What Led Me to Here.

No female career is linear.  

In the last six months, I’ve talked to countless female executive leaders about their career journeys.  I’ve learned that, like mine, their career took a winding and imperfect road.  The paths that led us to where we are today were filled with hard decisions, big risks, struggle, perseverance, tears, and lots of detours.

Two years ago, I made a choice to leave a job I loved, at a company I helped build, with people who were like family, in an industry that I was passionate about, doing the work that felt like my destiny.  It was the hardest decision I ever made – and the easiest one – at the same time.

At the time, I was at what I thought was the pinnacle of my career.  I had worked hard most of my professional life to build a personal brand for excellence, innovation, authenticity, honesty, and a willingness to say the things that needed to be said – even when it was scary and even when it was hard to hear.  Alongside that personal brand, I helped to build a company with a strong reputation for being a industry leader, a partner, an innovator, and an organization dedicated to improving the lives of our clients.  

I ran full speed at my goals, often without coming up for air.  I was dedicated, passionate, and driven.  By my 34th birthday, I had achieved 95% of everything I had imagined for my career.  Then I looked up and there was nowhere left to go.  I had climbed every mountain, circumvented every obstacle, achieved pretty much every success I had imagined for myself – now all I had to do was not. screw. it. up.  

In that same year, we adopted our daughter.  I worked every day during her 13-day stay at the hospital after she was born and when she finally came home, I took less than a month of maternity leave. As she was turning 10 weeks old, I left for a 22-day work trip. 

I hated myself.  

I’m not proud of those decisions, but at the time, my judgement was so clouded, I couldn’t see how damaging those choices – and the path that I was on – were to me as a person, as well as all the women who were watching me, looking up to me, mirroring me.

My decisions became driven by fear: fear of failing as a CEO, fear of disappointing the owners, fear of judgement as an industry leader, fear of disappointing people who looked up to me.  Combine that fear with boredom, loneliness, a lack of challenge, and an overwhelming feeling that my life was meant for more than what I was currently doing – I found myself listless, dissatisfied, and anxious.

By the time our son was born, three years later, I didn’t recognize myself.  While I thought I had everything I wanted, I felt surprisingly empty inside.  While I was busy building my career – I had forgotten to build a life.  I had no hobbies.  I had no connection to my local community.  I had barely a handful of friends that weren’t also clients or coworkers, and I could count on two hands the number of times I had actually put my suitcase away in the last couple of years.  I was rarely physically present for my partner, my children, my family or friends – and when I was physically there – I was rarely there mentally. 

I felt exhausted and empty.  

I knew things had to change, so I blew the whistle.  I told the owners, “it’s time to talk exit strategy.”  I was afraid to leave, but also knew things would never be different in my life unless I did.  While I envisioned a 12-18 month transition, the owners envisioned 90-days.  With the words, “We think your last day should be October 5th,” I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my life and everything I had worked so hard for was leaking out all over the floor with no chance of stopping it. I was devastated, afraid, angry.

I didn’t think I was ready.  At the time, I didn’t know that I was.

That seems to be the theme.  In so many of my conversations with executive women, I hear a similar story – a common comment of “I feel like everything in my career has led me up to this point.”

I was ready.  Everything in my life and in my career had led me up to this point – and prepared me for what was next.  

It prepared me to understand that work-life balance was paramount for me.  It helped me realize that I wanted hobbies, a connection to my local community, and to be home and present for my family, my children, my friends.  It taught me how to say, “no,” and set better boundaries around the things that were most important to me. Now every morning I get to walk my daughter to school, make dinner at night, and have wine with my girlfriends on the weekend.  I get to volunteer, serve on committees in the business community, and be connected in ways I never dreamed I could be.  I’ve never had any of that – at any time – in my adult life – until now.

My winding road led me to and prepared me for what was next for me in my career, too.  It helped me realize that I care about advancing women and minority populations in the workplace. It helped me see corporate problems with a higher ed lens – and solve those problems differently. Now I get to do the work that really matters to me – on my terms.  

My career path prepared me to be a business owner – a role I never knew I really wanted – until I had the opportunity to buy the company I work for this year. Amid a global pandemic and an economic crisis, I bought a 57-year old business. So much of what I learned in my CEO role at my last company and what I’ve learned from the owners of each, have prepared me to build a business – my way.  While the over-achiever in me is ready to launch a new plan, vision, and do a bunch of marketing – my experiences have taught me to slow down, be thoughtful, and understand that things take time.

This winding road led me here – to a place I didn’t know existed.  To a place where I feel more myself than I ever have – a version of me I didn’t know I was missing.  This level-5 Type A control freak tried to have a plan – and it didn’t work.  As it turns out, there was a better plan for me along the crazy journey called my career – and my life.

So for all my gal pals out there reading this – don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road – or even the detours.  These things take time.  The path you are on – and will be on – always leads you to exactly where you need to be.

My fellow Type A control freaks might be thinking, “That’s some fluffy ass bullcocky. Tell me what I can actually DO to be successful.”  Well, here’s my advice: 

Work hard.  Take chances.  Seek out opportunities.  Advocate for what you want.  Learn. Grow. Reflect.  Ask yourself the hard questions and don’t be afraid of the answers – even when you don’t like them.  Stop doing it, if it doesn’t serve you. Don’t get discouraged when life or your career takes you off your intended plan – just make a new plan. Keep. Going.  You’ll get there as long as you don’t quit.  Everything else will work itself out.


but…

I’ve been hearing a lot of women in my universe say things like,

but we’re healthy, so I’m grateful for that.”

It usually comes after a string of complaints about how shitty 2020 has been, all the things we’ve had to cancel, and all the things that are different-bad because of COVID, the political landscape, the economy, etc. It’s almost like we feel guilty for being angry, upset, sad, disappointed, frustrated, anxious, scared, or depressed because of things like cancelled vacations, missed birthdays, postponed weddings, and a whole host of other things like dwindling social lives, lack of in-person school, non-existent work-life balance…

…but we have our health.

You’re right…many of us are lucky enough to have not been personally impacted by COVID-19. We should feel grateful for that.

But we can also feel sad and grieve the things we’ve lost – even if they’re things that aren’t as seemingly important as our health. You can absolutely feel sad that your vacation had to be cancelled. You can totally be upset that colleagues and friends have lost their jobs. You can be heartbroken over missed birthdays, weddings, parties, family visits, hugs, smiles, meals…

You can feel all the things you’re feeling…and also be grateful for your health.

I’m just here to give you permission to express both…simultaneously…without worry that you’re being a jerk.

This is really really hard. You don’t have to qualify those feelings with “but…”


Find Your Flow in a Quarantine

I’ve been grumpy and unproductive. I find myself looking back at my long work days and wondering what I accomplished except for sitting in front of my computer on video calls all day – and responding to emails. I haven’t had an ounce of creativity. I’ve been longing for the days where I could get into “the zone” and hammer out pages of content, blogs, course work like I used to – before the quarantine. I dream about the times where everything in the world around me would just melt away and my creative juices would flow.

Then, I started seeing a bunch or articles about “finding your flow in quarantine”. I payed little attention to them until my Wellness Wednesday interview with Yoga Therapist, Leanne Matullo. During the interview, she talked about using the early morning time to care for her Energy Kosha (check out the interview its awesome). I thought to myself, “I love the early morning too. I’m so productive.” Then it clicked. I’ve been sleeping in – and I’m constantly distracted and interrupted all day long. No wonder I not getting anything creative achieved!

When I came to this realization, I decided to track how many times I was interrupted throughout the day – and what the interruption was for. I stopped tracking after an hour, because in a hour’s time, I was interrupted 11 times. For a little levity, here they are:

  • “Mommy can I watch Pocahontas again?”
  • “Mommy I’m still hungry (while her breakfast sits uneaten at the kitchen counter).”
  • The dogs wanted to go outside.
  • “Mommy, can we invite the dogs to my birthday party?”
  • My husband coming to the main floor to make a snack and as a result felt the need to discuss the news.
  • “Look at my feet Mommy!”
  • “Uhhh mommy…there’s something weird in the toilet.” Which required me to get up and go look, then spend time explaining what’s in poop.
  • A lengthy discussion where my daughter asked me if she could wear the summer dress she asked to wear earlier this morning and I already told her she couldn’t because it was too cold, but she wanted to ask for a 4th time in case I changed my mind.
  • “Mommy are there going to be lots of people at my birthday party?”
  • Interruption on a video call by my daughter to show me and everyone else the cool car she was playing with.
  • The dogs need to go outside…again.

Between the dogs, my daughter, my husband, and the constant housework that stares at me all day, I haven’t been able to find an uninterrupted hour in the last two months – much less a large chunk of time that would allow me to get into my flow and actually create something. That’s why I was cranky. That’s why I constantly feel like I get NOTHING done during the day.

I need to find my flow.

Psychology defines “flow” as, “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus and enjoyment”. We’ve all felt this before: We’re working on something and the distractions melt away, you’re highly productive and time passes in a blink of an eye. When you stop, you don’t feel exhausted you feel invigorated, happy, proud, accomplished.

I feel that when I’m creating and writing – when I am producing good content to put out into the world. I’ve done very little of that in the past two months.

So what does it take to get into a Flow State? I did a little research and found that generally, experts agree that the following “triggers” or things need to occur to prompt a flow state:

1. Eliminate All Distractions: This is the core advice of finding flow and when I read it I thought, well shit, I’m doomed. When I’ve been in a flow state before, I have removed all my distractions. I’ve turned off my internet on my computer, put my phone on do not disturb, cleared my calendar, alerted my colleagues I was going to be unavailable, and left the house and headed to a coffee shop, library, or coworking space where I didn’t know anyone. The absence of distractions allowed me to stay focused and not get diverted by an email or phone call. Eliminating distractions now – in quarantine – feels literally impossible.

2. Work at Your “Biological Peak Time”: For me that time is early in the morning until about 12 or 1 p.m. I’m a wasteland of productivity after 2 p.m. every single day of the week. If I want to flow, I have to get at it early in the morning. I honestly do some of my very best work rolling out of bed at 5 a.m. and plopping in front of a computer almost immediately. I think it doesn’t give me time to get distracted by anything else – and I get into my flow quickly and easily. I save the mindless or easy tasks for the afternoon. The ones I can do easily, with or without distractions, without energized focus.

3. Work on a Singular, Specific Task that is Challenging, But Not Too Challenging: Every time I have been able to get into my flow state, I am focused on writing a singular chunk of curriculum or a blog on a specific topic. You can’t sit down and say, “I’m going to write a book” or “I’m going to solve global hunger.” That will leave you more anxious than productive – and as a result you won’t get into your flow state.

4. Have a Clear Outcome or Goal: These days I have 100 goals and a creative to-do list a mile long. I feel paralyzed by it – which is probably why I’ve been able to achieve none of it. I need to pick one, singular chunk of curriculum or content and focus on finishing it in one sitting. The outcome has to be achievable in a single sitting and if it can’t, it needs to be chunked up into smaller goals – so that you can see AND reach the finish line in a reasonable amount of time.

5. Create a Mental Trigger: Mental triggers are essentially something you do every time you sit down to get into a flow state – that way your brain starts to build a habit sequence around that action. It allows you to get into your flow state more quickly. I’ve been writing and creating for so long that I know I have two key triggers – and both include a great cup of coffee.

One is sitting down at a coffee shop. I generally hate working from coffee shops. They’re loud and you can’t take phone calls. The internet is spotty and it’s sometimes impossible to find place to sit down and spread out without feeling guilty about it. My favorite spot has ample seating and the BEST coffee in town (Noble Coffee). I’m a sucker for their Highlander Grog brew and their plethora of seating options. My brain knows when I sit down there, with a piping hot cup of coffee, that it’s time to write. My other trigger is getting up insanely early (between 4 and 5 a.m. ) and sitting down at my dining room table with my laptop and a cup of fresh brew. In the past, I’ve generally used this trigger when there’s an impending deadline that I need to meet. I use this time a lot to create speaking outlines or prepare for presentations. I do some of my best work in the wee hours of the morning, in the silence of my dining room.

All of this research helped me realize what I need to do to feel more productive and get back into my flow. As I write this blog, I’m sitting in the silence of my dining room at an insanely early hour with a great cup of coffee. While I can only dream about the days when I’ll return to my favorite coffee shop, I’ve committed to using the early morning hours at home for creativity and writing. I already feel better. As Leanne asked at the end of our interview together, “What does Bliss feel like to me?” This is bliss.

The question now becomes, “What’s blocking you from finding your flow?”

My Happiness Anchor: Sisterhood

Yesterday morning my day started by helping a friend pick out an outfit for a big video meeting she had. Our Marco Polo trio carefully helped her pick out the perfect earring/necklace combo and determine if she should wear a suit jacket or not. We complimented her beautifully curled, flowing blonde hair and wished her luck as she pulled out of her driveway for the first time in over a month. We ended our day together sending Marco Polo messages, singing along to Disney songs.

I simultaneously cued up a Zoom call for my sorority sisters – some of whom I haven’t talk to since college. We laughed while we talked about kids, “homeschooling”, and working with our spouses, while others shared news they’d been furloughed. Children, pets, and partners popped in and out of the frames – curious what all the laughter was about. We watched as a sister carefully straightened her hair before putting on her skull cap to head into the nightshift at the hospital – a shift she’s been working since COVID19 landed in her city. I teared up thinking about her sacrifice and her sweet family that she leaves at home every night.

It was magical. I loved it so much – apparently everyone did – we’re already scheduled again for next week. I went to bed with a smile on my face and joy in my heart.

I woke up this morning, remembering something that I said on a Facebook Live (Wellness Wednesday for Kappa Kappa Gamma) earlier this week:

That now is the time where sisterhood matters more than ever – and I don’t just mean “sorority sisters” either.

I mean friendship. I mean connection. I mean holding space for each other. I mean being in each others lives daily, talking about the really really important stuff and the seemingly mundane stuff, too.

I realized this morning that those moments, with my girlfriends, my “sisters”, and my sisters – that these moments have been my happiness anchor during this really dark and difficult time.

I know that many of my recent blogs have featured very real conversations about how hard things are for me right now – and the very real emotions I have been feeling. Those things are all very real, but you know what’s also been very real?

Happiness. Laughter. Smiles. Joy.

I can recall a hundred of these moments over the last 6 weeks. There’s been Facetime chats with a friend that lives on the other side of the country; we talk business, as fellow business owners, and the impact of the quarantine. We also talk about life, marriage, mortgages, and everything in between. There’s been text threads with some of my best friends who are struggling to balance kids, work, marriage, laundry – just like me. There’s Marco Polo’s of baby faces, tiny humans, and four-legged children. We’ve celebrated potty training, birthdays, taking showers, putting on make-up, wearing pants with buttons, and successfully keeping my sourdough “mother” alive. Each of them make me smile.

I know the quarantine and everything that has come along with it has been difficult for a lot of us. I’ve had some really dark moments. However, there’s one thing for certain that’s kept me from drifting off: sisterhood. It’s been my happiness anchor.

I challenge you to make it your anchor too. Friendship, connecting, talking with friends, and reconnecting with people we love, can give us a sense of normalcy, a sense of hope, and certainly joy that sustains us through the times that get really dark. Regardless of how you are feeling, I encourage you to reach out today to people in your life. A text, a facetime call, a marco polo, whatever.

Let sisterhood be your happiness anchor.

It certainly has been mine.

Optimism is the New Grit.

I saw a meme the other day that boldly stated, “Optimism is the New Grit.”

It made me want to punch something.

I am a realist by nature. The mere idea of optimism feels a little superfluous to me. I’ve always felt that optimism sets you up for disappointment or unnecessarily fills you with confidence that isn’t earned by preparation, study, or hard work. I know not everyone feels this way and I’m totally okay with that. Maybe I’m a natural grump? Who knows?

But, optimism right now, feels like intentionally turning a blind eye to the realities we’re all facing. It’s letting us live under the happy illusion that eventually we’ll go back to business/life, as usual.

I think telling people to be “optimistic” right now and rewarding that optimism as some sort of prize is deeply misguided. It fails to recognize and validate how people are really feeling right now; Maybe a little less than optimistic, at best. Can we stop telling people that the only “correct” way to feel is optimistic?

Can we just stop telling people how they’re supposed to feel right now, altogether?

Listen to me very carefully…. Feel whatever it is that you are feeling. Be sad. Be happy. Feel grateful. Feel angry. Be frustrated, scared, disappointed, or pessimistic. Feel engaged, joyful, optimistic, driven, and focused. Feel all of it. Just feel what you feel. Cry, laugh, smile, joke, or stare blankly into outerspace. I don’t care. Just recognize your feelings and allow yourself to feel them. Don’t bury them and say, “I’m fine” or “I’m great” because someone told you it’s grittier to be “optimistic” right now.

FEELING is GRIT.

A willingness to feel, what you are feeling without shame or guilt during a global pandemic is gritty. A willingness to say, “I’m struggling to feel hopeful” when our way of life has changed in every possible way – is gritty. Saying “I’m feeling optimistic” is gritty, too. It all is.

I’m not a particularly optimistic person by nature. I’ll probably never express optimism about the current situation. Yet, I’m not trying to shame people who do. Feel it. Feel any of it. Feel all of it. Just don’t expect everyone to feel the same way as you.

I agree we all need to find ways to cope. We need to find ways to feel joy and hope. That’s important, but it’s not fair to say that “Optimism is the New Grit” because it fails to recognize the very real and very valid range of emotions everyone is going through.

A willingness to feel what you feel, when you feel it? That’s Grit.

So, go be gritty. Go feel your feelings. I’m over here feeling mine.

*Note: Grit is formally defined as, “firmness of mind or spirit unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.”