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.

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?

Opinion

The Power of A Word

Contemplating my word of the year is the only bit of planning for new year I do before Christmas. Full-blown reflection, intention-setting and list-making must wait until December 26th (the true beginning of the 12 Days of Christmas)! This is my way of trying to stay in the moment during the Christmas season and avoiding the post-Christmas crash by giving myself something to anticipate.

Persist was my word for 2018.

Inspired by Elizabeth Warren, my new-found commitment to political engagement and the fearless girl, I chose persist as a reminder that I would stand up for what I know is right and good, and commit myself to doing the hard work necessary to make the world better. The political is personal, for all of us, whether we’re “in to politics” or not. Persist reminded me that no matter what the year would bring – and 2018 certainly brought new lows in our country’s history – giving up or giving in would not be an option. After all,  it’s not an accident that the Oxford-English dictionary chose “toxic” as the 2018 word of the year. Merriam-Webster chose “justice” for a more optimistic approach.

My 2017 word was “activist”, inspired by my participation in the Women’s March on Washington, DC. Persist was my reminder that my activism is a privilege, and regardless of administration or current affairs, I wanted to commit myself to staying engaged. I was lucky enough to be selected to volunteer for the Americans of Conscience Checklist’s social media team, and am inspired by the small team of compassionate, thoughtful individuals across the country who see an opportunity to bring people closer together rather than continuing to further the division America is experiencing.

Here’s what I learned about what it takes to persist: It’s hard. It’s a grind. Grind could have been my 2018 word. To persist means that you continue forward in a direction in spite of obstacles, opposition or failure. You’re working against something, and no matter how aspirational, motivated or committed I am, to persist turned out to be exhausting.

As I reflect on my year, I find myself wondering if I invited in more obstacles and challenges in to my life? I did persist this year. Maybe not with the compassion, patience, or calm I would have liked, but I’m still here. And so, I want 2019 to feel lighter, to have more flow and less tension.

I haven’t decided on my word for 2019, yet I find myself being much more deliberate about what I might unintentionally focus on going forward.

If you choose a word to focus your intention for the new year,
how do you decide which word?

How I want to feel at the end of 2019.

Opinion

Is your tech making you happier?

The Working Parents Group at my office showed a screening of Screenagers this week.  I’m so glad I saw this movie and am starting to think critically about the role of technology in my life before I have a teenager. While my son is only (almost) 3 years old, I’ve come to be both impressed and a little scared at how fast he picks up technology.

And kids are little experiments, aren’t they? I can see everything we read about play out in my son. We’ve noticed when he has more screen time, his behavior gets worse. It creeps me out that he can be in the same room with me and if he’s watching a show, he does not hear or notice anything else. And research shows that increased screen time changes brain chemistry – permanently. Social media can be socially isolating. 

What are we doing with all this screen time?

After seeing the movie, I’ve been thinking more about what example I’m setting at home and what I’m doing with the available technology.

Actions speak louder than words, and if my wife and I are on our phones all the time, we’re sending the message to our son that what’s happening on our phones is more important than what’s happening in the room. I’ve taken to telling my son what I am doing when I have my phone out in front of him. “I’m sending a note to Mum to see what time she’ll be home.” “I’m looking up what roads to take to get to the park.”…and so on. It may be a bit much, but you’d better believe I’ve never said “I’m posting a picture of my coffee for strangers to look at” even though I’ve done that, too.

In the film, what struck me the most was how the kids where sitting next to each other, but interacting with each other through their phones. Technology is changing all the time, and changing everything. I believe strong EQ and interpersonal skills are going continue to be differentiators in what makes someone successful.

What does this have to do with work?

Work is getting more digital, and technology allows us to be more connected to the office more than ever before. I believe large organizations need to examine the expectations being put on employees and understand the role company culture is playing in home life. Have you thought about your company’s digital culture and if it aligns with your values?

If staying in touch with the office is the excuse parents are using for being on their phones, the message we’re sending is that work is more important than what’s happening at home. It’s a complex issue: if we know we’re happier the less we’re on screens, and that happier people are those who feel more in control of what’s happening in their lives… well, we have to ask if our tech is making us happier?

Technology enables the happiness trap of overwork. If how our work, technology and home life are coming together isn’t making things better, it’s time to take individual accountability and change what’s not working. I’ve personally found that the boundaries I put in place with a newborn are still making me happy: no work emails while my son is awake and I’m home with him. Period.

One last thought… my wife is a high school coach, and the team hosted a baby shower  when we were expecting. As part of the party, we asked 20 high school girls for parenting advice. The two things they told us:.

1. Play with your kids as much as you can (Dads, they all loved the “monster game”: when their dads would hide and they’d find him, he’d chase them and then tickle them. Who knew?)

2. Take away my phone. They told us they might pretend it’s awful, but they liked being able to say “my parents won’t let me…” so they get a break from the pressure of being connected all the time.

Maybe to be happier we need to take away our own phones for a bit.
What do you think about screen time, being connect to work and feeling happier?

Opinion

Owning Your Energy

Autumn is my favorite season, and yet September is my least favorite month. After all, going back-to-school is just as frenetic for teachers and their families as it is for parents. Being married to a teacher for going on 8 years now, I’ve figured out how to prepare for the overnight change of pace that comes after Labor Day. We have more pre-made dinners, Sunday night calendar check-in sessions and of course, extra coffee.

Even knowing September is coming, the day-to-day is still hard. Throw in a few colds (me and the toddler), restless nights (the 12 year old dog), a few big projects at work, some craziness in the daily news, and it’s so much more draining than the rest of the year. September is the time of year when it feels like our good days are the days when we kept all the important things moving along and don’t drop the ball on anything majorly important.

September is when I adjust down my definition of a good day. A good day is when I’ve owned my energy. I may feel a bit frayed and run down, yet I try to not let it show. Or, to be more specific, I try to not to get snarky with other people. My goal is to not do anything in September that damages relationships for the rest of the year.

Taking responsibility for how I show up can feel a bit like faking it – except it this faking it comes with the goal of creating a virtuous rather than vicious cycle. If I act as if I’m not tired, I feel less tired. If I act as if I’ve got things in control, it feels like things are more in control. This isn’t stuffing true feelings and emotions aside, it’s pushing myself to not let them get the best of me. My feelings are still there – I just don’t react to them in the moment.

I may not be the best version of myself, but I’m not the worst, either.

We all do this to varying degrees of success. It’s a huge aspect of being an adult, and I have to believe I’m not the only person who just wants to say “I don’t wanna!” when asked to do something and instead says “I can get to it next week” or even “Sure, no problem”.

So, today, I’m giving anyone else who needs it merit badge for the times you’ve owned your energy when it’s especially hard. Nice work, everyone!

And, I want to remind you … it’s finally October.

Opinion, Yourself

Wear Your Happy

My “Wear Your Happy” theory:
Success starts with happiness, therefore “dressing for success”
starts with wearing what makes you happier.

What you wear impacts your behavior, and if you want to be happy, you have to feel happy. As we get ready to move into autumn, with tall boots and blanket scarves, let’s take a minute to strategically curate a capsule wardrobe that makes you happier. Limiting wardrobe decisions each morning means there is more bandwidth for more critical decisions throughout the day. It also decreases clutter and streamlines shopping. And makes it more likely you’ll be able to find your own style and signature ‘uniform’.

Continue reading “Wear Your Happy”

Opinion

A Happier Labor Day

anytime

Gretchen Rubin has proposed a #happierlaborday movement – and I am all in!

Tied to the upcoming Labor Day holiday in the US, Gretchen proposes we use Labor Day not only as the transitional holiday between summer and fall, but as a touchpoint in the calendar to reflect on our own labor. Labor in this case being the work we do – our professional lives.

I’m all in for finding ways to be happier, particularly at work. As my contribution to a happier Labor Day, I’ve come up with five questions and three I-statements to help us each inventory our work-life and to plan ahead for the following year.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself

How do I feel about Sunday nights? You don’t have to love setting an earlier alarm than on the weekends, but if your Monday ruins your Sunday, it’s time to think about significant shifts in your work. I like to have a Friday night and Sunday evening “special thing” to look forward to bookend the weekend. It helps with switching between weekend mode and work mode, both of which I enjoy. On Fridays, it’s family dinners and later bedtime for my son, and on Sunday’s it’s ice cream for when it’s warm and a mug of tea and a new episode of a favorite TV show when it’s cool.

 Do I have a career or a Career? A “big-C” career is how a good friend of mind describes the reality of wanting to advance and contribute in corporate America. I like this distinction, because a big-C career (in my book) comes with rules that are set by others for a game you’ve chosen to play. Little c vs big C isn’t a better vs worse option, but understanding how you think about your work in terms of ambition and goals can help clarify how you talk about your work with others.

Where is there friction in my workday? Everyone has some small daily annoyance that makes our workday just a little less enjoyable: a coworker who always sends an IM with just “Hi” and no question, someone who stops by your desk and talks for 25 minutes every morning, a commute that doesn’t go by a Dunkin Donuts. Identifying small things that you’ve learned to deal with but if changed would improve your day can be a good first step to being happier in the office.

Who makes up your tribe at work? There’s internet ‘wisdom’ floating around saying we’re an average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Who are those 5 people in your work life – and do they reflect how you want to experience working? Lunch with the office gossip can be fun, but it can become a source of negativity when left unchecked. Check to make sure you’re spending time with the people who encourage your work goals and who make you feel good about where you’re spending your time.

How would I describe my work without using a title? Titles are often meaningless outside a specific organization. A friend recently shared a LinkedIn profile of someone who gave themselves the title of “Curator of Dreams”. You could call yourself anything you wanted, which is why we’re seeing an uptick in creative titles. Since a supervisor in one industry might be called a president in another, what you do is more important than what your title is.  Begin describing what you do in plain English – focusing on the parts of your work you want to do more often.

Three I- Statements

I work so that…
Why are you working? Knowing why you are in a particular job at a particular company, or have chosen to be self-employed or are pursuing a new field of work is key in reminding yourself why you do what you do every day. If the reason you are working is to get a paycheck and get home so you can be a dance instructor, you only need to be doing “good enough” at work. If you’re looking for that next promotion at the office, you probably want to be stepping up at work and giving 110%. Know your why so you are working with intention.

In a year from now, I will have….
What do you want to be able to say you’ve done next Labor Day? Attended a conference? Tried a new idea? Changed jobs? Learned how to code? Whatever it is, Name it to claim it!, as Oprah says. This has nothing to do with your production goals at work – this is a time to be selfish and prioritize why you’re working. Then make a plan to set things in motion to get what you want out of your work.

In the next week, I will try…
Finding happiness at work can be a bit of an experiment. Commit to testing one change to see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, try something different next week. Consistency in the attempt is the key, not success on the first try.

***

I want to hear from you: Did these questions help? Is there something getting in the way of making a small change? How are you having a #happierlaborday?

Opinion

on advice

Advice is easily given and rarely taken. Often unsolicited or unwanted, and usually vague. We ask “what’s the best advice you’ve been given?” in the hopes that someone else’s tested advice will be our new found wisdom. I find that question itself revealing: asking about what has been given, not what we took to heart and used to change and grow.

I believe sharing that knowledge to help someone else be happier is intrinsically human. We want to be connected to one another, and we want to be of service.

So, how to share what we’ve learned so it is truly helpful? The best advice is advice that helps us change, resolves something personal and is given without expectation. Often small, good advice creates positive ripples throughout our daily lives.

The best advice I’ve taken came from one of my best friends. While on maternity leave, I’d been finding half-drunk cold cups of coffee around my house and even in the microwave. I had a theory you could only reheat the same cup of coffee three times before you’d ruined the coffee. I told her I was disappointed that the mom-memes were true. Apparently, having a kid and hot cup of coffee were mutually exclusive. And, I’d never appreciated a hot drink as much as I did when home full-time with a newborn.

Her advice? Get a travel mug.

Of course. The simplest solution and it already existed! Cold coffee wasn’t just a new parent problem, it’s a busy people problem.

And man, did having hot (or warmer) coffee every day make me happier. I appreciate a cup of coffee more now than I ever thought possible. I am grateful for warm coffee every day. And I think of my best friend over many of those cups of coffee. How fantastic is it that she didn’t make fun of my new mom-ness, or tell me to get a travel mug while laughing at my inability to solve such a small problem? Especially since we actually had no less than 3 travel mugs in our house at the time! The solution was literally in front of my face.

My go-to travel mug | doesn’t always match my outfit

Those small, possibly forgotten moments of sharing wisdom with each other are some of the most powerful points of connection we have with one another.

My lesson from the Travel Mug Advice is to give advice only when you aren’t invested in the outcome, when it’s something the other person can do, and when it’s solving a problem the other person has already identified themselves.

So, tell me about the best advice you’ve taken recently?

Opinion

Jenny: Raising Conciousness

I once walked out of my Boston office, and directly into to my doctor’s office, convinced I had a brain tumor. Over the month prior, I would have random dizzy spells, terrified I was going to pass out in a very public and likely dramatic way, probably when I was wearing a skirt. My anxiety was a little demon perched on my shoulder all day, every day, telling me I was likely dying. After a consultation and follow-up appointment, I learned that I was grinding my teeth enough to jack up my inner ear and give myself symptoms of vertigo.

In addition to recommending a night guard to help with the teeth grinding, my doctor recommended stress management for the anxiety – “something like” yoga or meditation.

IMG_4883
Yoga at the pond with Jenny and her yogis.

A quick google search, and I decided to go to the closest class I could find: Jenny Smyth’s compassionate yoga in a dance studio on a Thursday night. When I arrived, I wasn’t sure where the instructor was, until Jenny welcomed me with a big smile and introductions to everyone else in the room. Jenny wasn’t what I expected.

What I expected was a repeat of my yoga experience in Washington, DC. In my twenties, I tried a yoga class with a friend at a somewhat fancy gym. I wish I could say I was hooked immediately – but I wasn’t. The class felt like a competition to see who could be the most zen.

So, while I’d read all the articles about the virtues of yoga, I was skeptical it was for me.

Jenny’s class was totally different from those gym yoga classes. In that first class, Jenny coached us through a position she herself couldn’t do “perfectly” (eagle pose). She joked about not being a skinny-minny yoga pretzel woman. It made my plus-sized-self feel more comfortable about trying things I wasn’t sure I could do – because trying means you can’t be failing Jenny’s class.

In the 6+ years I’ve attended Jenny’s classes, I’ve learned that she used to work in corporate America. She knows the realities of office jobs, the dangers of sitting down so much, and gently reminds us to stretch and move all week – not just in her class. She found her way to yoga because she needed yoga. She learns – and then shares what she is learning with her students.

Jenny approaches yoga not as a workout, but as a journey. Her teachings aren’t just about warrior poses, but about clean eating, new music, running her own studio, meditation and how she interacts with the people around her. She’s using her positivity to raise the vibrations of everyone around her.

HowardThurman-quote-what-makes-you-come-alive

I’ve wondered – more than once – if Jenny is psychic, or if she has some mystical training where she watches us all walk in before class and can tell what we need that day. The weeks where I carry stress in my shoulders, we always seem to spend more time in poses focused on our shoulders. When I am feeling the need for a little more fellowship, Jenny seems to talk a little more in class. There is power and inspiration in witnessing someone do what they were clearly meant to do. Sharing yoga is Jenny’s calling.

Jenny tells us we’re wonderful – and because she is wonderful, we believe her. Her classes run long, because she wants to share the joy she finds in yoga with us for as long as she can. When she says namaste at the end of class, she looks each of us in the eye, and means it. Yoga seems to make Jenny come alive, and she encourages each of us to find what makes us come alive, too. And while that go-to Howard Thurman quote can feel like self-help mumbo jumbo, yoga with Jenny is a reminder that we have to look inward before we can see what the world needs.

namaste