Tag Archives: difficult people

Bottle Patrol

28 Jul

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everyone has their thing.

My husband’s thing is to be OCD about windows and doors in the house, specifically windows and doors being open or closed at certain times of day. And fans being on or off at corresponding times of day, to maximize air flow in our “naturally” air-conditioned home.

And my thing is bottles. That’s right: bottles.

Specifically, it drives me crazy when people (i.e., my husband, and following in his footsteps my son) open a new bottle of something when there is already an available bottle that is not yet empty.

This is a significant issue in the refrigerator and in our bathroom. It happens with ketchup, mustard, pickles, and personal care products. I have come to believe that this issue is associated with the regular requests from my husband and son that go something like:

Where is my ___________?

Note that I get this question on a daily basis, in person, via text and voice mail. I can guarantee that if I have an early morning flight, as soon as I arrive at my destination I will hear this question from either my husband or my son.

Another variation on this same theme:

I can’t find the milk (I just bought) in the refrigerator. Where did you put it?

My response:

If you just bought it and put it in there, why can you not find it yourself? Do you still have eyes?

And,

Why do I have to know where all of your stuff is?

If I am not around to answer these questions, then a new bottle of (fill in the blank) gets opened.

I have dubbed myself “Bottle Patrol” in order to keep this problem in check. This is a real-life story about the hell I go through to keep this house organized in terms of bottles.

Two weeks ago, I had to consolidate body wash, dandruff shampoo, and conditioner in the bathroom because there were so many opened bottles of the same thing. It took me an hour to do this, upending bottles and draining them into corresponding already open bottles, rinsing out the empty ones, and putting empty and washed bottles into the recycling.

This morning, Bottle Patrol was on duty yet again. This is often the case after my husband makes the bi-weekly trip to Costco. He grew up Mormon and therefore has a natural instinct for stockpiling large amounts of supplies. The man has strong survivalist tendencies. His philosophy of “More is better” gets him in trouble with the Bottle Patrol.

Upon entering the bathroom this morning, I noticed that the problem I’d cleaned up two weeks ago had reappeared:

Three bottles of dandruff shampoo (two as of yet unopened) and two bottles of body wash (one still unopened) were overpopulating the shelf in the shower.

My response (he was not here to hear me say it):

No, no, and NO! Why do you keep doing this! We have tons of storage space for all your extra supplies. Why do you have to put the new bottles into rotation when the old one is not yet empty? Why, why, WHY?

I often go on to ask myself:

What does he think will happen that he puts so many flipping bottles of stuff in the shower? Will he for some reason be taking a shower and finish off the opened bottle of dandruff shampoo, and then have to be forced to open BOTH of the new bottles? The man has no hair. I cannot imagine this happening!

My son, as mentioned, has these same tendencies. Being a newly minted pre-teen, he is all of a sudden uber-hygiene-aware. He is stuck on Dove Men’s Body Wash EXTRA FRESH with Cooling Agent and Micro-Moisture. Promptly upon opening a new bottle, he announces:

Mom, I need more of the Dove Men’s Body Wash, THE GREEN EXTRA FRESH KIND. Can you get me three bottles?

Clearly, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to bottle accumulation.

I will train that kid, but my husband is beyond help.

Aliens at Work

7 Dec

A version of this post was also published on the Executive Elements blog earlier this year.

At work, we can sometimes sense that we’ve been dropped onto an alien planet. I’m very fortunate to be working for and with people who are from “my planet,” but I’ve been in places that felt alien.

Don’t think you’re alone if you find yourself pondering:

  • What is this strange language that’s being spoken, and why don’t I understand it? Will they understand me if I say, “Plergh?”
  • Why are decisions made without any seemingly rational train of thought?
  • Is this a bad dream, or am I really awake?
  • Where’d I park my mother ship? I need to get back to Earth!

If you’re having these feelings, don’t despair. We’ve all been there. Every workplace can be awkward or downright difficult at times. Even the most healthy workplaces have their moments.

But if there’s a pattern of dysfunctional behavior, recognize it and take stock. In some sense, it’s all relative. Each of us has a different tolerance to workplace problems like aggression, passive aggression, professional neglect, workplace bullying or general incompetence. One person’s abyss is another’s heaven.

Don’t accept unreasonable behavior that jeopardizes your career growth or negatively impacts your ability to perform. Work is hard — that’s why it’s called work. But it should not kill your soul.

I’ve realized over the years that I have a high tolerance for environments that are not conducive to human life. Out of loyalty or pride (“I won’t give up!”), I’ve let myself suffer for too long at times. Don’t make that mistake.

If you are caught in the alien planet dilemma, here are some survival skills:

  1. PERSPECTIVE – Talk with someone outside of work about your situation. They can help you to get some perspective.
  2. CAMARADERIE – Blow off steam over lunch or coffee with a coworker that you trust. Chances are if you are feeling off about something at work, you’re not the only one. Don’t wall yourself off from your colleagues and make yourself feel more isolated. By commiserating, you may also find some humor in the madness.
  3. STAY POSITIVE – I remind myself that having a positive attitude and healthy self-esteem can’t change other people’s problems. What it can do is to help keep my head clear and my heart clean while seeking out what’s next.

Remember that it’s possible — and preferable — to thrive in the workplace. While it says something about a person’s endurance and fortitude to be able to to survive in challenging conditions, sometimes enough is enough.

Over time, I’ve realized that it’s important to go with my gut instincts when I start feeling as if things just aren’t right. A decision to move on when the time is right is not a failure. It is simply a decision to make a change.

The Two Sides of Steve Jobs

30 Nov

All four of my readers will remember my post-mortem post on Steve Jobs. This post is further reflection on his life and accomplishments.

I’ve been reading the new Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and have some information to report back:

Steve Jobs was a genius and a nut.

He was emotionally immature, interpersonally inept, and an unbelievable hypocrite. When he didn’t get what he wanted in professional settings, he cried to manipulate people.  When he needed to encourage staff to take ideas to the next level, he tended to berate and belittle them instead. And despite the fact that he was himself given up for adoption by his mother and abandoned by his father, he refused to accept his own fatherhood for his oldest child until he was pretty much forced to after positive DNA testing.

This biography is not a tell-all, but Jobs wanted people to know the truth so wanted no censoring of content. I give him points for that. Isaacson conducted interviews with Jobs as well as hundreds of people Jobs knew–people with all kinds of opinions about what made him tick. It’s fascinating to read these insights into his process.

One of the things most intriguing to me is that, like George Harrison, Jobs sought spiritual enlightenment. I was surprised to find that he went to India to study Eastern philosophy and was a student of Buddhism. But unlike Harrison, Jobs did not seem to absorb any of the spiritual tenets around respect for other sentient beings. He used more of an end justifies the means type of approach to management,  putting people who worked for him on temporary pedestals to bolster their confidence one moment, while the very next telling them that what they created was “shit.” Apparently, he said this a lot. Jobs’ main takeaway from Buddhism, in particular Zen, seemed to be not the spirituality but the influence his  product design aesthetic: spartan, clean lines, and no fuss.

Another angle that Isaacson explores is the famous Jobs “reality distortion field.” If Steve Jobs believe that something was possible–even the impossible–he so strongly and passionately integrated this belief with his own worldview that for him and everyone around him it became reality. What that says to me is that he was so able to suspend his own disbelief that he had the power to persuade others to bend reality in very interesting ways…ways that beat deadlines and over-delivered on features.

All of this is interesting because it seems that the combination of these characteristics gave him the ability to manipulate his own and others’ thinking beyond the expected, giving us revolutionary products that are truly a pleasure to use. I’ve been wondering if all of the bad karma that Jobs created along the way of driving this technology to fruition outweighs the benefits of the products, and how they’ve impacted our lives in such positive ways. I think that you could argue it either way, and the answer is very subjective.

I’ve worked for people that I did not like at all interpersonally but whom I respected professionally, and who drove my thinking to the next level even though I despised their methods. I hated them for being so mean, but I still loved them for being geniuses. I’m a better professional for having worked with them, despite the pain. I think Steve Jobs left a slew of people behind with this very impression. He wasn’t good, he wasn’t bad. He was something in between: imperfect and himself.

Bed Bugs and Buddhism

23 Aug

The bedbugs have made me into a better Buddhist. Or Catholo-Buddhist. Or whatever mish-mash of “religions” I’ve become.

Here’s why: I have been a disciplined practitioner of eliminating my attachment to earthly things over the past days.

Meaning I have thrown out A LOT of stuff in a very short period of time. To quantify: One dumpsterful plus a double-load for bulk pick-up.

I thought it would be interesting to explore some Buddhist and Christian quotes on attachment and “worldly” living, made all the more interesting thanks to my new frenemies (props to Eric Calvert), the bedbugs.

Starting with this Buddhist quote:

The greatest generosity is non-attachment.

So, I’m being generous to the city dump, since no one wants my bedbuggy stuff? (Well, I suppose that’s not technically correct. See here for more on people who grew attached to my stuff, thereby taking on my former attachment with the added bonus of bedbugs.)

This next quote (also Buddhist) unmasks the illusion of the uniquely human trait–saving face:

The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

This is a special shout-out to any of my neighbors still speaking to me, after the several days of trash piled on my front lawn, followed by the dumpster sitting in my driveway after that. Now, we’re just back to the small pile of mulch at the bottom of the driveway, with several small trees growing out of it.

Hey, what can I say, that mulch pile was several feet high at the start of the summer. That’s what I call progress! So, even though I appear to be “that neighbor,” I’m really an extremely upstanding citizen wholly focused on saving the world, starting with absolute bedbug elimination.

Here’s one from the Bible:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that
friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a
friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

(James 4:4 (ESV))

Ignore the first part. It’s just a pithy lead-in to the meat. What this quote really means is that I am VERY close to God. I now despise my worldly possessions. Every time I throw a new load in the dumpster, I both curse AND say a little prayer. No matter that it mostly focuses on a swift death to all bedbugs in my near vicinity.

To further emphasize my hatred of my worldliness, all of my earthly possessions are now encased in giant trash bags, so that I cannot even tell what they are. It’s now as if I own almost nothing. I am no longer a friend to the temptations of acquisition. Less is more, because it means fewer bedbugs and less hassle for me.

I’ll admit that I have felt a bit like Job with this bedbug business. Why me, God? I didn’t do anything (seriously) wrong!

Much like Job’s protests, mine haven’t done anything to change my circumstances. Life happens, and it’s up to us to figure out how to deal with it. For now, apparently the best course of action is to downsize.

(P.S. Out of sheer curiosity, I did check for Biblical and Buddhist references to bedbugs and found none (although a host of other insects, including white ants, do crawl into certain verses). But I did find this interesting commentary on whether or not Buddhists are permitted to kill bedbugs. The post also explores some interesting thoughts on what it means to be reborn as a bedbug. Wow.)

Bite Me

15 Aug

Image courtesy of Bedbugger.com

My family has the adult equivalent of cooties: bedbugs.

No two ways about it. Confirmed by two different “bedbug experts.”

How did we get them? Who knows. Possibly through my travel or from a patient of my husband’s. We’re not dirty people, but there’s nothing like bedbugs to make you feel downright gross. It’s an instant source of shame. So pleasant to let your friends and family know about your newest guests, and how they can identify them under their own mattresses, behind pictures and electrical outlets, etc., etc.

Do many people get them? Yes, they do. We are not alone. I found a cheeky site called the Bed Bug Hub, hosted by the National Pest Management Association, reporting that:

Bed bugs are THE most difficult pest to treat, according to 76 percent of survey respondents, more so than cockroaches, ants and termites. As for where infestations occur, residences top the list with 89 percent of pest professionals treating bed bug infestations in apartments/condos and 88 percent treating bed bug infestations in single-family homes. Respondents also report other common areas, with 67 percent treating bed bug infestations in hotels/motels, 35 percent in college dormitories, 9 percent on various modes of transportation, 5 percent in laundry facilities, and 4 percent in movie theatres.

Did you read that? Why yes, it’s entirely possible that we got them from a movie theatre. But most likely, from my travel and overnights in hotels.

And, not surprisingly:

[T]he emotional and mental toll of experiencing a bed bug infestation can be severe and should not be taken lightly. Survey respondents report that 99% of clients who have had bed bugs were “upset and concerned” and 77% said such customers were “very upset and concerned.”

No doubt. Believe it. This is no fun. I think that I am better at imagining things are okay than my husband is. He hasn’t slept for nights. It’s not the bugs bugging him. We’ve only found a handful of them, truth be told. We are not in the “infestation” category by any means. But the worst thing about it is thinking about all of the potential consequences if left untreated. And the reason they’ve become more prevalent is because a lot of people cannot afford to treat them so just leave them be.

It’s the thought of the bugs, including where they are now and where they will be hiding tomorrow, underneath or behind something where we cannot see them.

And it’s the reactions of people once they find out that you have them. Many make the assumption that it has something to do with your hygiene…that it’s in some way YOUR fault. The truth is that bedbugs don’t discriminate: They like everyone’s blood, whether clean or dirty. They only come out at night, and what attracts them is warm-blooded people. The suckers are miniature, diabolical vampires.

Because of all this we are taking DRASTIC measures. Yes, I do mean DRASTIC. They must and will die. We are paying $3,200 for a combined heat and chemical treatment conducted by a professional exterminator. Here’s what they do:

  • Heat up each area of the house to a sustained temperature of 120 degrees. This will kill most of them.
  • Apply pesticides that kill the remaining bugs, including any eggs. (Did you know that they can lie dormant for 18 months? Just think of it…)
  • And then, we wait to see if they reappear. Because they are also killed by temperatures below 23 degrees, we are seriously considering a safety net treatment of our own in the winter, which will begin with us draining out our pipes, opening the windows, and leaving the house for a day.

Here’s what WE have to do before the exterminators begin their work:

  • Throw out and/or move out a bunch of stuff. Not because it has bedbugs, but because there’s a combined supply of an extra house’s worth of furniture and all-around stuff in the basement of our house, which we recently bought from my in-laws and where my nephew lived for a couple of years. As of this moment, my front yard is channeling the theme song from “Sanford and Son.” It’s full of items for the dumpster, which will arrive tomorrow. (More about my neighbors’ reaction to this in a minute.)
  • Wash everything–clothes, linens, furniture covers, anything fabric. Put it into sealed plastic bags. If it’s clothing that cannot be washed, dry it for 20 minutes at the highest possible heat. I even washed balls of yarn that I haven’t yet used for knitting.
  • Everything we wear out of the house at this point comes from a sealed plastic bag that ensures the clothing is bedbug-free. Everything. I cannot reinforce how much of a pain this is.
  • Vacuum everything, everywhere. Put bedbug covers on the beds. Do some spot treatments in the rooms where we’ve seen the bugs.
  • Repeat everything above as many times as necessary until it’s time for the exterminators.
  • Move all furniture away from the walls in every room and pray that our veneered furniture survives 120 degrees.

While the exterminators do their work, we get to go on a special bedbug vacation! Translation: We rent an affordable somewhat nice nearby hotel for two nights because we have to be away for that long. And we cancel our camping trip to Kelley’s Island, because instead we’ll be here doing post-exterminator cleanup.

So, this is going to be a $3,500 proposition all told.  Cha-ching.

The significant effed-upness of this was on my mind today when my husband told me that neighbors had called our area commission to complain about the furniture in our front yard. Bite me. We spent all day on Sunday getting it out there and the dumpster is coming tomorrow.

Our biggest mistake was our honesty in letting people know (and putting signs on the stuff) that NO ONE SHOULD TAKE IT because of the bedbugs. I’m convinced that this is the reason for the hulabaloo. How many people in our sort of upscale Columbus neighborhood have had bedbugs and not told their neighbors? I’m guessing more than a few.

And then we have the other side of the continuum. What percentage of the population will take furniture that possibly has bedbugs? From my personal estimation, a significant and disturbingly large number of not so discriminating fellows (all men, it’s true). In one situation, a man took a table that he was going to give to his daughter. Two hours later, I noticed that he’d brought the table back. Smart daughter!

There were probably 20 people who took furniture from the yard yesterday, even though it was clearly marked and we verbally warned them. And when I went out to the car this morning, at least a few people had gone through the piles and taken even more. I have to say that I was pretty shocked. Clearly, not enough people have been through this to know the real deal of bedbug removal. It ain’t pretty.

People don’t listen, and they don’t want to. They do not take this seriously. I’ve got spraypaint all over much of the furniture and on all of the trash bags with clothes and fabric stuff. And now we have some schmuck calling us to complain about our irresponsibility?

Bite me. Better yet, bedbug bite me.

We did talk with someone from the Columbus Health Department earlier today (after a very unhelpful call with them last week when they referred us to their website), and while at least this time they were available, they actually suggested that we have the furniture destroyed. My husband asked if a bonfire would work. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. Then on second thought, they said that what we’d done in terms of marking the furniture would do the trick. I’m glad we did the right thing, as embarrassing as it has been.

If I were not a nice person, I would wish the curse of these bedbugs on the person who called the commission. I guess it’s just one of those situations where you try to do the right thing and you just can’t please everyone all of the time.

I told a friend tonight that I’m going to install my 74-year-old father from SE Ohio on the front lawn. He will in no uncertain terms and with a highly unpleasant attitude tell nosy and judgmental neighbors to mind their own bedbugging business. In less polite words than that.

In closing, bedbugs suck: Blood, money and time.

Know the signs and do whatever you can to avoid getting them.

Breaking Away

19 Jul

At my new employer, there’s a saying that goes like this:

In school, we get the lesson, followed by the test.

In real life, we get the test followed by the lesson.

Oh so true! And I can speak from personal experience. Back in 2004 and 2005, I was at a “mid-term” (okay, yes ,”mid-life”) point, soul-searching in both personal and career matters. On both fronts, there were situations that tested me more than I’d ever been tested.

Up to that point in time, I’d been pretty lucky. Happiness had not been difficult to find. I’d married the man I loved, had two lovely kids, a house in the suburbs and a respectable career. I didn’t have to fight to reach any of those classic milestones in life. Not saying that I didn’t work hard and deserve my lot in life. Just saying that my path was never unnecessarily complicated or challenging.

Then, suddenly, I felt the need to ask myself some pretty deep personal and professional questions:

Do I like where I am?
Do I like who I am? Is this what I want to be when I’m ‘grown up?’

Because ‘grown up’ is now.

Annoyingly, a mentor of mine kept asking me this:

What is the lesson?

At the time, I’m not sure that I knew what the test OR the lesson was! The only thing that I had in mind was:

Gee, life is really difficult right now, and I’m not really having all that much fun.

I felt like reading a lot of Sartre, and I’m glad I didn’t do too much of that. Enough existential angst running around my head already!

Now, looking back on that time, I can better understand the test, and the lesson. The substance of it doesn’t matter, but the process does.

We’ve all had these moments in time. For me, they’ve hit at predictable developmental points in my life and in my career. Like my mentor’s question, this is also annoying. Because it just goes to show that I am not much different (aka better) than anyone else. That’s the first part of the lesson.

If you are at a point of feeling “stuck” in life, with family or career questions bombarding you, you may have reached a critical turning point–a time that will define what’s next.

Here’s a good checklist to help you build up momentum again and head in the right direction:

  1. Know thyself (and don’t snow thyself). Everyone is capable of lying to him- or herself. Don’t fall into this trap, because it’s a deep hole and requires a superhuman effort to climb out. Be clear about and stay true to your own values, and the choices you make will reflect them.
  2. Keep close friends (and friends close) and listen when they question you. Trust the counsel of your allies, even when it’s hard to take in.
  3. Change is a funny thing. Sometimes is best made quickly and cleanly. Other times it requires a lot of endurance and has to be made over time. Before you make a change, consider the short- and long-term consequences. Think through all of them and imagine yourself there. While changing can be cathartic in the moment, it may not feel that way after a few years. Think before you leap. Conversely, sometimes slow change creates needless pain over time. Better to yank off the band-aid than to draw out the agony. What type of change would this be for you?
  4. Seek out evidence that will help you to “pass the test” and “learn from the lesson.” If you get past an obstacle and it was just by luck, you’re going to run into that obstacle again. Guaranteed. So save yourself some heartache and learn it the first time, even if the lesson is painful.

One last piece of advice from another mentor of mine:

Keep your head on straight, and be true to your heart.

In the midst of even cataclysmic change, this will not steer you wrong.

Why I Love Modern Family

12 Mar

I watch very little television and am predictable in the programs I watch.

Project Runway,” “Glee” and “Modern Family” normally get my attention. I rarely watch when they air and either DVR or catch them on Hulu.

Lately I’ve found myself being fascinated with the characters on “Modern Family” and have even watched a couple of episodes multiple times. The writing, acting and general family dynamics have captured me. I have a crush on “Modern Family” and readily admit it.

Why is this? I’ve been asking myself why I spend 20 or 40 minutes a week so engrossed in network programming. Why bother? There are probably things I could to that would better feed my brain, or make more efficient use of time.

Sure, it’s entertaining. It’s funny. And the convuluted circumstances cooked up by the writers and played out by the genius of Ed O’Neill as Jay Pritchett or Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy are pure perfection. But here’s the thing I’ve figured out:

The storylines, character nuances and complex interplay are all achingly familiar to me. I can see myself and my own family in several of the characters. This is why I love it so much. It’s poignant and true in a “you can’t make this sh*t up” way.

As they say, true life is always more interesting than fiction. The great thing about “Modern Family” is that in its fiction, it manages to strike a chord that’s true in me. And in so many of us.

Take for example the latest episode, “Two Monkeys and a Panda.” Jay and Gloria have an interesting disagreement about how to handle burial arrangements. She wants to be buried in the ground, “where God can find [her],” and Jay would rather be buried in a mausoleum “drawer,” where the bugs and worms can’t get to him. I won’t give away how they solve this dilemma. But the solution has more to do with the delicate balance of well-meaning manipulation that is present in the most healthy marriages.

Gloria and Jay are opposites in more ways than age. There’s a tension in their marriage that works. Like in most good marriages. It made me think a lot about the give and take in my own marriage. I can be the fluffy ditz in the same way that Gloria is sometimes, and Ben can be the sane one, the one who makes the steady and rational choices. Case in point: He is WAY better at dealing with money than I am, and we’ve figured out ways to compensate for all of that with our family finances.

But there are times when I reset him and “win” — similar to what Gloria did to Jay — lovingly — in the recent Valentine’s Day episode. Or the way that Jay worked through all of the what-if’s of Gloria’s future after his death, so that he didn’t end up being “The Putz” husband. His solution is something that I would have done.

Phil Dunphy’s cluelessness with his wife Claire is another thing that makes me both laugh and cry. All of us, including me, have a bit of Phil Dunphy in us. I’ve done things that I know have hurt my husband’s feelings — completely unintentionally. It’s a bad feeling to recognize these things in retrospect, like what happens to Phil in the “Two Monkeys and a Panda” episode when he gets some much-needed guidance from the ladies at the spa after they overhear his conversation with his wife Claire. At times when he just needs to listen and support, he tries to solve Claire’s problems. I do this ALL THE TIME with Ben.

Claire is tightly wound and at times righteous in ways similar to me. The episode when she stands outside the house with the bullhorn yelling at the unsafe driver…I have done this very thing (without the bullhorn) in front of my own house.

And I’ve seen bits of myself in Mitchell, trying to control the situation in “Two Monkeys and a Panda,” in the situation with Lily’s birth certificate. And withholding information from Cam under the pretext of protecting him, only to find in the end that it was not a good decision. We’ve all been there, in some respect. Thinking that we know best and discovering in the end that it’s bettter just to have tough discussions up-front rather than cleaning up the mess after the fact.

So there you have it. In the big scheme of things, TV doesn’t matter. But the little details in “Modern Family” have big meaning for me, and I assume or a lot of other people, especially since it’s become so popular. It gets us right at the heart of things. Where it really makes a difference.

Working Motherhood

14 Nov

Today I was chatting with a friend who mentioned an interesting workplace concern:

Mothers who do not pull their own weight due to “kid commitments” — doctor appointments, school drop-offs, parent-teacher conferences and the list goes on.

In all honesty, I have very little patience with this rigmarole.

Walk in the shoes of a working mother or father for just a day. It ain’t pretty.

The juggling act of a parent with a professional position requiring anything beyond 40 hours a week of work is backbreaking. I’m not saying that those without kids don’t work hard. What I am saying is that those with children manage a high-wire act difficult to imagine unless personally experienced.

Spare time is nonexistent. With what little time there is in that grey margin of time just before and after work, the trade-offs are make-or-break:

  • Please a client by going the extra mile one evening by writing another op-ed or go to the ballet recital.
  • Make the boss happy by attending a client reception or be at home for dinner with the family.
  • Delegate to junior associates or do the work myself while my son is going to sleep.
  • Work on the weekend to catch up on the email and “thinking work” that I’m too busy to complete during workdays filled with meetings, or let it go and spend time just being a mom.
  • Have a tough conversation with my boss with the phone on mute while I am transporting my extremely loud and arguing kids to X evening activity, or set the limit that we’ll need to talk about work tomorrow.

Kids remember when we are not present. And so do coworkers, bosses and clients.

Being a parent and a professional are both serious business. Frankly, the only way I’ve found to do both is to do quite a bit of work while my children are sleeping or otherwise occupied on the weekend.

I often have the sense that I’m not paying enough attention to one or the other, but the simple fact is that I devote well beyond “full-time” to each. I know that most parents feel this way, too. Not all workplaces are sympathetic to working parents’ challenges. Children interrupt us at work, just as work interrupts us at home. It goes both ways. With the encroachment of technology and the stressors of the “new economy” — constantly feeling like we have to prove ourselves in order to stay ahead of the next layoff at work — it is often not fun.

For the most part, the policies of my employers have been open-minded to the situation of the working parent. I’ve been lucky in that regard.

What’s surprising is the attitudes of co-workers. Probably the most frustrating thing for me during my 14 years as a working mother has been the judgment of colleagues.

After my son was born, I took off nearly three months to be with him. Some thought this was too much time for someone in a leadership position like mine and let me know how they felt, but I don’t regret it to this day. You cannot get that time back.

Although I started working half-days before I returned, I still was not back at work full-time until my son was 12 weeks old. And when I was back, I took two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch every day. The breaks were to pump breast-milk that my husband could feed him while I was at work, and the half-hour-long lunch was so that I could be with him to feed him in person. I did this every day for about six months. And I worked more than 8 hours each day — usually something like 50-55 hours a week. Both the nursing and the work were priorities, and I did them both.

Because I took the breaks and the lunch on a regular schedule, often they interfered with other meetings that occurred at work. And that got noticed. I felt it. And there were one or two female colleagues without children who seemed resentful. It was stressful. I often felt rushed, running out of meetings to do the pumping or meet my husband in the parking lot with my son, so that we could sit in the car together for 30 minutes or so to nurse.

A few years ago, I was leaving work to attend a Girl Scout outing with my daughter — time that I made up after-hours. The following day, another working mom colleague shared with me that I needed to be careful about taking this time. She was subtly warning me that doing this was not generally acceptable at our workplace. I thanked her for the heads-up and took note. I also took note that people who left early to play golf did not seem to experience the same judgment.

Now that my kids are older, it’s not as stressful, but I often need to leave work right on time, or I arrive 15 minutes after our “official” start time. And I wonder whether it makes a difference or not that I am working well over full-time to make up the difference in the evenings. People can and do make uninformed judgments based upon what they see in the workplace.

The honest truth is that flex-time is over-rated. Because some of the time unfolds outside the regular work day, it’s easy to pass judgment that the time is “less than,” and thus the work itself and the commitment of the working parent are inferior.

I have no easy answer to this dilemma, for myself or for any other working parent. My own choice as a supervisor has been to support high-quality work and the people that do it, whenever and wherever they are able to complete that work.

There’s more to be learned here. I’m sure that I’ll get more clarity on this over time, but for now it’s just hard. It may sound like the easy way out, but I’m glad that I’m now counting down from nine years to the end of my time as a working mother of school-age kids.

Animal House

28 Sep

I heard an intriguing piece on NPR today, about the new David Sedaris book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. He discussed how freeing it is to write about people who remind him of animals, without having to make apologies for writing about them.

Confession: People often remind me of characters in fairy tales, classic novels and movies. While bored in long meetings, I have from time to time let my mind wander and imagine how their characters would fall down rabbit holes…

So it’s safe to say that I get where he’s coming from with this book. Childish, immature? Probably. But it works.

There is a part of me that thinks it’s bad to criticize people for character flaws, so I will think of them in more forgiving ways by letting them take on character roles. It helps me to be less angry. As characters, they have permission to do what they will do, in character, naturally and innately. Why wouldn’t they be themselves? Full-tilt, head-on, no holds barred.

I did this with my blog series for working with difficult people. There was the Corner Office Troll. The Change Agent. The Vampire. The Neglectful Boss. The Friday Afternoon Surprise. I’ve worked with all of these people and have seen them at their best and worst. At their core, I am enthralled with all of these difficult characters. Which is the reason I wrote about them. They’ve all taught me lessons, about how to be more compassionate, less obnoxious or more patient — with myself and others.

I did a similar writing exercise with a dog of mine. For a while, I gave him a Twitter account. The kids and I would come up with things he’d say, like:

5:30 am, Saturday: “Hellloooooooooooooo, yard! Here again?”

And so forth. But he kept saying the same things, so I’m interested in how Sedaris deals with the “goldfish world view.”

What I like about the Sedaris concept with his bestiary short stories is that there’s no line drawn between good and bad. Animals are animals, being themselves. And so many times people are that way, too. Sometimes it’s good not to pass judgment, just to accept people for who they are. I’ll report back once I start reading this, to let you know whether or not the book is as good as the concept.

Where’s My America?

25 Mar

Politics bring out the worst in human beings. I’m convinced.

This past week has been a case in point. With the health care reform bill now signed, we can look backward — and forward — with a certain amount of pride. And shame.

Pride for having accomplished a feat that puts us on a par with the rest of the developed world. We are finally in a position, as the wealthiest country in the world, to provide for our own people’s well-being, when they are not able to care for themselves. Our bootstraps mentality has gotten us far in this world, from explorers of the New World to pioneers of the Wild West. We have a right to be proud of DIY-ism.

Yet it has held us back from providing a fundamental building block of getting ahead — the gift of health — to millions of our fellow Americans. We’re apt to go around the world and be the hero, saving others from tribal infighting and cruel dictators, but we’ve hesitated for so long to provide for our own. Now we’ve gone and done it.

Where’s the shame in all of this? We have some serious contemplation to do on our collective reaction to the difference in opinion about this reform. What’s my key point here? Difference of opinion is a good thing. If approached without fear, hatred and bigotry, it’s fertile ground for bridge-building.

This is not about pollyanna can’t we just get along mentality. This is about the very substance of our nation, our past and future.

Where’s my America? An America that was born on difference of opinion, seeded by people who left Europe because they were persecuted for their religious beliefs that ran counter to the norm. My English ancestors came to America in 1682 on the ship Submission, leaving behind an England that had them fined, imprisoned and beaten down for practicing Quakerism. So many immigrants have come to these shores seeking freedom from persecution for their beliefs. Our government was built upon humanistic ideals that saw beyond religious affiliation and elitism.

Suddenly, difference of opinion means that we cannot meet in the middle. It assumes that there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to believe. Absolutism reigns, to our collective detriment. The ideologues on talk radio — both sides — are becoming our puppeteers. They create the spin, and we parrot their messages. I am so tired of hearing recycled ridiculousness from the pundits. When did we stop thinking for ourselves, reviewing the information at hand and coming up with opinions that we could stand behind?

Right here in my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, we’ve hosted Tea Partiers who publicly ridiculed a man with Parkinson’s disease, insinuating that he was a beggar who did not deserve “free” health care.  A sad case of misinterpreting someone’s circumstances.

Political discourse should not mean that citizens — and our elected officials — need to shout or threaten one another over something as trivial as a disagreement over beliefs. Theoretically, our political beliefs stem from the same set of facts. We just interpret them differently. That’s what makes them opinions. Somehow, society seems to be confusing beliefs and opinions with facts.

We need to get back to talking with one another, not accusing each other of being “baby killers” or “liars.” We’ve got to remember that our system of government was designed to blend difference of opinion and make something of it, not fail to participate in compromise and solution-building. The current landscape is an embarrassment to our country’s heritage of open debate. We’ve had our moments in history where we’ve strayed from the freedoms of thought and speech that formed the basis of our nation. Let’s not be tempted to let our America stoop so low again.