Saturday, December 31, 2016

12 of 2eLLLve. Out With the Old,In With the New.

Like many people across the globe, I am ringing in New Years with best hopes to make the coming year my best yet.  While there are numerous things that will always be challenges for me, my optimism for the future is unbridled.  Why? Because I believe my life is primarily within my control.  And I’m both motivated and hopeful for good things.  Positive attitude doesn’t solve every woe, but it sure does help.

As the year comes to an end, I’m closing out my year of learning with one big summary.  As I hoped and worked towards, I developed some new skills this year for sure. More than actual skill building, however, I embraced my need for “continuous learning” to the extent that I feel like I’m ending 2016 even better off than I entered it.  Given the theme of this blog was TweLLLve (12 months, with LLL symbolizing Life Long Learning), here’s my countdown of my top 12 learnings for the year. 

I had numerous opportunities from a work perspective to strengthen my voice and point of view, and share that with others.  Through a weekly blog on VentureFizz and LinkedIn, I embraced the fact that it’s not arrogant to share the knowledge and experience I’ve collected over my career; rather it’s appreciated and valued by others attempting to figure it out similar people challenges.  Along the way, I made some connections and formed new business relationships.  I challenged myself to deeply think through my points of view on topics.  And most importantly, I learned to hone in on my slightly humorous/always authentic voice.  While that’s the only way I know how to share, not everyone communicates that way. Who would have ever guessed being yourself would be notable?

I learned to let go of a former life and not feel bad about it anymore.  Several years have now past since my divorce, and my ex has moved on with a new wife, a new baby, and a new life.  Am I resentful or jealous?  Definitely not.  Why?  Because I have a fresh start.  I have had the opportunity to meet new people.  I have the opportunity to fall in love again. I have the opportunity to live anywhere when my kids go off to school.  I have the opportunity to create the life I want to live.  Thus, I will embrace and cherish the next 4 ½ years I have until both my kids are off to school, and then I will revel in the next step.  That, and when I’m off exploring that new future, he’ll be at a kindergarten play.  #winning J

Nothing like a trip to the hospital to test your independence.  When I was down and out recently, my kids and special friends came to the rescue.  I know if I had been by myself, I wouldn’t have told anyone or asked for help.  And yet my kids sprang into action and took control into their own hands.  Thus, I learned a big lesson about people pulling together when needed, and I felt exceptionally loved as a result.  I know I would do it for anyone, so when I need it, it’s okay to ask for help. 

From sitting in the passenger seat while my daughter learns to drive and doing my best to calmly provide guidance to making some tough decisions at work, focusing on my patience has been a key learning.  I’m someone who leans to impulsiveness and quick action.  And yet, sometimes, taking a deep breath and thinking things through so the long-term benefit outweighs the short term is warranted.  I’m not in control of every decision, and sometimes the best I can do is guide others to get there.  It’s hard for me.  And yet, when I take the time to do it, it almost always has a good outcome. 

Almost everyone learns their biggest lessons through trial and error.  Parenting is no exception.  There is no rule book, and we are all essentially making it up as we go along.  This year when my daughters experienced a first heartbreak, a new baby sister, and a challenging teacher, there was no formula to follow. I just did as I would want done for me; provide a support system, encouragement, and perspective. And of course, the wisdom that whatever it is, we’ll get through it – together.

I moved about two years ago, hoping to both shed the past and create more ease of lifestyle at the same time.  In doing so, I chose a house that is perfect for the three of us right now, but is far from my “dream house.”  As a result, my attitude sucked about it, and I treated it as a temporary dwelling. Until I woke up one morning and realized, why not make it as nice as I possibility can, regardless of how long I’m there.  I got some help, changed it up, and love the new look. Then I turned around and did the same thing to my office at work.  Gone are standard features; I filled it with a couch, a smaller desk and it’s a hell of a lot more inviting and functional.   I learned to make the most of wherever I am, even if it’s relatively short term.    

Asking for help is one thing. Being in introvert also means I need to push myself to get out there and spend time with others.  I have friends that are constantly surrounded by others, and they thrive in that environment.  I certainly love people, but in smaller doses.  And that’s ok – we are all different.  However, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how independent you are, we all need others in our corner cheering us on and sharing our “stuff” with.  I sure try to do that for others, and I need it too. 

I don’t do well with obligations.  I want to be motivated to want to do something, not be told I have to or feel guilted into it.  I spent years trying to do things I thought were going to please my parents or former bosses for example.  Those days are over.  Of course, there are all things we do in our lives that might not be at the top of the choice list, but I’ve learned saying no sometimes and coming up with an alternative solution to better accommodate me AND them is truly freeing.

I am not very good at sitting still.  Historically when I’ve been at home watching tv, I will have my laptop open or working on some sort of project…multitasking makes me not feel so guilty for doing otherwise “lazy” activities.  Vacations have historically been about seeing and experiencing as much as we can.  And yet, we sit in Puerto Rico this week doing precious little other than reading and lying in the sun.  And it is glorious.  Lesson learned: sometimes just taking both a physical and mental break is incredibly restorative. 

 I love nice things.  I don’t need them to be happy, but nothing like theatre tickets or a new purse to put a smile on my face.   And yet, you know what’s even better?  Being able to buy John, the Vietnam Vet who hangs out in front of Dunkin Donuts by my office a cup of coffee in the morning.  Or sharing laughs with my kids over dinner after a long day.  Money buys a lot, but it doesn’t buy a happy soul.  This year I learned a lot about spending more time being really happy for the small wonders in my life.   

I meet tons of people.  Having interviewed thousands of people over the years, I have become fairly adept at getting a read on them fairly quickly.  While I remain confident this initial read is disturbingly accurate, it’s also incomplete.  Everyone has a story, and it takes more than just a few minutes to truly know a person.  I absolutely love getting to know what people and what makes them unique; and when we keep an open mind, it is incredible how much we learn from each other’s experiences.

I wrote an article for work a week ago summing up lessons learned in 2016 from my business life.  As part of it, I referenced a quote from Shonda Rhimes, amazing creator of shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. She recently published a book called “Year of Yes.” Apparently, unlike most us who fancy the word “No!” when approached with a difficult request, she spent considerable effort saying “yes” to expand her horizons. One of the lines that resonated most with me? “Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass.” She’s right. It’s not luck. It’s hard work. When you put in the blood, sweat, and commitment for everything you achieve, you are not lucky. I’m kind a badass. 

I learned a ton this year, and I’m betting you did to.  Yes, I learned some new skills, and maybe got a little more knowledge in some areas.  My biggest learnings, however, when I paid attention, had an open mind and heart, and embraced time and lessons learned from the wisdom of others. 

I loved 2016.  And yet, I’m fairly convinced 2017 is going to be even better…because I will work hard to make it so.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

11 of 2eLLLve. Coming Out of the Closet.

When I tell people I am an shy, they look at me like I'm nuts.  They know me from work, and they see me joking around in front of a group of people, or comfortable in front of a room.  One on one, I'm perfectly fine.  

When at work, I'm typically partnering with someone on a common goal, or helping sort through a problem.  Most of the time, these situations are personal (a career challenge, a team issue, etc) so it allows me to ask some probing questions so I can understand the person better to aid in solving their dilemma.  In my personal life, I tend to surround myself with people I have known for a long time, and we have shared history to build from.  

A cocktail party, however, might be the most uncomfortable situation you can put me in.  

The month of November was spent at work trying to power through work as normal, but also attending a variety of family and work related events that put this uneasiness to the test.  I've got enough social graces to power through and do my best to be friendly and engaging.  However, I remain constantly in awe of those people who can walk into a room and just start talking to strangers.  I can do it...I just don't want to.  And sometimes, you just have to.

One example came at an end of season banquet  this month for one of my daughters.  I was grateful to run into an old friend, and was fortunate enough to grab a seat at her table where I knew no one else.  I did my best to chat and make small talk with this table full of lovely women, but it became clear - on the surface at least - we didn't share much in common other than the fact we had kids who shared a sport.  One woman at my table was dressed beautifully, complete with hair and makeup.  I stupidly made the assumption she had come from work, and thought that would be a decent opener.  Turns out, she doesn't; she just decided to use this banquet as a reason to get dressed up.  Very dressed up.  Apparently, so did most of the other moms in the room.  I was wearing jeans and 14 hour old mascara.  Candidly, I still I was the most appropriately dressed for the occasion.  

After that first attempt at chit chat fizzled with one mom, I started conversing with another in the buffet line.  Started easily enough, until she quickly said, "Oh my god, don't look...that's X's ex-husband!! We hate him."   I looked at her and tried to process.  I had no idea who X was, and who the "we" was that she was referring to.  I gazed at the nicely dressed guy and would have loved to be in a situation to ask more.  That's how I connect with people; ask questions, learn stories.  You can't just drop stuff like that on me as a throw away comment and then expect me to go back to the salad.

A similar thing happened at the Thanksgiving dinner table.  My girls and I headed down to Florida to share the holiday with my parents.  We were joined by some of my father's side of the family, as well as the family of my mom's good friend.  My parents put together a lovely spread; fantastic food and a home filled with warmth and love.  And yet, I was surrounded by people I didn't know particularly well.  My dad's sister and her family are wonderful people; I just didn't grow up with them.  We lived a far distance away, and have only come to know each other through family events (funerals, weddings) over our adult life.  Of course we have family matters to connect over, but otherwise, we are virtually starting from scratch with each other.  

But I tried. 

I busied myself with helping in the kitchen, hiding a bit from the overwhelming number of people standing outside playing catch up.  One of my cousins helped me, and we had an easy time chatting about our kids.  Of course, it stays fairly surface level, as I just didn't want to probe too deeply on things; we just don't know each other that well.  It was a fun day, followed by everyone sitting around the fire pit sharing stories at the end of the evening.  That can be such a fun experience when you are with friends and family you know well enough to tease and laugh along with.  For me, listening to people's stories when you don't know them well enough to participate just leaves me feeling awkward.   It's really hard to laugh along when I really want to say, "Seriously?!  There is no way that can be true!"  So I just tend to go quiet and try to be polite. 

So this month, through a series of social and professional events, I tried to take a different approach.  I attempted to spend less time hiding in a closet making the Thanksgiving mashed potatoes (Yes, that happened.  Not my choice.) and more time attempting to get out there and be friendly.  Did I do it?  Yes.  Was it uncomfortable?  Yes.  Did I go over the line with too many questions?  Potentially.  And yet, somehow, it seemed to work. 

Life is just more fun - for me at least - when I connect with people.  I will never be the girl who enters a room and immediately wants to talk to everyone she's never met just to expand my network.  And yet, when I make the effort to go out of my comfort zone and get to know people, rarely is it an epic fail.  Perhaps other people feel just as weird...and maybe that's why alcohol flows so freely at events.  Not being a big drinker, I don't rely on that as my crutch.  I just have to suck it up, get out there, and start with a "Hi, I'm Christina."  

And I'll do my best to keep my probing questions to a minimum.