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.”

#RealTalk: Small Businesses are Not Okay

#RealTalk: Small Businesses are Not Okay

I was on a Zoom call with a friend on Tuesday morning and he asked, “How’s your small business doing?”

The only response I could muster was, “It’s brutal right now.”

I went on to explain…

Our clients aren’t paying their bills, because they can’t afford to or they literally don’t have the physical ability to process the payment while working remote.  That has a ripple effect across everything we do as a business AND everyone we do business with.  That means we have no cash coming in to pay our bills because every last dollar we currently have is reserved to pay our people; We want to do everything we can to keep our people and keep paying them.   We’ve applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (no word yet) and a number of grants to help fill the gap.  I’ve taken a pay cut.  Our owner has too. 

Contracts and proposals are getting pushed out from March/April to August, September – and maybe even 2021.  Our pipeline of future business has dried up for the next 4-6 months and all of our business development efforts feel like they are now an upside down dumpster fire.  No one is talking about future business, everyone is just trying to survive.  As a result, every conversation is stalled or dead in the water because no one knows when we’re all going to be able to get “back to business” again.  The next 6 months are a daily “question mark”.

At this point, “it’s brutal” might be an understatement.

I’m a anxious.  I’m stressed.  I’m feverishly working to try to make magic happen while simultaneously paralyzed by fear, sadness, grief, stress, and anxiety.  I’ve worked for small businesses most of my career.  I’ve been an executive leader of small businesses for the last seven. This is the most terrifying and potentially business-ending experience a small business will ever face.  As a leader, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and probably ever will.

Small businesses are not okay.  We are not okay.  This is the #realtalk.

In the next 90-days we will see small businesses close forever.  You will see leaders shutter up lifelong dreams, family legacies, and livelihoods after they’ve done everything possible to try and help it survive.  That’s the new reality.

Like my last blog (I Am Not Okay), I don’t have any intelligent business advice or some new grant no one knew to apply for.  I don’t have a work-around for the cumbersome and frustrating PPP process either (I wish I did).  I only have me, a small-business leader standing here with her hand waving in the air saying:

This is really really hard.  I lay awake at night worrying about my people, my job, the company.  I worry and wonder every day if we’ll survive.  I grieve the loss of the meaningful work we’re doing. 

I, then, go deep into the rabbit hole of “what ifs”, too.  What if we have to close?  What will our employees do?  What will our clients do?  What will I do?  How will I find a job in this market?  How will I support my family? Will I find something just as meaningful? 

I work myself into such a ball of anxiety, fear, and stress – that I find myself incapable of doing anything but starting blankly at my computer not knowing what to do next.

I’m guessing some of you feel that way, too.

I hope that helps you feel less alone in this.  If it gives you a way to express what you are feeling, good. If it just lets me stand in solidarity with you as another small business leader and owner – someone who knows how difficult and painful this truly is – I will.   If I can help you or support you or listen to you, please just ask.

Until then, I send you a fist bump and a virtual hug with a heart hopeful to see you when we’re on the other side of this.

I Am Not Okay.

There we were, yelling at each other, standing in the master bathroom. I can’t even recall what it was about, but it was pointless. It was just one, amongst a string of inconsequential disagreements my partner and I have had in the last two weeks. He walked out and I was left standing alone in our bathroom like a statue – frozen, staring blankly, feeling nothing and everything all at once.

I couldn’t fathom walking back downstairs, putting on a happy face, and dealing with the chaos of two kids, three dogs, and a husband who was likely still angry at me. I couldn’t go outside (windy and cold). So I stood there – frozen – only jarred alert by the sound of my two-year-old climbing the stairs yelling, “momma!”

Unable to face what was a mere seconds away, I walked into our master bedroom closet. We have a large closet and in the back corner sits a dark, tiny nook where we typically keep the hamper. I walked back to that corner, pulled the hamper out of the nook, and proceeded to back myself into the nook, sit down, and pull the hamper back in front of the hole.

Seconds later, my son comes running into the closet, expecting to find me, but can’t. He spends a few minutes looking for me, then retreats back downstairs to the chaos. I took a deep breath, plugged my ears to drown out the noise and then…

I cried.

Fourteen days into quarantine and seven days into governor-mandated stay-at-home order – I was feeling the effects of the disruption to life as we know it and the emotional toll a global pandemic can take on a human…this human.

It’s safe to say…I am not okay.

I’ve left the house twice in the last 14 days. I cried leaving the grocery store. I cried because I miss feeling normal. I cried because I’m grateful for grocery store employees bravely stocking shelves and working checkout lines. I cried at the realization that this is how people in war-torn countries feel every day. They feel insecure. They feel unsafe. They feel afraid.

The honest truth is, I’m scared. I’m tired. I’m stressed. I’m bored. I’m stir-crazy. I’m exhausted. I’m sad. I’m worried. I can’t sleep. I can’t focus. I’m grateful for the time with my family – and I really want to just be alone all at the same time. I fall asleep fast and then I lie awake for hours thinking of everything that this pandemic means for me, my family, my career, my community, our country, the world. I’m a walking oxymoron and a ticking time-bomb. Yesterday I exploded.

I sat in my closet, crying, for likely an hour, hidden away from my family so well my dogs couldn’t even find me. When I reemerged, I still felt like a shell of myself.

I am not okay. You don’t have to be either.

This blog isn’t going to give you any tips. It’s not going to give you some quippy, hope-filled quote or a picture of a beach. It’s just going to tell you that I’m falling apart a little bit – and if me falling apart gives you permission to fall apart a little too, let it. Maybe it gives you permission to not be okay, too. If all of that makes you feel a little more “normal” and allows me to stand in grief, fear, or sadness with you – I will.

This might be one of the most difficult things we go through collectively in our lifetime. We can collectively sit in the discomfort, fear, and pain together, too. It’s okay to not be okay right now.

I’m not okay. That’s the real talk for this #QuarantineMonday.

Part Two: Reframing the Conversation Around Competition


This is part of a five part series focused on reframing the conversation around competition and comparison among women. We recommend you start by reading Part One: Catfight!

In Part One of this series, we talked about how changing the conversation for women around competition and comparison starts by first, living more honestly. Here’s a recap of the five things we can do to reframe the conversation around competition.

Changing the Conversation Around Competition:

  • One: Live More Honestly
  • Two: Focus on Personal Goals
  • Three: Check Yourself
  • Four: Support Each Other
  • Five: Speak Up and Out

Two: Focus on Personal Goals

Jealousy.

We all have it. We’re all human.

Some of us are better at managing the little green monster than others, but for all of us, he shows up from time to time. Jealousy often rears its ugly head when we see a woman achieving the things that we want for ourselves. Then, jealousy invites his friends “self-doubt” and “comparison” to the party. It’s a recipe for disaster.

In those moments, we often put those women on the “opposite team”. They become the enemy, the adversary. They have what we want – they’ve achieved what we’re chasing, and as a result they are now a competitor. Herein lies the heart of the problem – so much of what makes competition unhealthy is that it revolves around trying to “beat” another woman.

The problem is, we don’t even know what she’s chasing.

In almost every scenario, we’re not playing the same game, we’re not chasing the same dream, and we’re not working for the same outcome. It may look and feel similar, but it’s not the same. We can remove the unhealthy competition when we focus on our goals – not the achievements of other woman. Our focus should be on how we “beat” who we were yesterday, last week, or last year.

Runners are a great example of a mindset where we focus on our personal goals – and not the success or advancement of others.

My love affair with running started over 10 years ago. I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to be a runner – no kidding. When I hit the streets the first time, it was agony. I could barely run a couple of blocks, let alone a couple of miles. Yet, every day, I’d hit the road and try to just run a little bit farther than I did the day before. Next thing I knew, I could run 3 miles. My goal then became, “How can I run 3 miles faster?” After that – how I could run longer races – a 10K, then a half marathon. I became obsessed with running longer races and faster times. Nine half marathons and more running shoes than I can count – here I am – a runner.

Here’s the thing about my running journey – it was never about anyone but me. Never once in my on-again-off-again-back-on-again relationship with running did I focus on “beating” anyone but myself, my time, my distance, the run before. I was focused on my personal goals. My friends successes – longer races and better times – only drove me to work harder on me.

We have to stop trying to “beat” each other – and focus on continuing to “beat” ourselves. We have to keep focused on our own goals.

Now What?

Set the Big Goals: Put the target on the wall and set your big, audacious, someday kind of dream. Want to be a CEO? Say it out loud to yourself. Want to own a business? Write that down. Know the dream YOU are chasing. Don’t be afraid to name it. What’s my big crazy dream? Writing a best-selling book. Crazy right?

Set the Goals to Get There: Now that you’ve named the big, audacious dream, how are you going to get there? What are some possible steps you could chase? This is NOT a 5-year or 10-year plan. I repeat, this is not a 5-year plan. Those things become fiction five seconds after you write them. Give yourself lots of options and understand all the different ways you could get to the big dream, but don’t script your life. We have to understand how we can get closer to our dream, but also understand that the outcome is more important than the way in which we get there.

For example: If I want to write a best-selling book, I should probably write.a.book (I have before but with other people). I should probably know what it takes to be a best-seller, I should probably have a topic to write about, I should probably have a publisher, I should probably know how to get a publisher, and I should probably start writing. Do I have a distinct plan for each of these? No. Do I know what I need to do right now, today, tomorrow, next week to get closer? Yes. I have thoughts on a lot of these steps and what I might do get achieve them, but I’m not married to any of it until it’s time to put my attention there. That way if the steps get rearranged or I have to make changes, it feels like a course correction and not a failure. You get the idea: set some goals to get to the big, audacious goal, but write them down in pencil, not pen.

Focus on Your Outcome: Stay focused on our outcome – not someone else’s – and don’t be afraid to edit, adapt, and adjust your path. I know lots of people who’ve written books. I see books hit the best-seller’s list all the time. I can’t let those things drive me to compete with those authors and and I can’t let their success make me question my ability to achieve my own. Focus on your outcome. Incrementally get there day-by-day.

Learn from Other Success: I find it much easier to treat those who have achieved goals similar to mine as teachers with valuable insight to offer. As a runner, I found myself wanting to run with people who were faster than me – to push me. I’d ask them how they’re training and I’d read everything I could from the world’s best runners. Don’t let your ego or jealously get in the way of you learning from those who’ve already walked a path similar to yours or achieved things you want to achieve. More often than not, they want to share their lessons, insights, and secrets with you.

We have to learn to set goals for ourselves, but not just the big “someday” kind of dreams, we have to know what goals will get us there. I knew very quickly that I couldn’t just walk out my front door and run a marathon. I started with incremental goals to get me there – a mile, a 5K, etc. I probably will never run a marathon, but I never really wanted to. I just wanted to run. I stayed focused on my goal, celebrated my successes along the way, and learned from others who already had the successes I was chasing.

It was never about anything other than my goals. It was never about anyone other than me. We have to use this mindset as we chase our big, audacious dreams. We have to remember that every woman is out there every day chasing a dream that is distinctly our own. The more we compete with ourselves, in the pursuit of our dreams, the less we have to compete with each other.

Stay tuned for Part 3 later this week: Check Yourself.

Learn more about the movement inspiring girls and women to shut down unhealthy comparison and competition called Stand Beside Her by visiting http://www.standbesideher.org/  I’m proud to support and advocate for this movement.

until we break more glass…