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Porch Talk

A Simple and Kind of Poorly Written Allegory by Me 

I don't know why I wrote this. It must have been some kind of creative challenge for the Labor Day Holiday back in 2010. Honestly? I can't believe I'm owning the story except it falls squarely into thinly veiled allegory. 

 

 

Just after the full moon that transcended July into August rose, the heat wave began.  I had been sweating all summer, but on July 30, I watched the moon rise as sticky salt clung to my body; left from the evaporation of sweat that had come from the intense heat and physical labor of helping one very poor, very confused old woman get her window unit AC in working order. Nobody was there to help me.  But that’s nothing new.  I’m the manager of a non-profit food bank, and sometimes we do more than fill hungry bellies.  However, the full moon and the heat tend to make even the most compassionate self-proclaimed altruist a little pissy.  Given the choice, nobody was going to stand in the heat and do physical labor for even the poorest of the poor.  Besides. I have unintentionally created an image of complete self-sufficiency that voids any need for help that I might have. I thought about drinking a beer, but I’m smarter than that.  A day in the heat means a pesky case of dehydration.  Besides, beer is a celebratory drink, and I did not wish to celebrate the coming month.

August.  The hottest month of the year.  The month that combines that heat with the weirdest, most inexplicable and trying circumstances that poverty can throw at a person like me.  I knew that air conditioner was only the beginning. Therefore, I settled for Gatorade – the original flavor – because I’m unoriginal like that – a cool shower and an early bedtime. 

 

By the middle of the next week, I was an expert sweater and seasoned laborer.  The warehouse at the food bank was topping at a temperature of 102. Outside, the pavement was adding a few more degrees to the heat, and then the arrival of two loaded tractor trailers full of canned vegetables and baby formula added a few more temperatures to that!  The rain that had cooled most of the summer suddenly stopped and traded posts with the sun. Meanwhile, many well meaning volunteers saw those big rigs roll up to our loading dock and decided to announce end-of-summer vacations.  Once again, pissy trumped altruism as I trolled the halls of our administrative offices looking for anyone willing to come out and help unload those trucks.  

“I don’t want to sweat. I just got my hair done.”

“I can’t lift.  I have a bad back.”

“I’m tired of being expected to do everything.”

“I’m sensitive to the heat.”

No luck.

I couldn’t hardly demand that women dressed in office attire should spend the day on the loading dock with me, but it would have been nice if even one noticed that I was, once again, already drenched in sweat, therefore ruining one more pair of slacks and a new blouse. I had stopped wearing make-up years ago because I’ve always worked in the non-profit sector, and I’ve always known that meant I would have to go above and beyond; especially in August when everyone else abandoned that idea.  So I entered the warehouse alone.  I could literally see the heat wave shimmering in the atmosphere around the exhaust of the first truck.  I beckoned the two young men who were there to finish some community service hours and said, “Whatever it was that you did to earn a community service sentence, you’re about to declare that you will NEVER do it again.”  One of them groaned a little, and I gave him a look of reproach, and snapped, “Consider it detox, buster.”

 

By 5pm, I was thinking of just taking my underwear off and throwing them away.  They had ceased to absorb sweat in about 10 minutes.  So they were well past any redemption.  The volunteers kind of drug themselves into the office to get their work logs signed, and I weakly smiled and waved and said, “Thank you.”

 

If the heat wave and its cruel tasks could have stopped there, I would have still felt sufficiently punished, but that didn’t happen.  Three weeks, 8 more semis and 32 more pissy excuses later, I was grateful for the ability to help the hungry, but stretched to my limit.  Between delivery 3 and 4, the break room toilet overflowed.  Nobody was fessing up, but after some struggles with getting the door off the stall and then wrenching my back pulling the whole pot off its wax ring, I sent an auger down the sewer hole, and I fished out a couple of feminine products that violated the stern sign taped to the inside of the stall door: “NO FEMININE PRODUCTS IN THE TOILET!”

 

Regardless of what common sense demands, I drank two beers that evening and passed out by sundown. When I woke up the next morning, I had a flat tire on my ¾ ton Ford F150.  I called the food bank to let them know I’d be late, and received a curt “fine” but no offer to send anyone to help me.

 

I mean really.  How much can a human sweat and still survive?

 

I started to cry a little, then got myself together and remembered that my life was incredibly good compared to my clients’ lives.  The recession had been especially hard on the working poor in my town.  People I had never seen were coming for food assistance. Most had worked for a local plant their entire adult lives, and when it closed they had nowhere to go and nothing to do.  I knew most of these people sweated and labored, like I had been doing for the past month, their entire lives, and they would have been grateful to even own a truck; much less deal with its flat tire.  So I got my act together, changed into clean clothes and headed to work. It was the Friday before Labor Day. 

 

As I pulled up to the warehouse, I noticed a few unfamiliar cars in the parking lot.  I got excited because I was sure a few more volunteers were on site to help distribute food on what was sure to be a busy Saturday. For the first time in a month, my mood was soaring.  It was Labor Day weekend, and I would have Monday off to relax.  It was rare that I had more than one day a week off.  Poverty doesn’t take a day off, so I rarely got one myself.  I crossed the lot with pep in my step, and the heat began to produce sweat; even at this early time of the day.  I didn’t care.  Help had arrived!

 

I entered the warehouse smiling and shouted, “Today will be a great day, people!”  As my eyes adjusted to the darker setting, I began to make out the last group of people I wanted to see.  The board of directors.  Why were they here?  Without missing a beat, I strode over to the dozen or so overdressed community members who claimed to run the show at our food bank.  Honestly, none of them had ever helped distribute food, unload a trailer full of green beans, or pulled the toilet in the ladies' room in order to retrieve someone else's carelessness.  They only came to the facility once a quarter to gather in the conference room and talk about policies they rarely implemented.  I had learned years ago not to point out any irrational components of anything they came up with.  After all, they were my bosses.  Therefore, I kept my mouth quiet as they shot down any possibility of hiring a warehouse manager to oversee the large deliveries we received regularly and manage our ever changing staff of court ordered volunteers.  In their mind, a volunteer coordinator was what we needed. A time keeper.  A friendly recruiter.  A board member's wife.  However, her work time was frequently interrupted by Alaskan cruises and weekend spa retreats, and always, those necessary breaks fell during the hottest time of the year.  So a month of sweating and taking on heavy labor to supplement the incompetent nature of my jailhouse crew further fueled my animosity towards the board.  But I played it off like a loyal employee should do and warmly greeted the group.

 

“So good to see you all. We'll have a busy day today, so expect to sweat!”

Everyone sort of shuffled and looked uncomfortable.  I tried again.

“Well, we can always use help at registration.”

Still no takers.

 

Finally, the board president spoke.

 

“We've decided to turn the food bank into an all volunteer operation.  Laurie, we really do appreciate all of your hard work, and we hope you'll stay on with us as a volunteer, but clearly, volunteers can run this organization.”

 

I was stunned.  I don't know why, but I was.  After all it was just another example of their hands off irrational thinking.  With as much composure as I could manage, I asked, “Exactly how did you come to this conclusion?”

 

Another board member piped in, “Well, as you know John's wife is your volunteer coordinator.”

 

Did he really think I was that dumb?

 

“And he's been impressed with how well this place seems to run even when she's not here!  We get great compliments from all segments of the community!”

 

By now, I was suppressing a wicked smile.  Not only was I being fired, but I was being fired by a moron.  I figured I had nothing to lose if I gave my two cents, so I went for it, “Well.  Since your second hand observation has proven to be so valuable, let me set a few things straight for you.”

Director John spun on his heal and huffed, “I don't have time for this.”

 

“Tee time will wait buddy. You just fired me, and screwed the pooch while you did it.  How many Scotch and sodas had you drank when you had this conversation with your wife? Because no reasonable person takes the word of a woman who spends more time in a tanning booth than on this warehouse floor.”

 

There was a collective gasp, and that gave me fuel to burn. 

“This place runs smoothly because your so called paper pusher manager has ruined more clothes that even John's dear wife can buy while unloading trailers full of food, and fans and air conditioners.  This place runs because I pull the toilet to extract feminine clogs and save this place a regular plumbing bill.  This place runs because I'm the phantom who travels around the poorest of the poor neighborhoods inserting AC units in rotting windows so that some elderly woman doesn't become a summer time heat casualty statistic.  And then you bunch of hands off jerks pat yourselves on the back and call it all a volunteer coordinator's success story.”

 

“Well, Laurie, we certainly know you've done your part...”

“Screw you, John.”

“That won't be nec...”

“No.  It won't.  I'll be leaving now.”  I turned to leave the warehouse.

“But won't you stay and help us through today?”

I almost didn't stop, but that was the most obtuse thing I had ever heard.  So I stopped and turned around.
“Has anyone of you ever gone hungry?”

No one said yes.
“Has anyone of you ever eaten what's in these cans?”

Still no affirmative response.

“Do any of you actually know any of our clients and their stories?”

Again, a rhetorical question.
“You have no idea what suffering is. Today, you're going to find out because I won't be here to help you.  You just fired me before three hundred people file in here for food.  You will see what hungry is.  You will smell what's in those cans,  You will hear their stories, and you will feel helpless and insignificant.  I'll walk away from here and use my mystery reputation to get a good job with a well run non-profit organization just like this one. But the people who are lining up outside for a bag of food will be here day after day after day, and John's wife will not be here to feed them.  The office staff will not be here to help them.  And your so called well earned reputation will peel away like your wife's facial mask.  Happy Labor Day guys.  I'm not sticking around to help you, so you have no choice.  Today, you're a working board, so get ready to sweat.”

 

I left the building, and as I passed through the line of waiting people, one man shouted, “Hey Laurie! Where ya' goin'?”

 

I kept walking and replied over my shoulder, “I have the weekend off.  I'm planting my own garden.”

 

It was already 95 degrees and I wasn't sure if it was sweat or tears rolling down my face, but I slowed my pace, then I stopped and turned to face the crowd.  They were the most genuine people I knew.  I walked back to the line of hungry families and found the man who had called out to me.  His name was John, too.

“John.  Do you like homegrown green beans?  Or how about tomatoes?”

“Hell yeah, I do!” he replied.
“Ever grow a garden?”

He grinned and I could count at least 4 missing teeth, “Aw... yes indeed.  Had some fine gardens, but a man can't do that livin' in the projects.”

“John.  I know a man who has an empty lot near your project, and I could sure use some help growing some real food for some real people.  You on board.”
His face lit up and he laughed a hearty laugh while looking around the crowd, “Yes indeed!  Count me in.”

And the crowd joined in.

“Me, too.”
“I got some tools I ain't used in a long while.”

“Y'all know how to grow okra? Now you can't mess up no okra.”
“ooooh.  I can just taste a homegrown melon.  Yes indeed!”

I threw my hands up and said, “We start tomorrow! Early!  See you at seven.”

 

Again the chorus of hungry faces.

“That's right, baby! We gonna make our own way!”

“I'll be there!”

“Thank you, Laurie.”

When I heard that, I turned to see a young man with a small child in his arms.  He said it again.

“Thank you, Laurie. Thank you for giving something to work for.”

 

 

Our garden prospered. We grew enough to create one of the most successful cooperatives in the state.  All of those laborers who had lost their jobs when that plant closed finally felt like they had value.  Twenty families volunteered to work that garden season after season, and what we couldn't eat, we sold to pay for seed, mulch, soil, fertilizer and chicken feed.

 

Two years later, that same young man joined me as I planted squash and pumpkins, and as he smoothed the dirt with calloused hands, he said,  “You know.  You turned Labor Day into a liberation day for me.   That old plant might 'a closed, an' you might 'a got fired, but this sure beats them nasty old canned green beans you used to give me at the food bank!”

 

I got up and walked over to a cooler near the edge of the garden and pulled out two cold beers.  I handed one to the young fellow, toasted him and said, “Here's to our liberation.”

 

The Fear is Real - Aging Workers Caring for a Family Member  

Caring for an aging or ill family member is probably the scariest part of aging in the workplace. It brings our value into focus as it pertains to a company. Regardless of institutional knowledge, life experience, perfectly honed soft skills and reliability on the job, a life event that means one must split their time between work and caregivng comes with a low slow burn of anxiety. 

 

 

I'm blessed to be part of a family that bands together and helps each other. Currently, my sister and I are juggling full time caregiving with work. It's a bit easier for me since my work is contract v. her full time position with a company she's been with for over 25 years. I tell myself the universe had a plan for me. I got laid off a few weeks before our mother fell and broke her shoulder. I'm not sure the current leadership of my former company would have been empathetic to my situation. I have a feeling I would have been let go for a “performance issue” due to my wonky and less present schedule. 

My sister lives in low key fear of how her situation could affect her job. She cares for her husband. She's 60 years old. She can't afford to lose their health insurance, but she also knows the adjusted schedule for caregiving could put her at the top of a layoff hit list. This is the kind of stress and overwork (due to caregiving and working at the same time), that destroys a person's health and well being. Our society is not set up for reality. Especially for older workers.

Many companies offer some kind of supplemental insurance, like AFLAC, that is meant to address issues like caregiving due to illness and accidents. To assume every worker can afford another payroll deduction is naive. Then what?

As the Boomers and Xers fill up our population and take over as the biggest age demographic, we have to seriously address a reality that is right in our faces. How to care for the aging and how to care for the working caregiver. Not every human possesses the kind of compassion and patience to handle the journey through aging, so what's the answer?

Retire at 62 with a third of your total Social Security benefit? Probably not.
Low cost caregiving assistance? You'll likely get what you paid for, and that is scary.
A rethinking of productivity in the workplace? This one has promise.

How many hours in an eight hour work day are productive hours? I guarantee you it's not all 8. Two hours of correspondence, two hours of deep focus, and then busy work and meetings. And let's be honest, most people spend some amount of time simply socializing or surfing. Therefore, knowledge workers shouldn't be in fear for their jobs if they are taking care of a family member. Leadership shouldn't use reduced work hours as an excuse to call out performance. If the work is done, and done well, leave it be.

The challenge is with the hourly worker demographic. Those who are required to be in one place for 8 hours or more. Their only option seems to be reduced hours. And often, it's these workers who are the lowest paid in society. Society has not problem looking away from this problem. I don't have a solution, but I definitely think about the problem! More people should. 

FMLA is in place as a form of “job insurance", but it doesn't guarantee pay for time spent caring for a family member, and it doesn't even guarantee you'll have the same position when you return to work. 

Workers are disposable. Being at the center of a caregiver crisis is dangerous. We really should be finding a solution to the one thing AI will never truly have. Compassion. That's on us. 

 

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.

Data Dead Brain 

Did the Brain I'm Proud of Die?

 

 

It's been 3 weeks since I was laid off, and I don't feel like I'm mentally better. By that, I mean, my creative self has yet to re-emerge. I had dinner with a longtime work friend, and he pointed out exactly what has happened to me.

“I think you rewired your brain at Ziff.”

I think he's right. All those years, I just assumed my right brain would hold strong. It did not. A non-creative job that required a massive amount of context switching and the ability to work in multiple platforms for multiple companies (in an operational capacity) meant that my brain had to adapt. The change feels almost two-dimensional. Whatever used to run in the background and give me creative juice, stopped. 

I'm not sure when it completely ran down, but my creative mind seems to have rolled to a grinding halt. Now I have to get it up and running again. So how do I do that? I searched “how to I rewire  my brain to be creative?”

Welp! Guess what?
It's all the things I used to do, and really LOVED to do, that will restart my engines.

Nature - I used to hike, camp, bike, trail run, sit on a country porch and grow my naturalist point of view. I slowly stopped doing that as my brain got more and more tired, and that affected my physical energy.

Meditation - I used to sit for as long as 45 minutes. It helped me rewire my brain to stop holding on to things that don't matter. In some ways, it created a short term memory loss. That was ok, because I was training my brain to lose the memories that served no purpose now or in the future. It left space for dreaming and creativity. Again, the more tired my brain got, the more I lost the ability to meditate. Ironically, company health initiatives typically suggest - over and over - meditation. The truth is that it is almost impossible to do if you're running well above a healthy capacity of mental fitness.

Art - I like the original art I surround myself with, but I'm not sure I see it anymore. I like to think I feel it. But I haven't been to a museum that wasn't a tourist crush in a very long time. I haven't attended an art opening in a few years. I haven't been to a play. I don't hit up the art cinema (do those even exist anymore?). I hardly ever attend concerts. I don't even listen to music in my truck. I literally lived in silence to give my over worked head a rest. And I left the creative door shut.

Literature - I used to be an avid reader. It had to be literature; not beach reads or non-fiction/self help stuff. I let those stories and themes and characters sink into my psyche and let them challenge my way of thinking. And from there, they inspired me. I almost completely stopped reading over the last 12 years because my brain was too tired to absorb the words.

I can do all these things again, and I am in a long sleep phase that is hopefully resting my mind so that I can enjoy being myself. I will never go back to that level of mental heft. It's unnatural, and it changed me in ways I do not like.

The scary part of not wanting to return to operational, mental overdrive, is that operational mental overdrive jobs are the ones immediately available to me. Lord god, I may have to live under bridge to survive as myself. 

For those of you running fast on the mental treadmill, be aware of what may be happening to your brain. I'm not here to tell you how to slow it down because, clearly, I couldn't do that for myself. But if you can, take a beat. Ask yourself how much of what you're doing could be stopped without sacrificing your performance. Also, the more you do, the more that's expected of you, so slow down before you get too far into it. That massive brain heft will be seen as your benchmark, and then where do you go? 

Everyone said it would take a month for me to wind down from 12 years of breakneck brain speed. I think it's going to take longer than that. In the meantime, I can ease into some consulting work and control my own capacity. That's working pretty good right now. I don't know. Maybe AI is supposed to take breakneck brainwork away from us so that we can revert to being human. The challenge will be how make the shift back to homebase without losing our incomes. 

Probably time for all of us to start dreaming about what's next.
 

Are You in a LinkedIn Echo Chamber? 

Your Negative Presence is Your Most Noticeable Soft Skill

 

 

It's well known that echo chambers are the self-serving foundation of social media; including LinkedIn. Where it's a career social media platform, it's still designed to draw its users into an affinity that they feel good about. 

Watch out!

If you're bitter about a layoff or firing, you may find yourself clicking “like” and “share” on content that aligns with negative feelings. This is like the kiss of death in my opinion. And it's not an unfounded or untested opinion. As a hiring manager I would “social stalk” any candidate that made it past the initial resume screening.  If I found that most of their activity was based on how employees are done wrong, I moved on to another candidate. Seems unfair, right? Not so.

Taking a chance on negativity just made leading a team that much harder because every job comes with disappointment and decisions we won't all agree with. So, who do you think the problem child was in those situations? …I took a chance.  You see, our own affinity follows us around. Scorched earth tactics after the termination are reserved for those who lack the professional wherewithal to know any better. For those who know they'll get positive interaction on those negative posts. And then they're in that echo chamber.

It can be hard to get out of there; if you find yourself in one. I'm saying that you CAN change. You CAN take a different approach on LinkedIn. Try offering up positive solutions to posted problems. Like and share the good stuff. Answer “expert” questions if they pop up on your account. Avoid anti-corporation, anti-boss, anti-recruiter posts. Like and share posts that offer real positive impact solutions. Or better yet, focus on your own profile and how you can make it as good as possible. Re-spin that negative stuff. Recruiters and hiring managers are watching.

A candidate with great qualifications and a seemingly bad attitude is getting bypassed for the candidate that has great, or maybe even good, qualifications and a positive appearance.

If you're one of those LinkedIn members publicly complaining about the 100 jobs you've applied for with no response, check your feed. See if I'm not right on this one.

Did You Know Stress Can Make Your Knees Hurt? 

I thought I was just getting too old and fat when my knee pain became an every day thing. It was excruciating at times. However, yesterday, I realized my knees don't hurt. It's been a week since I was laid off. I haven't done anything that different physically , but I don't have knee pain!

Our stress manifests physically if we let it live in us long enough. I am a master stressor. My best childhood friend, Tom, calls me “busy, busy, busy Christy.” I know how to fuel myself with anxiety and a super speedy mind. In a crisis, it's my super power. I think fast. But when it becomes my default mode, I feel it in my body. Even in my late twenties, I would get arrythmia. My “go to” physical symptom is back pain. Some of that is from sitting at a desk too long, but there's this other pain that's hard to define. It goes away when my stress levels go down.

Stress makes us ignore ourselves. It makes us put all of our energy and well being into the external world. It will creep into our bodies in all kinds of surprising ways. Don't ignore it.

If your employer offers wellness apps and wellness activities, make time to participate. Don't feel afraid that your boss will think you're not working hard enough. Use the benefit. Here's a little secret that some of you should already know, but if you don't, here it is - Those wellness programs are risk management. Your insurance premiums (and the part the company pays) are dependent on a healthy pool of insured people. Knee surgery is expensive. Heart problems are expensive. If your company is offering you free preventative healthcare, then use it!  Here are a few health apps I received access to with my former company:

Omada - weight loss coaching app via Cigna
Calm - anxiety reduction, meditation, general sense of well being
Lose It! - weight loss app

Overweight people are expensive for a company. Think my knees… But also diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, etc. You'll see a lot of nutrition and weight loss programs offered by companies for a good reason. Take advantage of those offerings!

I never was good about using those resources, and I regret it. I have a load of weight to lose, and a load of monkey mind to slow down. I have more time now, but I really wish I had practiced better wellness at work. And if  your supervisor makes any objections to you attending company sponsored wellness events, push back; no matter how junior you are. It is company sponsored. A manager in “clock punching” mode doesn't know much about efficiency. Your company wants you healthy and productive. So use those resources!