I finally told my team, they all laughed in relief and said that they had been concerned for months over how sick I had been! With this kid, I took 2 months off – still not the full amount of time available.

The third pregnancy, I discovered I was pregnant 6 weeks into my MBA program my company was paying for. Total panic! This time, there was no keeping it from the boss – I was showing almost immediately. I had to do some serious maneuvering but I managed to take the full three months off this time.

The next step – the actual maternity leave – can be fraught with danger. We hear stories of leaders in tech and politics returning to work only a week or two after giving birth – what will happen when we take 6 weeks off? Or the full 12 weeks we are allowed under FMLA, assuming you even qualify for FMLA?

When you come back to work, that is when the real fun starts. Let’s start with the logistical issues. The baby needs to get to the sitter. The baby needs to get to the doctor for check-ups. The baby needs diapers and wipes and food and clothes. And the baby gets sick. Not to mention, many of us moms breastfeed our babies, so there is the need to deal with that at work.

The breastfeeding situation is no joke. First there is the uncomfortable conversation with your boss – made much worse when your boss is a man. Scheduling the times, understanding whether you need to make up the time or not, all of that has to be worked out. Then there is the problem of where to pump. With my first two kids, we had a “medical room” often frequented by those employees with headaches or tummy aches that, if not occupied, was a decent place to pump. By the third kid, we had an actual lactation lounge and could book time in it. Many (most?) women are not so lucky.

Then there are the emotional issues. Leaving your baby in the hands of someone else every morning is more difficult than you can ever prepare for. When that sitter doesn’t work out? Even worse.

I had a terrible falling out with our first sitter when my son was 18 months old and I was pregnant with my second. It stemmed from a misunderstanding that festered for several months, and exploded on her driveway at pick-up one day in the middle of the week. To say it was awful would be the understatement of the century. I cried and cried and then spent the next three days driving all over the city looking for a new solution. (We found one, and it worked well for all 3 kids).

A wise person once told me that the challenges with kids never lessen, they only change. As the kids get older, new issues pop up. There are baseball tournaments, play practice, piano lessons, swim lessons, and they all start at some unreasonable hour – like 5pm. Someone please tell me how working parents are supposed to get their kids to practice on time?

One thing I want to address here: how we “leave” work when we have a child-related event and/or emergency. I am torn here between the need to be authentic and own the fact that we are mothers who work, and the need to avoid attention directed to the fact that we are mothers. Studies have shown that bosses tend to see “mothers” as less engaged with their work and careers. The less we call attention to that particular label, perhaps the more we will avoid the negative repercussions. Perhaps.

An example from my life: I was in a high-level meeting in our board room one afternoon. The meeting was scheduled to finish at 4:30. At 5pm, I noticed that the older gentlemen in the room showed no sign of slowing down. My sitter required me to pick up my son by 5:30, and I was looking at a 20 minute commute. What do I do?

One genius idea a good friend of mine shared with me is to simply announce that you have to leave for a board meeting. What I did, after madly texting my husband under the table to see if he could get to the sitter (and discovering that he could not), was to simply lean over to the gentleman next to me and say, “I need to get to my next meeting,” and then get up and leave as inconspicuously as I could. I have no way of knowing if this was the right thing for me, but it seemed to work, so I offer it as a suggestion.

And that brings us back to that thing called a career. With all of the above going on, how do we have time and energy and focus for a career? Frankly, as I sit here and think about it, my mind boggles at the idea of it. When people ask me how I have done what I have done, my go-to answer is: “I just do it. I decide I want to do it, and I do it.”

Not much help, is it? So let’s break this whole thing down.
How do we do the mother and career thing at the same time?

1. Confidence – We need to have confidence in ourselves. We know exactly what we need as both a mother and a career woman, and we need to trust in that. When something doesn’t sound right or feel right, we need to have the wherewithal to call attention to it.

Example: I am by no means perfect at this, but I do remember one particular conversation I had with a senior executive, some months after the birth of my second child. I was feeling unchallenged at work, and so I approached the senior executive to tell him I was ready for something new. He told me (in a kind way) that I needed to go home and take care of my family. I could have let it go right there, but instead I said, “I take care of my family when I am at home, and I need to be challenged while I am here.” It wasn’t long before I was promoted.

2. Communication – We need to be honest and open in our communication. We need to ask for what we need and stand strong in our demand for it – from our boss, from our partners, from our family.

Example: One woman I spoke with shared the story of going back to work after the birth of her second child. The logistics of balancing two children were becoming overwhelming, so she went to her manager to request a more flexible schedule, allowing her to work from home two days each week. At first, the answer was no, but she kept talking to her manager, showing her the benefits and eventually she got the yes. After proving herself, she was promoted to a management position.

Another Example: Early in my career, I sat down with my husband and we talked about division of labor when it came to the kids. This helped us to split the duties with the kids, with him often taking a larger portion of the during-the-workday interruptions. We are both open and honest about what we can and cannot cover.

3. Commitment – This is the “just do it” part of things. Once you decide you are going to do something, stick with it. Get it done. Find the goal line, set your sights on it, and go. This is just as important at home as it is at work.

Example: When I found out I was pregnant with my third child six-weeks into my MBA program, I had a choice to make. I decided I still wanted to finish my program, and I wanted to do so on-time. In order to account for the time I would need to be out to give birth, I decided to accelerate my program. My daughter, being the accommodating soul that she is, was born just in time for winter break, so I was actually able to graduate early.

Another Example: Two years ago, my daughter expressed disappointment that I was not participating in her class parties and field-trips. I made a commitment to her that I would be there for her, and then I immediately blocked my calendar. I had so much fun attending those parties with her, and she now knows that she is my priority.

4. Support – This is so important. We need to support each other. Mothers in the workplace must support other mothers. Women must support other women. We do this by speaking up for each other, for advocating for each other, for listening and understanding each other.

Example: When one woman in a meeting gets cut off, bring the attention back to her by asking her if she would like to finish what she was saying. When drawing up an invitation list for an event, double-check to see that enough women have made the list. When evaluating the work of your associates, double-check to ensure that you are using the same criteria for everyone. When you see a woman hesitate to volunteer for something, encourage her to push forward.

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One final thought – there is no such thing as “balance.” Or rather, work and kids will never be “equal.” We each have to find what works for us, and realize that this will change over time – maybe even day by day. Sometimes, hour by hour! If we pay attention, ask for what we need, commit to our ourselves and support each other, anything is possible!

I am here to support you! Let me know if you have other tips for being a mom at work!

As always, keep it positive and smile!

Dr. Hubbard

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The title of this article gives away the ending….I have now completed my doctorate! A week ago Monday I traveled to Temple University in Philadelphia to defend my dissertation, and did so successfully. After three grueling years of coursework and dissertation development, I now hold a Doctorate of Business Administration. As such, this seems like a perfect time to do some reflecting on this journey.

The second thing everyone seems to say to me (the first is usually some form of ‘congratulations’) is something like

“That must be a big weight off your shoulders.”

The next thing they ask is “What are you going to do with your time?”…and then we all laugh, because anyone who knows anything about me knows that I have already started filling that up.

The comment about the weight coming off my shoulders has hit me strangely, and I thought I would explore this a bit. I enjoyed this experience so much that I do not think it ever really felt like a weight on me. I took this program on willingly, of my own volition, and with the full support of my family. My research topic was my passion, and as such, it fueled me rather than holding me down.

Of course, the work was hard. There were times I cried. One particular webinar, where my colleagues were rattling off brilliant comment after brilliant comment, I seriously considered quitting. I just didn’t feel like I was of the same caliber – I didn’t belong there. I shouldn’t have even bothered trying.

Sometimes the work was overwhelming. How do you write three major research papers in a term where you are dealing with language and information you have never encountered before in your life? One of which is a group project with people living or traveling all over the world? And by the way, you are only doing this part time while balancing a full-time, demanding career, a growing family, and an over-committed volunteer calendar. Yes, it was a lot.

But I did try. I kept showing up, I kept growing and learning. I kept writing and reading (and using SOOO much paper – academic articles are long!) and running statistical models and not really knowing what I was doing, but doing it anyway.

And then I got to do this incredibly cool research. I may have mentioned this in a previous post, but I absolutely loved interviewing the women for my study and hearing their stories. They, both the women and their stories, were powerful. They were all so different, and yet some experiences were the same regardless of position, age, personality….you name it.

My curiosity was ignited and fueled in a constant feedback loop. As I learned more, I wanted to learn even more. As I met leaders in my industry, I wanted to meet more. I wanted to collect all of their stories, and find ways to use them to help us all. I loved it!

Even then, it was hard going. I am not an expert in statistics, and the advanced statistics I was called on to perform were intimidating, to put it mildly. Even the language, up to the end, was tricky to navigate. Is something statistically relevant, or significant, or just interesting? Does it mediate or moderate or is it a controlling variable? All this (and so so so much more) I had to sort out on my own (or rather, alone with my ever-patient, ever-amazing husband) – a requirement from my advisor for which I am eternally grateful, even though I owe several panic attacks to that endeavor.

So here is how I think I will frame it. A weight has not been lifted from my shoulders. Rather,

Clouds have formed under my feet

and are carrying me along. I feel light as air. I have accomplished something big, something important, and this is only the beginning! Who knows what will come next? All I can say for now is

Dr. Hubbard is here!

Keep it positive and smile! Happy Tuesday!

Job as a proxy for purpose – a hazardous path

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This is an internal debate I have been struggling with in recent times: What is my purpose? Why do I look to my “job” for my purpose in life? Why do I ask so much of my job? Why do I only look there to find purpose?

I think the best way to explore this is to share my personal experience on this topic.

On the one hand, I spend the majority of my waking hours at my job. I work hard at my job, and always want to do well at my job. This means I expend most of my energy at my job. I feel good about my day when I accomplish big things at work, and feel terrible when I have failed at work. I spend countless hours, when not at work, thinking and dreaming of ways to improve things at work.

Of most import is that when someone asks me what I do, my answer always is, “My job.” My identity is unfailingly connected to my job. I don’t think I am alone in this. In fact, I am quite certain this is true for so many of us.

For the most part, I am okay with this. I am proud of the work I do, I love the company I work for, and my coworkers are exceptional. I believe that there are times I have made a difference for my employees and for my company. I take pride in that. I genuinely believe that what my company does makes a positive difference in my community and my world.

Now, though, consider the other hand. I am a “creative.” I am much, much more than my job. What excites me the most is inspiring others to see new and different possibilities for our future. I want to create change in our world. I want to sing and laugh and dance and help others to envision and realize brighter destinies for us all.

Can I do this at work? Sometimes. Except maybe the dancing. But herein lies the danger…

If I look to my workplace to constantly provide me the opportunities to be the inspiring, creative person I dream of being, I am absolutely going to be disappointed. And frustrated. And angry. I will likely become disengaged, distracted and if it goes on long enough, toxic to my workplace. The business I work for has a purpose, and that purpose is not to fulfill my individual dreams and goals. It might support me in my efforts to improve and grow, but working for a large company, the alignment will not always be 100%.

So rather than be disappointed and disheartened that I cannot realize my full purpose at work, I must look elsewhere. I must supplement my need for purpose with activities outside the workplace. And this is what I recommend for everyone who is struggling to find purpose at work. Look elsewhere. Be your best self at work. Strive to achieve all you can at work. But don’t put the burden on work to fulfill your true purpose in life.

Here are some suggestions on where I look:

  1. Community involvement – so many programs in our communities need help. Volunteer, take on a leadership role, or start your own organization!
  2. School – there is so much to learn! Get a new degree, study a new subject, take an online course, or even consider teaching a class
  3. Art classes – stretch yourself by trying something new! You never know what you might discover about yourself in a painting, pottery, glass, or dance class
  4. Church – quite a bit of purpose to be found here. The opportunities are endless.
  5. Side-hustle – start your own business!

What other ideas do you have for finding your purpose in life? Please share!

As always, keep it positive and smile! Hope you had a happy Monday!