Soapbox: Go Jump in a Lake

More than half of working Americans leave paid vacation days on the table at the end of each year. Paid time off is a benefit, considered part of your overall compensation – and not using it is the same as walking away from money. I’m on a mission to preach the benefits of taking your vacation time – and the obligation we all have to use up that benefit so we’re more engaged, energized and creative at work.

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I’ve found that using my out of office messages is a great way to remind people that my vacation is just that… my vacation. Joining the ranks of creative out of office messages means my coworkers look forward to my being away – and I remind them what I’m doing so they know just what they are interrupting for a “work emergency”.

Warning: Using your out of office messages in this way may result in more emails upon your return, since more people email you just to see what you’re sharing!

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For our annual family summer vacation

Canoe believe it? I’ve gone to the lake for the week!

If you’re going through an oar-deal that can’t wait until I return on July 23rd, please contact abba@dancingqueen.com

It’s a true emergency, text my cell at xxx-xxx-xxxx. 

In the meantime, anchor yourself with one of these pebbles of wisdom:

  • Be clear
  • Reflect
  • Not be shallow
  • Stay calm
  • Be full of life

 

For a day out of the office volunteering

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Company Cares Day – one of my favorite things about working for my company. I’m joining 7,000+ colleagues across the country to giving back to our local communities. Follow along on social media using #thishashtag and #thathashtag.

I will respond as soon as I am back at my desk. Thank you!

 

A few days off to reconnect with a great friend 

Nothing to stop this from being the best day ever. ~U2

Twenty years ago, I spent a year abroad in Dublin, Ireland. I am taking time off through Monday, June 25th, to spend time with my flatmate and to see U2 in concert.

Send me some fun email to read once I’m back in the office: tell me about the best concert you’ve attended?

It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away. ~U2

 

Allison: Shaping the world with stories

This July, I’m sharing stories of firecrackers: women I know working different paths to speak up and light up the world.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” ~ Joan Didion

Allison is my oldest friend. Not in terms of age, but our shared history. We go way back – all the way to early elementary Sunday School in Dallas, Texas. Choir together in junior and senior high school, shared friends, church youth group, discussing the merits of Scarlett vs Melanie, Rhett vs Ashley…

Allison is the person woven throughout all the facets of my childhood. With all that history (and some dirt, if we’re honest), I feel uniquely positioned to confirm that Allison has always been a storyteller, performer and 100% herself. I mean, she once got a high school beau to reenact the gazebo scene from The Sound of Music – complete with leaping from bench-to-bench while singing “I Am Sixteen”. That is impressive.

After we both left Texas to go to separate colleges, we settled down in new (and northern!) cities. Allison in Chicago, me near Boston. Yet our friendship benefited from the rise of social media, and we have been able to stay in touch over the years. While our friendship has roots in our early, more innocent days, Allison’s sharing of her own stories has cemented our connection as grown-ups.

“Everybody is a hero in their own story.” ~Maeve Binchy

Allison’s honesty and humor shine through in her annual Christmas cards – which have become a highlight to my family’s holiday season. My wife texted me last year that “Allison’s card arrived today!” and that she had already opened it. Rather than a Norman Rockwell-esque photo shoot each year, Allison pulls back the curtain and shares her real life, laughing through the challenges life with four kids can bring. My favorite so far?

A picture of her newborn son, “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” printed the front. The honesty? Well, this was this picture of her son. Not sleeping. And not so peaceful. But so honest and real to what was happening in Allison’s life that year. IMG_4137.jpegI think about that every year, while the pretty holiday cards come in, and everyone’s life seems picture perfect. Once I had my own baby, it became a reminder that no matter what it may seem like, everyone’s gorgeous baby cries and doesn’t sleep sometimes.

When one of Allison’s sons was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), she looked for stories from other families in similar circumstances. She searched for books reflecting the experiences and daily life her son was experiencing. And she couldn’t find any. As she says, they just hadn’t been written. Yet.

She is now writing these stories into existence for her children and for others with similar experiences. A boy named Peter is the central character these stories, loosely based on her own son and other children she’s met with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I know that once those stories are published, they will help families having similar experiences just as much as that Christmas card continues to help me. (If anyone is or knows of a publisher, send them to Allison’s website!)

“We must all become storytellers of a future we want to share…” ~Bono at the UN

Allison’s stories are always entertaining, and she is now using her own stories to change the world around her. In addition to her children’s book series, her longer blog entries are hopeful, positive and always keep it real. In one of my favorite pieces, Tomorrow, Shine On, she challenges us to each “To be a light. I dare you.” And while that particular essay is a heavier subject matter, Allison is telling the stories of a future she wants to bring into being.

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The July Firecracker series is inspired by the question “Why aren’t more people speaking up?” in response to the more recent news headlines. A somewhat simple question with complex and complicated answers for each of us. It sparked me to think about how I contribute to the world I want to live in, whether it be sharing my voice online, volunteering, or continuing my own political activism. As I reflected on the ways I choose to speak up, I noticed that almost everyone I know is using their unique voice and passion to be of service to others. It also gave me the idea to spotlight the powerhouse women I know who are changing the world from where they are. People and purpose are part of the fuel helping each of us lead meaningful, and happy, lives. If you know of someone speaking up with their own unique voice, please share their story with me at workyourhappy@gmail.com.

Becky: Answering the call to help others

“Why aren’t more people speaking up?”

A peer recently asked this question on an active discussion board in response to the more recent news headlines. This somewhat simple question has complex and complicated answers for each of us. It also sparked my own reflections on how I’m contributing, whether it be sharing my voice online, volunteering, or continuing my own political activism. As I reflected on the ways I choose to speak up, I noticed that almost everyone I know is using their unique voice and passion to be of service to others. It also gave me the idea to spotlight the powerhouse women I know who are changing the world from where they are. People and purpose are part of the fuel helping each of us lead meaningful, and happy, lives. And, we all speak up in different ways.

This July, I will share stories of different paths to service, starting with my cousin Becky, and her family.

Some of us don’t choose how we will be of service  – the path chooses us.

When Becky and her husband, Chris, welcomed their third son, Luke, into their family, they realized quickly that something wasn’t right. Luke was struggling to breathe, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. I remember getting updates from Becky’s mom that Chris and Becky were commuting between their New Jersey home to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, trying to find out what was happening and what they could do – for weeks. For weeks, they did a juggling act between home, hospital, work and rest that seemed just about impossible as an outsider. A few years later, Becky told me she just switched into one-day-at-a-time mode and was so glad her family and friends were close enough to help with everything at home that she and Chris just couldn’t get to.

Luke was eventually diagnosed with a rare disease: Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS). With only one person in 6.3 million being diagnoses with CCHS, ‘rare’ may be a bit of an understatement. CCHS is a condition where everything is great when Luke is awake – but he stops breathing when he is asleep. At just a month old, he had a tracheostomy and needed a ventilator any time he fell asleep. Imagine that situation for a newborn – you know, since newborns sleep the majority of the day!

It’s also important to point out that not only was Luke’s diagnosis a rare one, he is also one of the lucky ones. CCHS has a range of symptoms, and while Luke is able to lead a mostly “typical” life when awake, some CCHSers need to be on a ventilator around the clock, may have learning disabilities, seizures, neuroblastoma (a rare cancer), blue spells, cardiac pauses – and more.

“Sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare.” 
― Mike McIntyreThe Kindness of Strangers

At a time when most of us might see success as making it through each day, one at a time, Becky and Chris started reaching out to help others. While it hadn’t even crossed my mind to think about the possible implications as my wife and I started our own families, they shared details with us (and my brother), so that we could be tested and prepared if the cause wacchs.s something genetic (it is) or hereditary (it wasn’t). And then they went big: Becky stepped up and co-founded of the CCHS Foundation. Through funding research, connecting CCHS families to one another, raising awareness, and sharing her story, Becky is changing – and saving – lives.

 

I’ve known Becky my whole life. She always wanted to be a nurse and has always been a caregiver. As I’ve had the privilege to witness Becky and Chris’ journey, the word that always comes to mind is “grace”.  In a situation when it would be completely justified to pull in and focus on her family, Becky chose to give to others. She is an advocate for the support and resources she wished she had. When I asked if I could write this and share her story, her response was that she did what any parent would do. I’m not sure that co-founding a foundation dedicated to medical research is what we’d each do in a similar situation, but I love that Becky thinks it is. She is speaking up for families who will find themselves with a newborn who needs additional care every time the fall asleep. An unexpected purpose found Becky, and Becky found people who she needed – and who needed her.

To learn more, please visit (and consider donating to) www.cchsnetwork.org.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy.
It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate,
to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ask Wendy: Hunters vs Gatherers

Q: I manage two very talented employees. They each bring different things to the table, and the team has a nice skill balance. One is a vegetarian and the other is a hunter. Hunter isn’t pinning up pictures, but there is some hunting discussion going on. Veggie asked me, as their manager, to talk to Hunter about it. 

Should a manager get involved in these sorts of “lite” workplace clashes or should they encourage the workers to work it out?

Rather than should, let’s talk about when manager involvement makes sense. You want to stay in the space of coaching your team, rather than solving their problems. So, how to best do this?

One of my favorite coaching questions is “What have you already tried?” Asking Veggie what she has already tried is a great way to signal that you won’t taking on solving her problem, yet will help her find a solution herself.

Let’s imagine Veggie says she hasn’t done anything. It’s fair to ask her to take a run at this on her own first, and let her know that if it doesn’t work, you’ll stay involved. You can let her know you do understand this is an emotional situation. Ask what she’d like to see change. Is it zero mention of hunting? Less explicit discussions? Your role at this point is to help Veggie articulate her desired outcome.

If she says her goal is have Hunter pretend he doesn’t hunt, that is an extreme expectation you will need to help manage.  One way to frame that is to ask her to imagine she’s in Hunter’s shoes. Is she talking about kale constantly? Do their interactions have a joking tone, where Hunter might be caught off-guard with learning there is a problem at all? Has he only mentioned hunting a few times, and in the context of a once-in-a-lifetime hunting weekend? You’re preparing her to succeed as she leads the conversation with Hunter.

You may also need to remind her that no one is going to change anyone’s viewpoints in this scenario. The goal is create a work environment where everyone is comfortable – not to reach an agreement on which lifestyle choice is “best”.

After Veggie and Hunter have a conversation, it is your role to ask follow-up questions of Veggie. How did it go? Is she seeing a change from Hunter? If she’s not, you’ll need to determine if her request wasn’t clear, reasonable or if he just refuses to adjust.

My advice is now close to morphing into a choose-your-own adventure scenario! As a manager, your role is to coach and encourage your team to solve problems, not to solve the problems. You are trying to set up a team that only brings you ‘Problems’ with a capital P. Do this enough times and your team will know to come to you when they need advice and coaching, rather than bringing you more work to do.

Happiness Exercise: Pile of Good Things

pileWhen to use: When you want to bring a little more joy to your day, and aren’t sure where to start.

Supplies: A pen, paper, other pens in different colors, or highlighters.

Instructions:

  • Set a timer for 5 minutes, and write down everything that comes to mind when you ask yourself “what makes me happy?”. This can be either a list or more free-form mind map, just keep writing until the time is up. Now is not the time to edit or erase – your goal is to keep your pen moving for the full five minutes.
  • Once the time is up, use pens in different colors – or highlighters – to circle things you can do weekly, monthly or those which require more planning. Look at your typical week, and see which of the things that make you happy can be scheduled. Like all those women’s magazines say, making an appointment with yourself can be powerful. Honor your happiness commitment!
  • Bonus: Identify five things that can be done in under 10 minutes. Keep that list handy (maybe add it as a note in your smartphone?), and the next time you have small amounts of found time, such as waiting for an appointment, take action on what makes you happy.

 

Why it works:

  • Knowing what makes you happy before it happens helps increase your awareness. Hot coffee in a real mug makes me happier coffee in a paper takeaway cup, and now I notice all the times I enjoy my coffee from a  real mug. I may not drink more coffee, yet I notice my coffee-joy each day.
  • Anticipation of something makes up a significant portion of enjoyment related to that experience. Consider vacations: part of the benefit of a vacation is looking forward to it (as well as the memories it provides).
  • Happiness is a choice: identification and prioritization of what makes us happy means we are choosing happiness more often.

 

Pro-tip: Experiences and connections make us happier than material goods in the long-term. In reviewing your list, keep an eye out for a balance between those things that may skew more towards instant gratification and those which build sustained happiness.

A word of caution: You are in control of your feelings. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, No one can “make” you feel anything without your consent. Your pile of happy things will grow faster if they are not dependent on someone else to do something – focus on what you can control.

#momsquad

“Most discussions of having it all” center on balancing work and children, but that definition of “all” is incomplete… Women also want to spend time on other aspects of their lives: art, politics, faith, experiencing the natural world. Left to pursue only two dimensions of our lives leaves other parts of who we are undercultivated.”
~Lynn Pasquerella

One of the top executives at my company was named as one of Working Mother’s The Most Powerful Moms of 2018. As a working mom myself, I am always on the lookout for hacks to make it easier to honor all the parts of who I am.

In search of the ever-elusive ‘how to have it all’, I’ve cultivated my own #momsquad: a group of 5 women who are my go-tos on all things parenting, both as a mom and as working mom with a Career. As in other areas of my life, my #momsquad is my board of directors. This committee of women – who don’t actually know each other – are my guides help me navigate the dimensions of who I am beyond just work or home.

Moms 1 & 2: My two best friends, each a stay-at-home mom of three kids. I turn to them when I need coaching on prioritization, patience and parenting. These experienced moms have been there when I thought my baby was coughing up blood (just transfer from me from breastfeeding, but still terrifying), telling me I should REALLY consider sleep training, and reminding me that my work is important, but maybe not THE most important thing in my life.  When my approach to parenting doesn’t line up as well as I’d like with my wife’s, I can ask for input without worrying they will be judging my relationship and my parenting. Each of these strong women made thoughtful and difficult decisions about whether or not continuing their pre-kid careers made sense while their children are young. They are now approaching the decision about going to work as their kids get older. And, since they’ve both known for more than 20 years, they can call me out on my sh!t like no one else. Friends first, moms second.

Moms #3 & 4: Those trusted office moms, mythical unicorns of work-people who become friends and who are at similar stages in both their career and personal lives. One mom had her second daughter after 40, while leaning in to her own Career  so much she stepped into a new team and new role after returning from maternity leave. She gives me hope that it’s not too late for my family and my career to grow together. To top that off, just also ran a half-marathon – and wrote about it! The other office mom unicorn is stepping in as stepmom. Being trusted to watch her navigate making deliberate decisions about co-parenting and family building is opening up new doors in how I think about my own family. These two women lift my guilt when I spend some of my free time on the weekend writing (like right now), get dinner for the family from the Whole Foods hot bar (again) and tell me when I have smeared banana on my clothes. Whether it is coaching on time-management, setting boundaries or reminding me that each week has enough hours to do what’s actually important, these coworkers know that for us, working works for us and our families.

Mom 5: One of my two sisters-in-law, a working mom of two amazing girls. Not only is she consistently getting ahead in her own Career, she is somehow also going back to school for her MBA. A working mom who also knows, understands and appreciates the unique dynamics of my extended family. She shares her thoughtful approach on how she makes time for what’s important to her, co-parents fully with my brother and knows that family is family, however we all get to the same holiday table. What’s not to appreciate and love?

My #momsquad members don’t all know each other. But they all know me, or know different facets of me, who I am now and who I want to be. These moms make me hope I really am an average of the 5 people with whom I spend the most time associating.

Tell me about your #momsquad… and if you have any of those magical hacks that makes finding that elusive balance to be your most fully recognized self.

Ask Wendy: Finding a Mentor

A recent text from a close friend:
Wendy! Could use some advice from my HR/professional development friend. 😉 Any suggestions on how you ask someone to be your mentor?

So, I am conflicted about “formal” mentoring. I know this can be heresy in the HR world…Clutch your pearls now!

If you’re thinking about asking someone to be your mentor, it’s likely you already have a relationship. If you don’t, you need to start and build a relationship, even if as a casual acquaintance. Once there’s a bit of a relationship in place, you can email or start up a conversation along the lines of:

“I’ve always thought of you as a mentor, and would appreciate your perspective on XYZ right now.”

Once you’ve had that exchange, and shared your gratitude for her perspective, you can ask if she’d be comfortable with you keeping her your list of people to reach out to for similar coaching or advice in the future.

What you’re doing is asking for the mentoring AFTER it’s already happening, which means you’ve let the mentor experience what you’re expecting. “Being a mentor” can feel big, and like another commitment or obligation. Asking after you’ve shown that it won’t take up too much of their time, and will be easy, it’s more likely you’ll get a yes for an ongoing mentoring relationship.

Here is the key to successful mentoring: YOU have to give something back to your mentor. It’s not a one-way street. Any relationship has to be mutually beneficial, and mentoring is not an exception. This can come through in many different ways: she gets (some) credit for your brilliance at work, or early information on what’s happening in other parts of your industry or organization. It could be great book recommendations, or helping her stay plugged in to the latest technology advancements applicable to your work.

Mentees have to give as well as take.