Tag Archives: life

An Optimistic Start?

28 Dec

Speeches have been on my mind. I have a few lined up this week, and they do get my blood going. The build-up, the thrill of the unexpected (hopefully not something embarrassing) and the fun of sharing information with a group that is actually interested in learning something. For all of these reasons, I have come to seek out opportunities to present. This was not always the case.

imagesMy first experience with public speaking was with the Reynoldsburg, Ohio Optimists’ Club. I was in fourth grade (I think?). My memory is not so good here, probably because this was not a positive experience. Sorry, Optimists!

There were lots of other kids lined up to speak. Probably 25 or so, several from each grade level in the school district. We were somewhat on home turf for me as the event was held at the church I grew up in. Methodist. (This was before my brother and I transferred over to St. Pius X, which led to my later becoming Catholic.) All of us waited in a hallway outside a very small, hot and stuffy library where each orator had his or her brief shining moment. The judges chose the best orator from each grade level and presented awards to each at the end.

I was more than a little intimidated while waiting in the hallway for my moment. I was nerdy, like everyone else there, so I had no reason to feel self-conscious. but I was probably more obsessive-compulsive than the rest and had an amazing ability to worry about every possible worst-case scenario. Here’s what was going through my head:

  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I open my mouth and nothing comes out?
  • What if I pee my pants?
  • What if my notecards get out of order?
  • What if I sweat so much that a puddle starts forming underneath me?
  • What if I pee my pants and sweat so much…..and so forth?

I had a good hour of running through these questions in my mind, visualizing each one of them happening, over and over. By the time I got to the front of the line, I was on adrenalin overload. I could have accomplished a major athletic feat, but instead I walked into a very hot little room with lots of serious-looking grown-ups who’d likely had their fill of kids giving speeches. I felt like I was free-falling.

Here’s what happened:

  • I did not get the notecards out of order, clam up or pee my pants.
  • I DID sweat a lot, have a very shaky voice, almost drop the notecards because my hands were shaking so much and talk so fast thatIgotthroughmyspeechinabout30seconds.
  • I did not win an award, nor did I deserve one.
  • My poor dad. He was there in the audience and probably wondered what the hell happened to me out in that hallway with the other kids. (He once defended my honor when I dropped a ball I should’ve caught while playing left-field with my third-grade softball team. Another parent made a critical comment in the stands and he nearly created a scene. Will write more about this another time. Go, Blue Blazers!) Mom was not there as she was stuck at home with severe agoraphobia. Afterward, Dad congratulated me and told me I did a really great job, and he was proud of me.

I am really grateful to my dad for his hopeful attitude about my future. I don’t think I gave him a very good glimpse of it that night, but he believed in me anyway. And I am happy that I don’t get nerves before speaking anymore.

To date, the Optimists remain my most difficult audience.

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Making Mistakes

5 Dec

Image: pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To Know Better is no saint and has been known to make less than stellar decisions from time to time.

We’ve all been there. Those who say they don’t make mistakes are either lying or not doing much. The more you try, the more you fail. And the more you have a chance to succeed.

I’ve had some stinging failures from friendships. Trusting people is a risk, and it doesn’t always work in your favor. But I’ve grown beyond that lost trust to build new friendships that have stood the test of time, where I can believe in myself and know that my friends support me as much as I support them.

Effort does make a difference. If I’ve put my all into something and I don’t succeed, I still try to have some sense of accomplishment. I have a tendency to throw myself into projects at work and put a lot of personal ownership and investment into the process and the outcome. I enjoy getting constructive criticism to help improve my work, but if the person I’m creating something for just doesn’t “get it” I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time. To keep from having that feeling, I try to use the work for another purpose. Did I do research for it that helped me to learn something new? If so, then the process was worth it. If it’s something I’ve written, can I use it for my portfolio or a professional association blog post? Repurposing supposed “failures” makes them feel more worthy of seeing the light of day.

As a favorite mentor of mine often asks: “What is the lesson?” This helps me to see my way beyond the mistake, even when it feels as if “this is the end.”

Failures are not sins: They are learning opportunities–valuable data to help get it right the next time.

Everyone has their weaknesses. Missing the mark is human and can be fixed. Never trying, or not being honest with myself about what really matters, is the greatest disappointment.

Public Discourse

19 Mar

Two-people-talking-logo

Today’s episode of Ira Glass’ “This American Life” contained two fabulous acts.

The first is a very good piece. I highly recommend that you listen. It’s a rescue story full of second thoughts and bizarre coincidences.

And the second act is even better. It’s about public discourse and why it’s important. In the story, professors at a liberal arts college must make public arguments about why their disciplines are preferable to others, and most worthwhile to have with you if you get stuck on a life raft. These public presentations have been going on for years, and it’s become a contest. The student audience votes for the winner. And at every contest, there’s a naysayer — one speaker who argues that the audience vote for no one.

Every year, one of the professors has won. And every year, much like our political races, the players become more performance than substance, more attention-getting than true to themselves. They use stunts, props, comedy, sexual innuendo and any number of distractions and off-point tactics to gain popularity and win the audience vote. Sound familiar?

In the episode, this year the naysayer wins — for the first time — because he encourages the students to vote for no one. None of the performers get the vote.

A man at the gas station yesterday told me he liked my American flag bumper sticker. Besides just being a flag, it says, “THINK,” across the top of the flag. To me, this bumper sticker is the epitome of being American. It’s why we are all here in the first place. Freedom of speech, religion, press. The ability to make up our own minds and voice our thoughts. A chance to vote and be active participants in a democracy.

Empty rhetoric has become so important in American life. It’s not a good thing. Most of what we hear from our leaders is crap. Most of what the people around us say about public policy — our coworkers, friends and family, and even ourselves — is not based on a lot of thought process. It resonates from pure opinion — usually someone else’s — loudly spewed opinion that we heard on whatever talk radio or supposedly news program. We’re good at mouthing back someone else’s words. Where are ours?

It is overly simplified and sound bite-ish. It’s oratorical, it’s designed — and maybe scientifically tested through polling — to leave an impression, a very specific impression. There’s very little substance behind it. In a word, it’s fake and it’s manipulative. It’s stupid.

What would happen if we only voted for those candidates who actually make cogent and substantive arguments? Not just the ones who convince us through persuasion and emotion. The ones who really say something. Ignore the political parties and just vote for the people who are thinking.

Beyond our failure to create an environment where candidates actually prove a point, we are reticent to get into conversations with one another about politics and policy matters. There’s no discourse in our discourse. It’s one-way. A friend was recently lamenting about this on Facebook.

Why won’t we have conversations with friends, family co-workers, about things that are controversial, about topics that are difficult?

We don’t want to offend. We don’t want to disagree with people that we have daily relationships with. We don’t want to make our lives more difficult.

I think that another reason for this fear is that we don’t know much about what we say. We don’t know enough, and we need to know more. And we need to be less afraid. And we need to have less of a need to be entertained and more of a need to know.

We are Americans, living in a country where our ancestors came here because this was supposed to be a place where you can think and speak your mind. Where you can engage in public discourse that has meaning and impact. Will you? Will I?

Executive Elements Blog

14 Jan

Dear People of the Blog,

I am now cross-blogging. Note that this is not the same as cross-dressing.

Check out a series I’m doing for Executive Elements, a new blog that focuses on building successful female leaders. Executive Elements Partner and Executive Coach Chasity Kuttrus is a force. I encourage you to subscribe to this blog, not just because of me but because of its quality and substance.

My series of posts is on “mentorly love” — focused on how female and male mentors complement our professional growth. In the series, I’m defining a couple of mentors on my personal “board of directors.” These folks have given me the support and push that I’ve needed along the way, like professional moms and dads.

Here’s the first post.

Enjoy!

Kim

When the GPS is Wrong…O, Canada

4 Jan

Over the holidays, my husband and I had an interesting bonding experience and marital trial re: the GPS. We were heading home from Maine, with my husband in charge of driving and navigation (never again on this one) since he brilliantly decided to leave at 12:30 am.

“What else am I gonna do? I’m awake, so I’ll drive. All you have to do is sleep!”

Right. Sleep. I vaguely remember that we left the resort by turning left (internal compass: “Why are we heading north?”) and then convincing myself that we’d eventually hang a hard left and end up going southwest.

My sleep lasted all of 40 minutes. When I was rudely awakened by bright lights and a red and white striped gate that read: ARRETEZ!

Capital letters and French, 2 am. Where’s my cafe au lait? Where the hell am I? In Canada?!?

Yes, it turns out we’d stumbled into Canada. Briefly. Just long enough to remind myself of my French and swiftly apologize to the border patrol. My husband, meanwhile, sat beside me stunned and pondering. “Huh. How’d we do that?”

There was no “We” in this faux pas. It was most assuredly not this map-lover’s fault. Mais non!

After about 10 minutes of proving our identities — which required waking up both children so that they could personally verify their birth dates and locations — we passed back safely onto American soil.

Lesson: The GPS was right. The fastest route from northern Maine to Columbus, Ohio is through Canada. But it didn’t factor in passing through a border that now requires passports, which we do not have.

We should never have relied on the GPS, with its myopic point A to point B incremental algorithms. There’s so much more to consider. Like much of life, it’s good to step back and take the big picture view with a large map in hand.

I’ve taken this lesson to heart as a good New Year’s reorientation. You can’t just putter along between points on the map and let the GPS do the driving. You’ve got to get situated, know where you are, where you’re headed and what’s the best route for any given moment in time. Rules change, and it’s good to be in the know.

Life has a way of lulling us into a false sense of security that we’ve found the quickest way, when in fact we’re always better off if we stay awake and aware of our surroundings, watching for signs to point us home.

The Guy from Philly

6 Oct

I put up post a while back about kindness. Last weekend, it happened again.

While in D.C. for a conference, we took time to sightsee on The Mall and at the Smithsonian. Josh and I needed to eat lunch, and I wasn’t particularly interested in the fare at the McDonald’s in Air and Space, so we went to a cafe at The Castle.

There was a ragtag group working that day, and it was late in the afternoon, 3-ish. A march had just finished on The Mall, and there was a crowd forming for food. The staff were not at their best, and frankly neither were we.

Josh and I made it all the way through the line, only to find that despite the cafe’s credit card signs, their machine wasn’t working. And of course I had no cash, because I never have cash in situations where I should.

The cashier wouldn’t budge, and I was not inclined to put everything back and give in to the McDonald’s. A guy behind us in line groaned loudly. “Okay, now we are going to have a scene. How could I be such an idiot!”

And suddenly, I realize that the loud guy with the big arms full of tattoos is really being very kind. He’s handing me a $20 bill to pay for the food. I politely declined, but he insisted.

When we got through the line, he said, “I just thought of being in that situation with my kid. Just mail me a check for $15.”

We exchanged addresses, and that was that.

No More “What’s Next?

3 Oct

For most of my life I’ve been aspiring to get to whatever was next. High school. College. Career. Marriage. Children. Always looking to that next point on the horizon. Not ever perfectly content with where I’ve been, always pushing forward with the thought in mind that whatever was next would be better than what came before.

Now, what’s next? The major milestones have been met. I’ve been restless the past few months and am just now realizing why.

I am at a midterm point. A crossroads. Middle age. I can now look backward and forward with some perspective on life. This is a point of dissatisfaction and “midlife crisis” for some. I’ll admit I went through that a few years ago and after an honest self-assessment determined that I am quite fortunate to be loved by a husband and family that are sometimes too patient with me. I am not perfect, and they love me anyway. This is a blessing that not everyone fully appreciates.

Now, the life decisions are more nuanced. Not about what I have, but about how I want to live in this world. More about form than function, such as:

  • Will I continue to do things the same way I’ve always done them, or will I change?
  • Will I truly know myself — my limitations and strengths — and accept both?
  • Will I make conscious choices to have the experiences that are most fulfilling, with the people in my life who can best share in that joy?

I think that adolescence is about determining the who am I and the why, young adulthood is determining the what and middle age is about the how and the with whom. I am feeling like the next decade or so will help me to learn more about people, care about the human interactions that energize life,  change the habits that are no longer helpful for me and accept the things about myself and others that are never going to change.