15 minutes happier

Cascading Habits

I’ve been feeling as if life is more hectic than I’d like recently. The end of the school year does this to many of us – I know I’m not alone! Mix in a threenager, some big projects at work and increased commitment to this blog and helping other to “work your happy”, and some days it feels like lazy days of summer are something of a nostalgic past, not my immediate future.

I came across a Harvard Business Review article encouraging focus on just a few key habits to help introduce stability when life is busy. It was a good nudge to reflect on what habits I’d slipped into – or given up – that could help reclaim a little more space for myself.

I found myself wondering what three habits I could promise myself I’d stick to – no matter what. I can’t pledge to give up coffee, but I can pledge to drink enough water each day. After all, I can hydrate well even if I end up on video calls for most of my day. Meditation for five minutes? If I can’t find five minutes… well, let’s be honest – I can. And I can get to bed by 10 PM each night. It’s a well documented if not well-researched fact that if I don’t get enough sleep I turn into my own evil twin.

I’ve started thinking of these three habits as my cornerstone habits – if they slip, I’ve basically lost my foundation and everything is shakier than necessary.

Wondering what your own cornerstone habits are?

Opinion

Game of Cones: Why Ice Cream Matters

I kicked off my Memorial Day weekend – the official start of summer – by emailing a group of coworkers inviting them GAME OF CONES*: a series of informal, ice cream-based summer meetings.

Immediately after hitting send, I regretted it. Not because I don’t want to hang out with my coworkers and have ice cream. Rather, I worried that I may have crossed the line between “Wendy’s fun to work with” and “Wendy has too much fun at work”. 

I’ve gotten “feedback**” throughout my life that I’m too social or that I joke around a bit much. I’ve been asking myself “when is a bit much too much?” when it comes to the work place. I decided to do some research around when fun at work is not only acceptable, but encouraged.

I’m defining fun as the social aspects of work: establishing friendships, leaving the conference rooms for a little while and celebrating the people I see more than some members of my family. 

The key word here is “social”. One undisputed fact about happiness is that people who feel socially connected are generally happier than those who aren’t.

So, why should we care about cultivating true social connections and happiness in the workplace specifically?

It turns out building social connections increases engagement and productivity – one 2015 study found that the difference in productivity between happy and unhappy employees could be as much as 12%. Not only is fun key to getting work done, it keeps us healthier – meaning lower healthcare costs and fewer sick days. From a recent Harvard Medical School article: Positive emotions have been linked with better health, longer life, and greater well-being in numerous scientific studies. 

Ok, so fun at work increases social connection, which increases happiness, which increase productivity and makes us healthier. I’m feeling less guilty already!

How to fit social time with coworkers into to our already packed schedules? After all, no one really works a 9-to-5 anymore. Good news! It turns out that the average person is productive for 3 hours a day. I thought it was closer to 6 hours: one of my go-to work theories is that after a typical 8 hour day (let’s be honest, for most of us it’s closer to 10), is that you start to see diminishing returns and the need to do rework. So, if we’re only productive for 3 hours a day, surely we can spare 20 minutes occasionally for an ice cream social.

Fun at work isn’t a nice to have, it’s a must have! Shawn Achor, author of one of my favorite happiness books, The Happiness Advantage, sums it up by saying, “How much you give at work directly affects how much you get at work.” 

So, a guilt-free Game of Cones it is! 

***

*Game of Cones: the simple rules are to organize a team of 5 or more people, go to a local ice cream establishment, take a picture and share it with #gameofcones2019.

**On Feedback: Not always a gift, always a data point. My new mantra is that not all feedback requires change. 

15 minutes happier

Seasonal Bucket Lists: 15 Minutes Happier

This past Sunday, my family kicked off our Memorial Day to Labor Day tradition: Ice Cream Sundays! We visit our local creamery each Sunday evening during the summer months.

It’s an easy family activity that helps make summer memories, establishes a routine and since it ends at Labor Day, keeps ice cream treats a little special.

Oh Sullivan Farms Ice Cream, You Complete Me!

This annual traditional kicked off a conversation about “what we each are most excited to do this summer”… and our summer bucket list was born!

Kayaks | Cider Bellies | OtterFest | Tomato plants | Swimming | Fireworks | Lobster…
these and more each all made the Summer 2019 list.

What’s on your seasonal bucket list?

Opinion

The hope I needed this week

When I graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2000, I didn’t give much thought to what I was leaving. My experiences at MHC weren’t all strawberries and champagne. I applied to transfer my first-year, staying only because my parents let me know that a transfer meant no study abroad in Ireland. After graduation, I moved into a shared house with three other alums. I was ready to start a new life, and thought MHC was part of my past. While transitions are hard, and I cried a lot, it wasn’t like I wanted to stay. 

I wanted to take on the world. 

This weekend, I “watched” my favorite tradition of all time, Laurel Parade, pop up throughout Instagram and Facebook. Laurel Parade is magic: Saturday before graduation, an alumnae parade walks through campus. All returning alums and the current class wear white to honor the suffragist movement. There are accents of red, yellow, green and blue: each class has their own color, sort of like Hogwarts. The graduating class walks last, carrying a laurel chain, and pass through all the other classes before placing the laurel chain around founder Mary Lyon’s grave. This means that when you graduate, you’re pretty much walking through time, passing the classes who gradated 2 years, 5 years, 10 years before you. It’s like you can see your future. And now that my class is the middle, it’s also like I can see my past. 

(There’s a bagpipe player, too, for reasons I don’t really get, but absolutely love.)

I only started to “get” what MHC really gave me at my 10th reunion. I knew I’d stay in touch with my closest MHC friends, and that we’d show up for each other through celebrations and heartbreak. I didn’t know some of my closest friends would be MHC alums I met after graduation. I didn’t know I’d end up marrying another alum! I couldn’t imagine the Over 40 Facebook group, or that the Harvest sandwich from Tailgate picnic is my #1 comfort food. I’m old enough that I don’t love the “MoHome” moniker, but I do agree that the air feels different on campus and I breathe a little easier each time I’m there.

* * *

There was extra sparkle in the pictures this year. Not only was there finally gorgeous, perfect New England sunshine, the class color for the Class of 2019 is yellow. Everything looked and felt gilded and special. Seeing these strong, inspired and confident women gave me hope after a long and difficult week that saw attack after attack on fundamental women’s rights across the United States.

Seeing these pictures of Laurel Parade reminded me that I want to take on the world and that it’s not too late.

Yesterday, I met a young woman who is starting her MHC journey this fall. She is part of the Class of 2023. She’ll graduate wearing yellow, too. The reach of MHC alum network continues to surprise and humble me. Afterall, joining the MHC alum community starts when you pick up that Laurel Chain and carry it with your friends. 

You just don’t realize you never put it down.

See you next year, Class of 2000. 💙 🦁

Book Reviews, Opinion

Getting to Neverland

I recently had the opportunity to attend a Leading with Purpose workshop with Nick Craig. For anyone not familiar with Nick’s work, he coaches leaders to find their purpose by focusing on magical moments from childhood and crucible stories. Exploring these life experiences, both positive or negative, is how Nick guides others to find where and how their unique purpose shines. He then coaches individuals to articulate purpose in a way that resonates across the varied facets of real lives. What was fantastic about attending the workshop was seeing – and feeling – how someone’s energy shifts when they literally light up once they find the right words to summarize their individual purpose.

Purpose progress!

I’m still working my way through both what I learned from Nick in person, as well as his book. I’ve been taking the time to pause, reflect and internalize what I’m learning – about leadership, purpose and myself. One of my biggest lessons is that I’m in the middle of a new crucible story. *right now at this very moment*.

I know in my bones that my HAPPY^2 strategy is “something”… I’m just not sure what it is yet.

As of today, I think it might be a class|workbook|presentation kind-of-something. Working with Nick and my cohort helped my tie together what I am doing with this side hustle with what I am doing with my career:

I am helping others believe in their Neverland again.

I want everyone to feel empowered, engaged and enthusiastic to the point where life feels magical. Since we sometimes teach what we need to learn, I’m learning how to do this as I go. My HAPPY^2 message is that each of us can choose to either tweak or transform our own lives so we feel in control and more content. My mission is to share what I know and what I am learning with others, to increase happiness exponentially.

If you’re looking for a map to your Neverland, consider setting aside time to write down dreams for the following 5 focus areas:

  • Health           How are you feeling in mind, body and spirit?
  • Assets            How well is everything you own, from your guest room to your savings account, serving you?
  • People           Why are you spending time with the people you see regularly?
  • Purpose        When do you feel the most you?
  • Yourself        What wild and crazy ideas or wishes do you have that are just for you?

I’ve explored each of these focus areas in more depth on my @workyourhappy Instagram page, too. Dreams are the best place to start, as they provide inspiration and motivation. I hope your dreams help you move towards your Neverland. I also hope you’ll stay with me as I find out how #workyourhappy evolves.

Opinion

Choosing A Bigger Life

National Infertility Awareness Week is April 21 – 27, 2019. 
This essay includes personal experience with infertility and pregnancy loss. 

One of the ways I work a little happier is by finding opportunities to get involved at the office outside of my day job. My company recently launched an employee resource group for caregivers: parents, children of aging parents, really anyone caring for someone else. As part of that launch, I wrote a post about my own experience becoming a parent. 


This year, my spring cleaning started with letting go of no-longer-needed IVF supplies. My son turned three in February. He is proof of better living through science: IVF can work.

When my wife and I made the decision to grow our family, we knew we were deliberately choosing a bigger life. The calculation seemed simple: Us plus a baby would equal one awesome family.

Getting to motherhood meant awkward conversations at work. My work is a Career with a capital “C”. Infertility treatments required appointments which took me away from the office, often without much notice. I was lucky to have a close and trusted relationship with my manager. My manager and I agreed that if she noticed changes the impact I was having at the office, we’d regroup and troubleshoot together.

Getting to motherhood also meant one day I had to leave work because I just couldn’t hold it together after learning my positive pregnancy test was a chemical pregnancy. My body let me down over and over, and through all of it I was still coming to the office and doing my work. Those early awkward conversations meant I didn’t need to share with manager what was happening daily, just “I’ll need to be out Thursday, I’ve managed my schedule appropriately.” Setting that expectation at the start of the process meant that on the one day I couldn’t get it together to be in the office, I just needed to send an email. Work expectations were clear, too – I pushed off a critical appointment because I was facilitating a training session that couldn’t be rescheduled.

I found out on my birthday, while traveling for work, that I was pregnant. Suddenly, it seemed like the whole process hadn’t been that big of a deal.

***

When my son was 18 months old, my wife and I decided to choose a bigger life again. We hoped for siblings; a newborn to benefit from all our new-found parenting “expertise”.

On to more semi-awkward conversation with my manager. I juggled doctor’s appointments with conference calls, bloodwork with deadlines. I learned what to do so I could ship refrigerated injections and still take a family vacation.

Then we found out that I’d need surgery to repair scar tissue to move forward. We had to decide what a bigger life looked like, now with my son’s needs and experience added to the equation. We decided that this time, our bigger life didn’t include lab visits, appointments and surgery. A new equation: IVF plus work plus a toddler made this second attempt much more difficult. I was tired, unhappy and missing out on the toddlerhood of the child we had.

Cleaning out those syringes last month was proof that science doesn’t always come through: IVF can fail.

spring cleaningIt’s easy to talk about my son, the success half of our story. Now I’m starting to share failure half of our journey, the half with a bag of medical supplies no longer needed because there won’t be another child. Feeling like a failure and being a happy wife, loving mom, good friend, and successful employee wasn’t working.


In my day job in Human Resources, we talk about authentic leadership. I define authenticity as embracing the paradox and tension that’s present when we’re open about all the facets of who we are. I was having a great year professionally, but personally I was navigating repeated disappointments. We say “bring your whole self to work.” But I didn’t want to bring all of this to work with me. Being at work was a way to focus on something else, to not have to think about timing injections and toddler sleep schedules. If you work with me and didn’t know this was happening…well, that was my goal. Coming to the office was a break and escape.

My coworkers hear about my parenting adventures often – maybe more than they want to! Saying “We didn’t sleep well” gets nods and empathy. After all, I have a son, the part of my journey you can see. You’ll never realize how much we talk about kids in the office until you want and don’t have a baby. I remind myself that everyone has invisible experiences they bring into the office. Personally, I try to ask about what someone’s already shared with me, like vacation plans or a book recommendation. If I’m in a meeting where one or two people don’t have kids, I’ll try to make sure the kid talk doesn’t take over. The key is try – I can think of times even in the last month when I’ve put my foot in my mouth not knowing someone’s story. Rather than making a huge deal of it in the moment, these missteps help me recommit to getting better at recognizing my own assumptions.

If someone does share that they are trying to have a baby, I recommend asking how they want you to check in. For me, no news was bad news, and I didn’t want to answer unexpected questions while waiting in the cafeteria line. I did appreciate “I’m thinking about you notes”, though.

Ask. There’s no other way to know what will work for someone.

If any of this feels like your story, too, I know it’s hard to decide to keep going and hope for the best. I know it’s hard to give up and try to move on. I know it’s possible to grieve for someone you never knew. I know my decisions might not be the same as yours. More than anything, I know that the hard work of choosing our own bigger life is worthwhile.

15 minutes happier

Quarterly Happiness Review

Oh April! Three months of 2019 behind me, and I am honestly wondering what happened to March. Seriously, where did it go?

Like big corporations check numbers at the end of each quarter, I’ve recently started holding a QHR (Quarterly Happiness Review) with myself. This year, I’ve given my QHR a little more structure: a template helping me to reflect and to look ahead and find a little extra happiness.

April is an especially critical time: the first quarter of the new year is over. What were all those New Year’s intentions I set? Do I still think is they are important? Have I chipped away at my goals? What do I want to happen between now and July 4th? If something has slipped, now is the time to either let it go or to get focused again.

Here’s how to get started with your own QHR.

Supplies:

  • Pen, paper, highlighters, stickers (if you want to get a little crazy)
  • 30 – 60 minutes (or more) uninterrupted time

Instructions:
Using the Work Your Happy QHR template, or a blank piece of paper, reflect on the past three months. The template is just a guide: make it your own. I draw mine in my Passion Planner – I want all my plans and goals in once place. Blank paper works, too!

Section 1 | Acting with Intention:

  • Focus: What are your 2 – 3 priorities for the next 3 months? How will you know if you’re on track? What can be measured?
  • Flex: Work with this section in a way that makes sense for your personal goals. I make mine two sections: 1) things that will take me all year to do that I can easily measure and 2) things that either will or will not be done at the end of the quarter.

Section 2 | Seasonal Bucket List

  • Write down the fun stuff! What do you want to this season? 
  • Get outside: Make sure you’re getting fresh air and sunshine.
  • Break routines: What’s something new you can try? Something you want to learn?
  • Manage expectations: What expectations do you have about holidays or vacations that are coming up? What are you must-dos? What can you let go to keep things more simple and manageable?
  • Tip: Keep this list to under 12 ideas – that’s one a week, and you want to set yourself up for success

Section 3 | Getting Things Done

  • Assign milestones for your top priorities.
  • Plan any key social plans or special events.
  • Refer back to this space for notes thoughts to remember.

Section 4 | Reflect

  • Gratitude: Who or what really came through for your this quarter? What was making you happy on a regular basis?
  • Toot your horn! Where did you knock it out of the park? Where can you give yourself credit or a pat on the back for being awesome?
  • Now I know: What did you learn? What are you going to carry forward?

Why It Works:

Putting pen to paper works some magic between our brain and turns it into a commitment to ourselves. Working within just one page means you’ve got to prioritize – three months is both a lot of time to get sh!t done and not enough time to do elaborate planning. Thinking about the specific time of year also makes sure that seasonal traditions and favorite memories aren’t forgotten or rushed out of a sense of obligation. Once you begin doing this each quarter, you’ll have a record to look back and adjust to make sure you’re getting the things done that are important to you.

Share your QHR with #workyourhappy – and if you have your own approach, I’d love to see it.

Opinion

On Using Paid Time Off

Using up paid time off is one of my “soapbox” issues. The first time I wrote a non-traditional out-of-office message, I wrote that I was working to reach my goal of being in the 1/3rd of Americans using up all their vacation time. Putting that in writing felt risky – even if it was honest.

When I find out that someone – a friend, coworker, family member, stranger on the street – is leaving their time on the table, I can launch into a lecture faster than the weather changes in New England. It’s a benefit! You’re leaving money on the table!

Then I got sick last week. Flu plus strep meant I could barely get my own hot tea, much do anything else. Using PTO wasn’t a choice, it was a safety net I am privileged to be able to use. And yet, I still felt guilty. I’ve done the mental math to see how or if I’ll need to adjust future time-off plans to keep some days in the bank for when my son gets sick this year. Did I take a day away from him? Can I afford one more day to recover?

Did you know 52% of Americans don’t use all their vacation time?

https://projecttimeoff.com/reports/state-of-american-vacation-2018/

A close friend in high school – in the 90s – had a mom who let her take mental health days. I thought she just had a cool mom, and now I realize she had a mom ahead of the times.

With all the talk of unplugging and self-care, the ability to have or to use paid time off is missing from the discussion. Using all your paid time off is self-care. It benefits you and your company. They aren’t giving it to you out of the goodness of their hearts – PTO was fought and won by workers who didn’t have it. Just like weekends, if we’re honest. It’s easy to take it for granted when we didn’t have to ask for it.

You’re more likely to use your PTO if you plan ahead.

Here are ways I want to help others justify using all their PTO this year:

For the workaholic friend who can’t disconnect even when he’s supposedly away on vacation, I point out that taking breaks to recharge make you a better employee. You’re more creative, have new perspectives on old problems and are setting an example for others in your organization. Otherwise known as being a stronger leader.

For the family member who thinks being home and “doing nothing” is a waste of time, I point out that daydreaming lets your brain recover from constant problem solving. Reading fiction is more likely to help you expand your horizons and empathize with others. Learning a new skill impacts your brain chemistry in ways that make you happier.

For the coworker who comes in with a cold, thinking that showing up shows dedication and commitment…well, I stay away from them. No one wants someone else’s germs in the office. But resting and taking a sick day often means you’re sick for a shorter amount of time.

I’ve been all these people. I’m sure I’ll be them again.

I’ll also always try to get to PTO = 0.

Opinion

Flow over Hustle

old plans,
memories forever

As a firm believer in the power of the pen, I encourage anyone and everyone to:

Write it down on real paper with a real pencil. And watch shit get real. ~Erykah Badu

When a friend recently asked me if she could “talk to me about my planner”, I was geeked up. I could – and do! – preach about my Passion Planner often. I’ve had one for each of the last five years. Each is part journal, part scrapbook and part life designer. I’ve gotten my system and “style” down, although it took a little practice. I have favorite pens, stickers and planning rituals. I thought we were going to talk about erasable highlighters, and instead our discussion took a more interesting turn:

What if you don’t have traditionally ‘ambitious’ goals? 

That question pulled together threads of several conversation I’ve had this month, each coming at the idea that moving with intention rather than ambition is just as worthy of effort and attention:

  1. When is it acceptable to like who you are and not want to transform yourself?
  2. Does having one day a week in pajamas mean you’re lazy or practicing self-care?
  3. How will you know if you’ve become a kinder person at the end the year?

After all, it is January, the month of full gyms and endless commercials about how to create the new and improved you. #goalgetter and #goaldigger are all over social media. And yet… goals that are typically broadcast with those tags are achievement-oriented. Running a marathon. Getting a promotion. Publishing a book. Traveling to Iceland.

Coming off 2018, exhaustion and the need to slow down is in the air. One of my 2019 goals – not tied to professional wins or external accolades, is to read Tarot. It was fortuitous when I learned that the 2019 card of the year is the Hanged Man. (2+0+1+9 = 12 | The Hanged Man is the 12th card of the Major Arcana). If you’re wondering, the 2018 card was Justice. Let’s just let that sit for a bit, no?

This card asks that we pause, take a break, look for a new perspective. To look for the flow over the hustle. To work with intention as much as ambition.

I’m much more protective of getting enough sleep this year, and not breaking appointments with myself and family to do nothing. That’s right – one of my goals for this year is to do nothing more often. Oh, and take more naps. Celebrating and elevating the mundane is powerful, and a reminder that everything we do is a choice. As long as your goals are your own, they are worthy of pursing.

If anyone knows what hashtag is the opposite of #goalgetter, let me know?

15 minutes happier

What does Dolly Parton have to do with professional development?

Knowing who you are, and being that version unapologetically, is the cornerstone to being happier version of your best self.

After all, it is the inimitable Dolly Parton who said:

purpose

Knowing who we are is a life-long journey. After many years in HR, I get asked regularly for input on personal branding, self-assessments and professional development resources.

Below are my personal top 5* go-to recommendations for anyone trying to be more of themselves this year:

 

  1. VIA Character Strengths Assessment: Focusing on your strengths is a more fun – and sustainable – approach to personal development. This quick, 15-minute assessment will give you a lot of easily digestible information framed positively. Rather than focusing on strengths-at-work, the assessment focuses on helping you “discover the good in you”.

 

  1. Carla Harris’ Expect to Win, Proven Strategies from a Wall Street Vet: Imagine you had a trusted mentor in your pocket who was willing to share her hard-won experience and life-lessons. That’s what this easy to read, well-organized book is. I’ve quoted it at least once a month to someone since I read it almost 10 year ago. Carla’s practical wisdom holds up and is actionable.

 

  1. The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin. This is a two-fer: both a book and a quiz. Understanding how you respond to both external and internal expectations can be useful in understanding why you act…and why you don’t.

 

  1. Chris Guillebeau’s The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life: Ignore super lofty title – Chris writes about having a personal goal, big or small, can bring about a happier life. It could be finishing a quilt or traveling to every country in the world. Through interviews with questers, he’s uncovered stories about how it really is the journey that matters.

 

  1. Passion Planner: Studies have shown that writing something down – actually putting pen to paper – has an impact on our how we internalize information. I use this paper-based planner to both set goals and keep myself on track to making progress against those goals every week. I like this planner because there’s space for both work and personal goals and to-dos: it’s one place both integrate and balance the demands on my time.

 

Just for kicks, there is the Official Pottermore Hogwarts Sorting Hat quiz.

And, if Dolly doesn’t feel serious enough for you, turn to Aristotle instead, who tells us that “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.

 

** These are my personal favorites. You know, the views and opinions expressed above are mine alone and do not reflect any official position … and so on.