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Nurture Your Relationships - Not Just Professional Ones, But Also Friendships 

 

We meet a lot of people in our lives. If it weren't for old photos, we'd forget most; including some who made a real impact on shaping us into who we are today. 

No matter how much you change as you grow, you need your friends. And I'm talking about really old ones. The ones that began in childhood. The ones that remember parts of you that you may have forgotten. Sometimes those forgotten parts are valuable. Nurture those friendships.

As I'm going through this big life change where I'm almost two months post lay off, and I'm caring for my mom while she recovers from a broken shoulder, it's been those childhood friends I've leaned on the hardest. The hometown kids who know Mom. The kids I drank beer with while sharing our secrets. The kids who grew up and into their own success stories. I don't think small town kids ever really disconnect. And while we certainly grow apart and grow into very different adults, there's a connection that is saving me right now at 59 years old.

 

 

Today, we share boozy confessions without fear of judgement. We look past wrinkles, fat and gray hair. And my god! We give one another something that our other friends can't. We are an emotional homecoming for one another. 

 

 

We take off our urban airs and rural boots, and we sit around beer joint tables and reconnect like there was never time between us. 

If you have access to these kinds of opportunities, don't squander them. Your youth can hold some really valuable lessons at this stage in life. It holds imperfection that was never judged, it holds shared pain, it holds wisdom that must be shared and received, and it holds the truth that knows we've always been much more valuable to something way more important than a job. 

 



However, careers consume the bulk of our days. We spend more time with workmates than friends and even some family. That's a different shared experience that is rooted in our humanity and human bond. You're going to know it when you make the kind of connection that lasts a lifetime. When you meet that workmate that could as easily have been at your 1982 confessional in a hand-me-down car with empty beer cans rattling at your feet.

 



When professional discourse recommends using your relationships to grow, they aren't really talking about the workmates who evolve into lifetime friends who journey through life together. They're talking about the step ladder to economic success. I'm talking about the circle of life that spins in more of a spiral than a two dimensional loop.

When the big stuff happens that rips through your mental well being, the “big guy with big connections” won't help you. Workmates that have been promoted to “friend” will be there. 

 

 

You probably won't be in a cow pasture drinking cheap beer together, but you'll be in the professional equivalent. Maybe a nice lunch, or a walk around the building, or a boozy romp through the city together. These people are our workplace confessionals. They are the ones who will hold you up and get you back on the road to career and life success. They know you in a different way than friends of youth. They know your professional worth and which personal roadblocks you're probably throwing up for yourself. 

Maybe they won't get you your next job, but you probably don't realize how much they helped you navigate the shark filled waters of the job search. 
 



As I write this, I'm making a mental note to reach out to my friends who suffered the same lay off as me. I'm OK. I'm ready to spend my waning work years doing exactly what makes me feel good and worthy. But some of those affected are younger, and they are more stressed than I am, and I can't write about leaning on friends if I'm not willing to be a strong back. So as you nurture the really valuable relationships in your work life, don't forget to be on the other side of the phone call.

 

 
 

Expectations of the Aging 

I never ever thought I'd get excited by ordering from the 55+ menu in a diner. It just seemed like a feeble thing to do. It is not a feeble thing to do. It is the only meal anyone will ever order that is portion correct and priced correctly. I'm surprised the age limit hasn't been raised as the retirement age has advanced. You won't hear me complain.

 



Age. As a young adult in the prime of her working years, age was “the now.” I always thought of retirement as a thing so far in the future that I could screw up multiple times and still be ok when the golden day came. Now that I'm creeping closer to the finish line, I will say it feels like I got here by warp speed. I didn't follow a dogged path to retirement. I tried many different things, and I learned that I could squeak by on very little money if I needed to - at least until I couldn't. Then I'd abandon my dreams and head back to corporate America. This makes for a very unpredictable income average as Social Security determines my monthly income; once I'm old enough to receive it. No one can live off of social security alone, or should I say, no one lives large off of social security alone. With the decline of pensions, and the rise of the 401k, etc., social security may be the biggest monthly check many people receive in America.

The previous paragraph seems to instruct young workers to stick to a responsible path so that their old age is golden and not some cheap alloy. But now that I'm here, I don't really think I would change anything. 

Well… maybe I would.

I would have waited tables and worked in the theater as an actor and playwright in my mid-twenties. I would have performed in bands and as a singer/songwriter in tandem. I would be dirt poor, and probably my mother's worst nightmare, but I would be 100%, unapologetically me. 

I didn't figure this out until I was in my late 30s. After years of soul crushing management and advisory jobs, I wanted to flex my spirit. I recorded an album, and I took to the road to sell my songs and my CD. $45 a day kept the the tour rolling. That seems crazy today. But it worked because there was no “stuff.” No shit to show off. No impressions to make to upwardly mobile thirtysomethings. In fact, what I heard often was, “I wish I had your courage.”

Needless to say, at some point, it became unsustainable, and I went back to the “office.” Where I messed up was that I took my previous office mentality with me. I let the unique and creative piece of me slip under a heavy blanket of judgement that I didn't deserve. There's a balance, and most of us don't believe we can maintain it. And maybe that was true.

I say “was true” because I think that's changing. I really don't know if it's the obvious DGAF of aging or if the world is changing because we let machines replace us. We lost our connection to each other. Our humanity. As we move into advanced age, it can become lonely as our friends and loved ones die. Our children move on, and we can find ourselves helpless and alone. 

I think the expectations of the aging are simple. 
Look people in the eyes when you listen.
Smile.
Tell an off color joke to your grandmother.
Ask your dad to dance.
Have long and leisurely conversations.
Read a book made of paper; not electrical magic behind a seven inch screen.
Don't forget about people you used to care about.
Share your experiences.
Grow your talents.
Don't give a shit what the world thinks of you.
Be a unique gift to society.
Be proud of your accomplishments.
Be proud of your life regardless of how much money you made.
Know you'll understand that stuff has very little value, but relationships should be guarded closely.
Teach wisdom - love, acceptance, openness, kindness, loyalty, forgiveness, understanding…
Don't teach “how to become a millionaire.”
Don't be ashamed of your past.
Make friends who shop at Neiman Marcus.
Make friends who shop at Dollar General.
Try on shoes from both stores.
Inspire the kind of change that boosts humanity to the mythological status of a happy ending.
(This list could go on, and I hope you're adding to it as your read this.)

Also, act your age and order from the 55+ menu at Denny's. You will have earned it when you get there.
 

How to Unclog a Toilet 

I love a good parable. 

I've been helping my mother because she broke her shoulder, and while here, a toilet that has a history of getting clogged, due to tree roots, decided to back up. I found a plunger and went to town on it, but it wasn't clearing out. It was a slow, slow drain. So I kept trying every hour or so. We called the plumber and left a message. We didn't hear back.

Mom wondered how my brother was able to call, and get the plumber here immediately, when we couldn't even get a return call. 

ummm…

This is kind of where the parable begins. 

It can be really hard to clear out a toilet clog if you don't know how to do it. I thought I knew how, but I decided to research “how to plunge a toilet” anyway. Guess what? There's more to it than just sticking a plunger in the bowl and pumping it a few times. 

 



I think plunging is just something we think we generally know how to do, and when it doesn't work, we give up and call an expensive plumber who may or may not call back, and then may or may not decide it's worth the time to come plunge the right way.

Isn't life like that? We never take the time to learn more about something we're so certain we know how to do. For whatever reason, many people avoid mentors or free seminars or classes that advance current skills. Maybe it's fear. Maybe it's some idea that whatever it takes requires more smarts than we think we have. But let me tell you, we have to try. We have to learn. We have to give into what is there and available. Otherwise, we're at the mercy of a fickle plumber. 

That plumber calls my brother right back because he is either 1) a friend of the plumber's, or 2) a man. It's a relationship thing rooted in affinity bias. It sucks. But you know what? I have no shame when it comes to a $350 bill for some guy to come to my mom's house to maybe or maybe not plunge. 

I did my research and discovered that, in fact, there are a few tricks to plunging the loo. 
1. Use a plunger with a flange. Flat bottom plungers are for sinks, tubs and showers. Flange plungers are designed to fit down the hole of a toilet to create a better seal for suction.
2. Let water fill the bottom of the plunger before pushing it into the hole.
3. Start pumping slowly to allow the air to be replaced with water.
4. Once the plunger is full, the sound and the water action will change, and you can start pumping faster to cause a forceful exchange of water that pushes the clog on down. 

It works. It may take a couple of tries, but now I don't care if some fickle plumber ever calls back to service this toilet or not. 

Using what's offered to grow, and becoming as self-proficient as you can, may be what moves your life and/or career beyond the hubris that builds up around poor leadership. Don't expect people to change on your behalf. Only you can change. 

Here's what I know for sure. You will never forget how to plunge the toilet. When you make steps towards personal growth, just think of those human roadblocks as a clog waiting to be flushed.

Working it Out 

 

Going on a month since the big layoff. I think all of us that were affected are still either reeling from it, desperately grasping for something new or coming to grips with our weird sense of relief. Whatever we're going through, I know that every former workmate I've talked with has the same underlying theme. Authenticity. 

 

 

 

I would say that my state of mind is a slow, slow reeling that requires constant calming, coupled with an amazing sense of freedom. What I lack is patience. I want immediate outcomes. I move very very fast. Slowing down would be a huge asset. Y'all. I am trying!

Maybe you all can relate. Maybe some of you shove it down into your deepest psyche in order to get up and do a job every day. What am I talking about? Creativity. Uniqueness. Bold thinking. 

Why do we think we have  to hide that? What is it about today's work world that makes us believe we're in a cog that only grinds when we conform? And here's the crazy part. Companies advertise disruption, creative thinking, exciting new ideas, fast paced excitement, blah blah blah. 

Here's the problem with all of that. 
An idea is only as good as it's execution.
I've seen a number of executive level leaders throw spaghetti at the wall only to burn out the teams that have to clean that mess up.
That's not groundbreaking. It's not creative. It IS disruptive, but only in the pejorative sense.
It made me realize that Imposter Syndrome goes both ways. 

Whoa!! What?!? Did I just appropriate a term reserved for us non-white males?? 

I did. 

I think we can all agree that there are people in senior and executive positions who aren't qualified to be there. I was told that senior level jobs are offered on the golf course. Relationships outweigh qualifications. Sounds like I won't be advancing my operations career via job boards, but if I'm a good enough “bullshitter,” I may have a chance. There are those who are convinced they are leadership material when they really aren't. I think those of us who are suffering a collective work exhaustion are now or have recently been exposed to poor leadership.

Leadership is not spreadsheets, presentations and schmoozing.
The very first principal of leadership is simple:


Never Forget Where You Came From
 

Period.

Honestly, the janitor may be a better leader than a CEO. 
How do I know this? Personal experience. 
Why was I more drawn to the cleaning woman than my boss?
She was more authentic. She looked me in the eye. She smiled and said hello when she saw me. She listened. She seemed to have time for me. 

I realize that executive leaders are short on time and that they are juggling big responsibilities, but if you make it that far in your career, at least learn the illusion of time. You have one minute. If you engage with your team by using eye contact, standing still, and participating in active listening, that one minute will seem much longer to your employee. 

We were all the new person once. We all had those horrible early job experiences where we felt abused, dumb, frazzled and directionless. My first job as a manager offered the lovely perk of nightly hard cries from my living room couch. A hopeless sense of stress and degradation. No real support, but plenty of accusations and yelling. Even a little harassment that bordered on quid pro quo. Because I was young, I just thought that was how a job was supposed to be. That somehow, that emotional beating would move me right up the ladder of success. It didn't. I had to quit to save my own soul. And that meant starting over in a similar situation, and so forth. It was age that pulled me out of that cycle. Life experience. And I never, ever forgot where I came from. No one deserves to feel that way just to get a paycheck.

I became a fantastic leader of people. A motivator. A shit umbrella. A gateway. A servant leader. I was never afraid to learn my team's jobs and help out. I could pull a poor performer back from the brink because I was really good at understanding what got them there in the first place. I wasn't interested in just my own skin. I believed in people, and I saw them as individuals. And I never thought I was perfect or beyond growth.

I got out of their way and encouraged them to make their ideas work. And almost always, the ideas were a success. 

Now, here I am. Working it out. What's next for me? 
Honestly? I am not technical. I can learn stuff and do it, but it doesn't excite me. 
I'm a creator. I'm a people champion.
I get such a deep sense of accomplishment when I see a young worker excel, grow, promote and succeed. 
I also get a deep sense of accomplishment when I can use my creative mind and spirit to help those in at risk situations step up to something better. Often times, it's these people that are the brightest future for humanity; especially the children. If they remember where they came from, then they will be the compassion and strength we're going to need to evolve beyond a keyboard and monitor.

So, I aged over the last 12 - 15 years. Not just chronologically, but physically and emotionally. I tried hard. I kept my integrity, and I championed a smart and wonderful team of operations experts. And I put up with a lot of stress and unwarranted crap. I feel proud of my accomplishments; even if I'm an older version of myself. 

Now it's time to take that experience and make it a better path for those who come after me. 
I once had an elderly gentleman say to me,
“My dear. We're like horse shit. We've been all over the road.”
 

 

A song about all of this…
Mt. St. Helens


 

How to Address an Envelope - Can Your Kids Do This? 

Seriously. Do your children know how to address an envelope? About 13 years ago, I had a young college student living with me who didn't know how to address an envelope. So much communication is digital these days, and it never occurred to me that he was young enough to have never addressed an envelope!

Share this with your children and the young people in your life; including interns and students. It seems silly to most of us, but there are young people that really don't know how to do it.

 

 

I get it.  We are a digital world that communicates digitally, but there's something about a written letter - physical correspondence - that really sets a person apart from everyone else. Today it feels really special to get a physical thank you note or a letter from someone. 

Why? It's a closer connection to another person. You have an artifact that is uniquely human. It is unique to THE human that sends it. It took time to create and send. It lasted more than a few seconds because it didn't materialize from the ether. It took a physical journey to get to the recipient. Human hands wrote it, directed its path and delivered it. 

If you're looking for something you lost during the pandemic (as we all went home to work remotely), write someone that you care about a letter. Better yet, teach your kids how to write and send a letter to someone special. Make it a fun summer project. Suggest they write a letter to a friend. Reintroduce the pen pal. Remember that sense of anticipation and excitement you had if you ever had a pen pal? 

I can easily forget someone that I only corresponded with electronically, but continued correspondence by letter? I still remember my pen pals; even though I haven't received a letter in over 40 years. 

Roll your eyes, if you want. There's someone reading this who is going to teach a kid how to write a letter, and that kid is going to learn something about the value of real human connection.

Hit the Brakes 

When you find yourself starting over at my age, it's different than starting over in mid-career.

I want everyone to know that. 
I need to hit the brakes.

I was exhausted the day I was laid off. I had been exhausted for years. I experienced stress related memory gaps. I could not get out of bed; no matter how long I slept. I just wanted to retreat into my head and rest in dreams of what I always wanted my life to be. 

But I couldn't do that. For 12 years, my name was “hey, Christy.” I was the self-proclaimed de facto problem solver way beyond my job description. I could mentally multi-task well beyond what most people would even consider trying. I was amazed that everyone couldn't context switch like I could. I was killing myself. And doing my very best to die with a smile on my face. 

When you run at that pace for that many years, you don't just wake up the next day as the new and better you. You wake up in a sprint. At least, I did. And I'm still sprinting. 

I sprint to show my gratitude for the outpouring of messages and support for me. I am overwhelmed and honored beyond words by that, so I'm showing up. I'm sprinting.

I have never known a time where I didn't give work my all. So sprint is my default setting.

And I don't want do it anymore.

Turn the Rotors in my Head
 

I am worn down like a 59 year old record. I can't keep spinning at ecommerce warp speed, and I don't need to. For those of you who are wondering about rotors, they are what your brakes press against to stop the wheels from rolling. When they get worn down from wear and tear, you “turn” or smooth them out.

I need to get the rust and scratches out of my psyche and get that shiny new feel of accomplishment at my own directive. 
“Lead by Helping”

What does that mean? How does that manifest? 
It won't if I don't slow down and breathe. 

If you're in a similar situation as me, I want you to know that running off to the wilderness might not be best in your situation. You may not have time to take a beat. So keep persevering, but also make time to shut out the stress. 
Hang with friends
Meditate
Pray
Take a hot bath every day
Sit with your pets and be only with them
Call your mom. or your sweetheart. or your dad. you get it.

I have a strong calling in my head. It keeps telling me to beef up The Peace from the Porch Project and make it into a business about giving. So I'm off to the country for a week. I'll rest, meditate, reflect, cut up trees that fell in the last storm, mow, play my guitar, spend time with my mom, and let the inspiration fall into place. 

If not Peace from the Porch, then I will have a sharp vision of what's next for me. I'll stop struggling to make revised copies of my resume and make that one version that tells my story and why I'm the best fit for any organization's vision of servant leadership.

And remember! As older women, we are the wisdom. We are valuable.

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What's a Woman to Do? 

You want to know what's terrifying? Getting laid off at 59 years old. I'm a 59 year old woman. 
Y'all know what affinity bias is, right? 
If not, here's a basic definition: the tendency to favor people who share similar interests, backgrounds, and experiences with us.
People who are different; including people of a different generation (years gone by), often get excluded from this tech driven world we so squarely live in. I have affinity bias about my mom and technology. I think she's certainly going to mess up her phone or television just pounding on buttons in frustration. 
My mother is perfectly capable of growing into a current day technology user.

But me? Why would I fear a job market that is technology driven and also the industry I worked in for 12 years? Why do I hide my gray with hair dye? Why do I beat younger workers to the joke about being old? Because I dread the thought of starting over at a new corporate job at 59 years old. 
Older women are more economically vulnerable. ...

And you know what's crazy? Older women are the people others turn to for support when they just don't know what to do. People confide in us. They trust us. So what is it? Fear from leaders in the workplace? I can't tell you the last time I had a boss older than me, and the last few could have been my sons. 

I admit that I had to really bite my tongue at what I perceived as stupidity from some of them, but I also had the urge to adopt at least one. So they're not all bad bosses. It's just that the affinity bias is air tight in the workplace. Young men hire young men. …and for a little less status and pay, young women. 

We are not in the pay and promotion equity new world. Many companies are trying, but DEI suddenly became a bad word. It's too “woke.” And I don't have a job.

But that's ok. 

At my age, I'm smart enough to know just how to negotiate a quickly agreed upon severance package. I feel good about the time I have to “start over.” I will use my life experience, my long list of skillsets (both technical and soft), and all of my 30 years of mistakes to rebuild myself into a helper. I've always been a servant leader, and that means I lead by helping.

So, if you're older and in my position - laid off - don't be ashamed, don't be prideful, and don't give up. If you're still in the window to do so, negotiate that severance package. Do it gracefully, but “use” your age and gender to make the case that the road will be much harder for you. Don't go crazy, but make a reasonable counteroffer. The worst that happens is you're told, “no.” 

Read that severance package carefully. If you don't understand it, either reach out to your former HR department, or find a workforce advocate to explain it to you. Not too many people are really absorbing what they're being told about severance when they're getting fired, so make sure you fully understand the package. And BE GRACEFUL. You can speak your mind, but don't be ugly. In reductions in force situations, the employees are usually re-hirable. Make sure you don't change that status because you're mad. 

Start cutting those frivolous services and subscriptions. You can always bring them back. Reduce regular monthly donations if you have to. I love my causes, and I love to support them, but for now, it won't be my money, but my time that I will give.

Put that severance in some kind of high yield savings instrument that allows you to access it on a scheduled basis so that you can make a little money as you're forced to spend it on the cost of living.

Apply for unemployment. You paid into the system, so now it's there for you. And take a beat. Just give yourself time to breath, cry, freak out, and most importantly DREAM. 

You are one of the most experienced people in the workforce, so you can DREAM and explore a path forward that excites you every day when you get up.

For me? I defined my ideal workday some time ago. I want to get up everyday and make a positive different in people's lives. 
“I am wealthy and sustained by the positive impact I create every day.”

If I can help you find your path or hone up on skills you believe you'll need, let me know. Don't hesitate to reach out. If you're young and feel like you're flailing in the workforce, I can definitely help you! Remember, it's the older women people seek out when they most need support. Seek me out.

christy@christyclaxton.com