The Old Saddle Just Doesn’t Feel Right

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My excuse for this years-long break in my career chain is coming to an end.  The boy who is chasing dreams on the ski hill will soon be chasing different dreams at college.  He doesn’t need me for moral and nutritional support the way he once did (although the financial requirements continue unabated).  It is time for me to reclaim my life.  I march back to Denver, where I think I might find it.

A former professional, hard-driving (that’s a nice way to say it) attorney, I jump back into the fray of what I used to do.  I put myself out there, my resume listing all the great things I have done for past employers in embarrassingly measurable detail.  I shore up my self-confidence and submit myself to an interview for essentially the same job I once had.  I am in a video-conference site (because that’s what the cool recruiters have you do these days) and look at the image on the screen of the woman who would be my boss and I just don’t.  I don’t want it.  I don’t care about why she should want me.  I see the few-years-ago me in her and I am sad.  I do my best to feign interest and enthusiasm, but we both know my heart isn’t in it.

The last half-decade of my life living in the Colorado mountain air has changed me.  My heart is different.  I am softer, more of a mother, less of a shark.  I have volunteered in classrooms, hiked with friends to talk about tough life stuff, given more hugs, been more present. I have ridden my bike over mountain passes and back, breathing in both oxygen-depleted air and God’s beautiful creation.  I’ve listened to a lot of country music, along with the boy’s hip hop and (truly awful) gangsta rap. I have been surrounded by people who made choices to be happy with less, live in the moment, enjoy the sunshine and be grateful for fresh snow.  I have sat, tears flowing, in a gym where young hearts mourned the loss of a 15 year old boy who had personified life.  I have loved more than I have ever loved before.  The long-term growth objectives of a corporate non-entity just don’t carry the same level of importance that they once did.

I head to a local organization that works to prepare public high school kids for college.  My spirit is bouyed by the hope, fears and futures reflected in their eyes.  I answer their questions about what it takes to be an attorney, while secretly praying that they won’t lose themselves in the process.  I remind myself that they are not me.  Their paths will be unique.

I recognize that I must shift gears to match my new self.  I don’t know what that means.  I don’t know how to change course in the middle of life like this.  Is it doing what I did before but in a different way?  Putting this new skin of mine to good use as a more effective me?  Is it a new direction altogether?  Do I become the book store-lurking, public radio-working person Randy Newman sang about.  (If only I could write lyrics like Randy…)

Apparently I just can’t pretend to be the person I once was. Time to put on my big-girl panties and figure it out, because getting back in the same old saddle just doesn’t feel right.

 

 

 

Where Is the Other Side of This Crossroad?

italy-634155_1280I’m interrupting a half-written draft of an article containing musings about business’s lack of focus on their customers due to short-sighted financial reporting.  Sounds fascinating, right?  It’s not as bad as it could be, but it’s not holding my attention this afternoon.  So, here I am writing about me instead.

I recently decided it was time to shut down my little law practice.  I’ve been at it all by my lonesome for close to four years.  It’s been a good, flexible arrangement that allowed me to work from home, bring in a (little) income and recover from some emotional scars I picked up in a prior life. It has been a good touchstone for my lawyerly career roots, but it’s not what I do best.  And, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago in a thinly veiled blog post, my heart isn’t in it.

Our family’s situation is a little odd.  We live in a resort community.   My husband works two hours away in Denver during the week and my son is living his high school years on the race hill.  Through circumstance more than a conscious choice, I am the mostly at-home parent.  When I left my big, hefty grown-up job in 2011, I didn’t know what would be next.  It soon became clear that I needed a break from high-pressuredness and my husband was fairly terrific about supporting whatever direction life sent me in.   And then I was fairly fortunate to gather a handful of clients and keep my fingers in the pie, so to speak.

Nevertheless, it feels like I have been at a crossroad for going on four years.  It hasn’t been stagnant and I regret none of it.  I’ve settled somewhat, my son is growing in all ways and generally in good directions.  I’ve had the luxury of being here almost every day, of thinking, of writing, of spending time with friends and family and traveling with my husband and the Kid. My law practice, for all of its benefits, is also preventing me from looking ahead.  It is my little safe place but I don’t belong there.  It is time to put one foot in front of the other and trek forward on my own life journey.

Part of me, way in the back recesses, wonders what the next phase will be when I’m not needed here, when the Kid embarks on his grand life adventure outside of our family, when I’m ready to jump back into the soup of everything else.  I’m ready to follow my heart instead of my head, to do the thing that best fits me and my gifts.   I don’t know where the other side of this crossroad is or when it will get here, but each day and each decision, including this one to stop lawyering, brings it closer.

When Your Heart Isn’t In It

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Bode Miller, one of the greatest and most entertaining ski racers of all time, is on the verge of racking his race skis for the last time.  Maybe.  He’s leaning that way, they say.  At 37, he’s had a pretty good run.  His life has been full of winning, excitement, disappointment, injury, partying and living large as a celebrated global athlete.

The world watched him go a little crazy in his younger years, cheered him on to his Olympic and World Cup medals, questioned his choices and his lack of training, marveled at his ridiculous and raw talent, and watched his great performance and disappointing injury at the Olympics last year.  He went through painful back surgery this fall in hopes of skiing in the World Championships in Beaver Creek this month.

We all looked up the hill and hoped for more spectacular-ness from Bode as he started on the Super G course last week.  He was flying, leading the field.  Crazy and on the edge.  Classic Bode.  And then, he crashed.  It was horrendous to watch.  His ski sliced a tendon in his leg, requiring surgery.

In an interview afterward, he said he is considering being done as a racer.  He has two small children and a beautiful, talented wife.  He has priorities other than chasing a dream that he has already lived.  He can’t put the level of intensity into his training that competing at the World Cup level requires.  Sounds to me like his heart isn’t in it anymore.

I can relate.

Perhaps one of the harder things in life is knowing when to say when.  If the inner desire is gone, do you call it quits or push through?  Do you dig deep or throw in the towel?  When is enough enough?

If you walk away from something you have worked hard for and been successful at, something that other people are clambering to achieve, are you a quitter?  Are you ungrateful for what you have?  Will you regret giving it up?  Or will you be freed?  Will you be someone who knows yourself and lives accordingly?

Bode Miller’s body has been through the ringer, for sure, but he probably has a few more medals in him.  I’m guessing a lot of athletes would give some small body part to have the ability that he has right now.  And yet, he is considering giving it up even though the rest of the world is crying for him to stay in it. Good for him.

To thine own self be true.

If you’re in a profession for a certain length of time, it can become tiresome.  The shine wears off.  You get down-trodden, bedraggled.  Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to make a choice to walk away when we have a loss of heart?  We could have a sort of train track switch to shift us in another direction, triggered at that point when we just don’t have whatever it is anymore.  We wouldn’t have to confront the need to make a change — it would just be done for us.  No fear of second-guessing or regret.  No judgment.  That guy’s dragging big time at his accounting firm, CHING, he’s off to become a developer.  This one’s lost his curiosity as a surgeon, BOOM, he’s on his way to teaching origami.

Most of us don’t feel that we have the luxury of changing course when our heart isn’t in it.  We hang on much longer than we should.  Most of us are tied to the income, the status, the comfort of what we know.  We fear failure, we fear what others will think, we fear starting over.  We fear.  What would our world look like if more of us let go of the fear and followed our heart?

Do-Over?

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Remember in elementary school, when you messed up in a game at recess and you could call out “do-over” and you’d get to try again?  Do you have any moments, decisions, or experiences in life for which you want to scream “do-over”?  Have you looked back on, say, college, and thought, “Man, I wish I could go back and do that again, knowing what I know now”?  Having reached this place of mid-40’s, the prospect of a life do-over comes up from time to time, either in conversations with friends or in my own little thought world.

Some things I never, ever want to do over.  Junior high, for one.  Horrible.  Awkward, confused, looking out from under a mess of permed hair.  No.  Even knowing what I know now, I couldn’t do it.

There are some things, though, that I do think about.  In fifth grade, we got to join the concert band.  We were given the choice of which instrument to play.  I wanted to play the drums.  They were SO COOL and I wanted to bang away on them.  But when it came time for me to choose, my mouth said, “flute.”  Girls didn’t play the drums.  Seriously, I remember that thought going through this head.  I played the flute for five years.  The piccolo, too.  I was pretty good.  But … I would have rocked those drums.

In high school, I could have joined more, done more, lived more.  And maybe taken a few more risks with my teachers, exploring thoughts and ideas more than I did.  I could have been a better friend.  I could have taken more ownership of my future, rather than letting it happen.  I could have taken up the guitar, to complement my prowess on drums, and formed a rock band. Joan Jett, eat your heart out.

I do knock myself upside the head with some of the choices that I made in college.  What was I thinking, choosing to major in “Business Administration.”  Is that even something?  I loved Economics and couldn’t major in it because I swore off math, specifically Calculus, in my Freshman year.  What?  My grown-up self would shake that little 17 year-old body and say, SUCK IT UP.  Other things in college, like never taking advantage of the fabulous arts the campus had to offer, not joining a sorority, not joining much of anything really, I also regret.  If I’d only opened my eyes a little more.  And I’m not even going to start on that decision to go to law school.

Some parts, I did right and I’m happy that I did.  Like living in France for a summer.  Check.  Mark.  I lived, I experienced, I explored. I survived emergency surgery when I was all by myself in Munich, followed by the trains and planes trip back to the U.S. on crutches  … a story for another day.

I married the right guy, for sure, but I would take a wedding do-over.  It was gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, and I couldn’t have asked for more of a fairy tale day.  But I was worn out.  The Big Day was a week after I finished and graduated law school. My do-over would have us tying that knot quite a while later.  Maybe without the bridesmaids who I haven’t seen more than twice since.  And I would have dancing.  And, somehow, a beach.

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My career path could have a lot of do-overs.  But I don’t dwell on those much, other than to wish that I could tell my hard working younger self to take a breath.  To walk away sometimes.  To look around.  To recognize when I was really good, not just when I didn’t think I was good enough.

Mostly, I reflect upon the risks I didn’t take.  The times I played it safe rather than rolling the dice.  Those are the do-overs I’d like.  The heart-in-your throat times and the why-nots, those are the did-it-good moments, even if the outcomes were not the best.

I remember when I was young, I told my dad that I had never made a major decision in life where I didn’t feel at peace afterward.  I didn’t yet understand that afterward is a very long time.  I’m not suggesting that I regret the life I’ve lived so far.  To the contrary, it’s been quite a ride.  But for some things, especially those drums, I’d still like to call out, “DO-OVER”!

On Strength

I’ve been thinking a lot about strength over the last several months.  Most recently, because I haven’t had any following my bout with the stupid flu.  But even before that, I’ve had flitting thoughts of what it means to be strong, why we value it so much and whether and how I and others are strong.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the movie “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon.  She plays Cheryl Strayed, a woman whose life was plagued with difficulty, heartache and addiction.  She hiked, alone, over a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.  I walked out of the film wondering again at strength.  How did this woman, by all accounts broken, find whatever it was she needed to dig deep, survive and face her demons?  Physical, mental and emotional strength came from someplace in her.  Where?  Why do some people have it and some not?  What is it?

I’ve been collecting a few thoughts, which I’ll share here, even though I’m still pondering.

1. Our society places enormous value on certain types of strength and I think we’re a bit out of whack.  Fortitude, stick-to-it-tiveness, having convictions, being bigger-than-life.  We love strong athletes and pay some of them ridiculous amounts of money.  (No matter that they may shatter their brains or those of an opponent, because at the end of the day they are human, even if they can accomplish unhuman feats.)  We speak with admiration about someone who is “so strong” in the face of adversity.  Or we tell them that they must “be strong,” meaning that they must shore up, fend off, stand tall and generally never fall apart.  At least not openly.

Where does this awe for strength come from?  Are we overall better for it?  Or would we be better off viewing ourselves as part of a collective, where ones’ strength is recognized as a complement to another’s weakness?  Where we view the individual more holistically and value them for them, not just how fast they can run?  Where sometimes it’s ok not to be strong?

2.  We should have a little more respect for someone who acknowledges a weakness.  Ms. Strayed knew she was at a cross-road.  She recognized that her life was crumbling and she found a way to face it.  People were confused by her decision and told her to give up along the way.  If she hadn’t acknowledged that she needed help, she would have continued to spiral.  There is value for her and for those around her (and society, as we got the benefit of her writing) when she says, “Yep, I’m a weak mess and I need to figure this out.”

One of the first things I learned as a young professional was to admit when I didn’t know something or that I had messed up.  It was so much better to say, “I don’t know the answer but I will do my best to find out,” than to give the wrong answer and have to explain that later.  Or to look like an idiot by fumbling through what was obviously something I knew nothing about.  When I was further along in my career, I appreciated that same trait in a colleague or outside advisor.  Don’t give me a half-assed or guessed answer.  Go figure it out and get back to me.  Please.  It shows that you know what you don’t know and I can trust you.

Similarly, the best leaders know their strengths and their weaknesses.  They aren’t afraid to surround themselves with those whose strengths can fill in the gaps.  The most effective people I have encountered have a willingness to be exposed at times, to point to the number 3 or number 10 person and say out loud for all to hear, “This is her thing.  She will carry this part of our load.”  Doing this demonstrates an understanding of the landscape, the team and the individuals.  It shows confidence in that person and allows her to shine and grow.

3.  An area of weakness doesn’t have to stay that way.  We can get better.  Maybe not as much as we would like, or maybe not to the degree of the next guy, but better.  We all have soft, unexposed baby skin, areas that will flare red from life’s friction, joints that may buckle from the weight of too much, muscles atrophied from lack of use.  We may not be able to change our complexion or strengthen a joint, but there is more than one way to skin a cat, as they say.  Find the sunscreen, wear a rash guard, put on a brace, move those muscles.  Rely on a friend, talk with a colleague, study up, take a break.  Hike the Pacific Crest Trail and face the demons.  You can find strength from other places.

I guess it comes down to this:  we need to give ourselves a break.  No one can be strong in all ways always.  The sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we can appreciate the beauty of life’s mosaic, comprised of all of our strengths and our weaknesses.


A Rock’s Weakness Paints the River’s Path

A Rock's Weakness Paints the River's Path


Some Old Friends Stay in the Past, I Guess

I attended a reunion of women who had worked at my old law firm this week.  Going in, I really didn’t know what to expect.  It was a bit like going through the looking glass.  Here were people I used to spend entirely too many hours in a day with, but with whom I had lost touch after moving on to new and different experiences.  Many of them are truly lovely people, especially outside of the work place.  It was fun catching up on who was still with the firm, who had left and then gone back, how many children they had collected and what stage of life they were in.  Some were retired, some were seeing their youngest (who had been young children when we worked together) out of college.  Some had moved on to new and interesting roles as judges and activists.

I found myself a little nostalgic.  What if . . . I hadn’t left.  What if . . . I had done a better job staying in touch.  What if . . .  and then I bumped into a woman who had been such a good friend when we worked together.  She looked terrific.  She was the same but better.  She showed me pictures of her beautiful daughter.  She told me snarky stories as no one else could.  I realized I had missed her terribly.  As she ran out for a client call, we hugged and promised to get lunch soon.

And then, I saw another old friend across the room.  I made my way over and said hello, giving her a hug.  And the room chilled by several degrees.  Well then.  She and I had been very close.  We had been part of a group of friends that disbanded over time, I thought, because of spouses and kids and commitments and jobs that took us in different directions. But usually when that’s the case, we smile broadly and say how much we miss those days and look forward to getting back to it again.  Not this time.  I wondered what had happened.  Had I slighted her so many years ago?  I couldn’t think of anything.  What?

My heart a little mixed up, I made may way to my car and on home.  I was so happy to have reconnected, on some level, with so many wonderful people.  And I was sad that one friend was no longer that.

I remind myself that life does get in the way sometimes, and people have stories we know nothing about.  I’ll keep her in my heart with the memories from our past.  Safe and happy travels ahead, my dear old friend.

Reggie Rivers: To Achieve Your Goal, Don’t Focus on It

Last weekend, we parents of snow sport athletes at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail had a chance to hear Reggie Rivers speak.  Reggie is a dad, husband, author, broadcaster and motivational speaker.  Reggie also played running back for the Denver Broncos from 1991 to 1996.  As you would expect, he shared a lot of stories about growing up as an athlete, being the parent of a young athlete and, to the delight of several men in the audience, what it was like to play with John Elway and Shannon Sharpe.

He spoke about the importance of an athlete’s mental strength — that having extraordinary ability may not be enough to succeed as an elite athlete.  For some, great but not extraordinary ability plus mental strength carries them to that higher level and beyond much better than someone who hasn’t learned to deal with the pressure and intensity of competition.  He also talked a bit about those who peak too early and shared stories about the high school superstar who dominated at 16 and by 18 had fallen behind the ones who developed later.  He talked about the value of losing and the importance of letting your kid find his or her passion (emphasis on the his or her) in a supporting and grounded home.  All good things for young athletes and their parents to hear.  Much of it we had heard, but it was fun to hear him speak from personal experience.

At the end of his talk, he spoke to goal setting, and for whatever reason it really resonated for me in terms of all of life, not just athletics.  I had heard something similar before, perhaps with different words, but not with the same impact.  His message went something like this:


Goals are almost always out of your control.

So set your goal, whatever it may be, and determine what you can do (behaviors) to move you in the direction of achieving your goal.

Behaviors are almost always within your control.

Your goal stays on a wall or in a drawer somewhere and you may look at it from time to time.  But your focus should be on what you can control.  For an athlete:  nutrition, sleep, gym time, mental preparedness.  For a manager:  team planning, establishing and managing to metrics, working on presentation skills.  For a writer: writing every day, joining and participating in a peer review group, submitting a set number of articles each week.

Behaviors are today, tomorrow and this week.

Every day, consider whether what you are doing is consistent with moving in the direction toward your goal.  If not, reevaluate.  Do you really want to achieve that goal?  Are your behaviors the right ones to get you there?  Don’t let a set back get you off track.  Re-engage.

Success is moving in the direction you want to go, at the rate you want to go.

We don’t all move at the same speed.  Recognize when you have succeeded by implementing behaviors that are moving you toward your goal.


Food for thought.  Of course, much of the impact of his message was in the delivery, which I haven’t done justice.  If you want to see the real deal, check out Reggie’s TEDx talk on the subject:

▶ If you want to achieve your goals, don’t focus on them: Reggie Rivers at TEDxCrestmoorParkED – YouTube

It’s Lonely (Just Down from) the Top: Advice for In-house Lawyers.

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A senior leadership position in an organization can be a surprisingly lonely place, especially for in-house counsel.  Not only do you face the challenge of educating your “client” as to the often complex and changing legal constructs in which your company operates, but you also enjoy the role of balancing sound legal advice with the business needs and strategies of the company, of having to consider worst case scenarios when your client would rather focus on the upside, of managing a department of highly trained professionals who struggle with the day-to-day tedium that can be the reality of an in-house practice, and who often aspire to be upwardly mobile in a place that may not have much opportunity to offer its professionals.  Law departments can be perceived as revenue sucking cost-centers that are necessary evils, throwing up road-blocks at every turn.

Furthermore, senior leaders in the law department are often privy to “situations” within the company that may be delicate or challenging to manage.  They often must skirt around established protocols to obtain outside experts to advise and help address these situations.  It can result in awkward exchanges with fellow executives who may doubt your loyalty or may have (falsely) believed that you represented their personal interests rather than those of the company.  It can all be very isolating.  Sounds fun and rewarding, right?  It can be.  Leader lawyers who are able to put on the hat of a good manager can face these challenges head on, while staying connected to those around them.

Here are five strategies to help make it a little less lonely at the (almost) top:

1.  Establish as strong a department as possible.  As soon as you have gotten the lay of the land in your organization, determine where your department fits into the company’s construct. Outline, perhaps with the help of your CEO, CFO and COO, the role that you and the department are expected to play.  Document your understanding, in case this needs to be revisited later.  Then evaluate your department — is it properly organized to meet the expectations you have outlined?  Is it properly staffed?  Sometimes tough decisions will need to be made if you don’t have the right people.  You may want to reach out to the Executive Board or the Association for Corporate Counsel to get input in terms of the appropriate size and staffing levels for your company’s size and industry.  Communicate back to your executive team what your findings are if there is a budget or resource disparity, and discuss realistic goals for changes, if they are to be made.  If the company is not supportive of additional resources, clearly identify how that will impact the support that your organization can provide and the potential risks where there is a shortfall.  Then establish within your team how it will be organized and function, with clear job descriptions, responsibilities and goals.  Monitor their progress, including by speaking with their business contacts in the company.  You will demonstrate your abilities as a business leader, not just a managing attorney, by going through these exercises, thus earning the respect of your colleagues.

2.  Encourage your lawyers to become members of the business teams that you support.  Attend their team meetings.  Listen to their challenges.  Offer insights.  Often attorneys see across many units of an organization and can help bridge gaps.  Sometimes, an attorney’s experiences in an organization pre-date the business team, and can help explain why an idea did or didn’t work when it was tried before.  Don’t immediately say no to a project that seems to you to be ill advised or doomed from the start.  Listen, ask questions, make suggestions.  If feasible, go back and research alternatives.  Even if the answer eventually is no, you have shown that you are a team player and are trying to support their project or plan.  Sometimes a well-placed call to a fellow leader explaining the challenges presented will allow a decision to be made without it seeming that you are “just out to kill their deal.”

3.  Be as fair and open as you can be when you communicate to your department.  While you may get some initial breathing room by hiding something like decreased or disappearing bonuses from your team, when reality hits, you will have lost credibility with them, even if you had no control over the funding of bonuses.  People appreciate candor when you are able to give it to them.  Don’t make promises you cannot keep.  Don’t hang promotional carrots overhead if promotions are not a possibility.  Neither do you have to give the doomsday news if it isn’t yet confirmed or final.  Treat people the way you would like to be treated by your boss. Establish relationships based on trust.  If you are communicating as fairly as possible, it will help discourage rumor mills.  They are destructive, create fear unnecessarily, and distract from the work at hand.  If a personnel issue arises, deal with it as quickly and deftly as possible.  The “wait and see” approach almost always leads to a bigger mess.

4. Try to make coming to work fun for those around you.  It’s not an easy job, and morale can get pretty low, especially if you are still facing a client that hasn’t accepted the value of your contributions to the future of the company.  My last boss had an infectious laugh.  Even though I knew he was facing some tough challenges, hearing his laugh come from someone’s office just made the place a little better.  Try to find some time and money for group lunches or activities on some sort of schedule.  I finally had my assistant schedule my team’s lunches once every two months.  It wasn’t so often that I felt like we were wasting corporate funds, but it was often enough for us to break away from the day-to-day and escape.  It gave me a chance to catch up on what they were hearing/thinking/feeling so that I could take it into consideration, put untruths to rest, and try to get us all back on the same track.  I hope it made them feel appreciated and valued.  They were.

5.  Find a mentor or adviser with whom you can discuss some of the challenges that you are facing.  Sometimes you can find someone in the office who can be a sounding board.  Given what lawyers do, especially at the leadership level, this is not always an option.  You may need to engage a counselor or coach who will keep confidential what you tell them.  Obviously, your attorney-client confidentiality obligations preclude you from sharing anything relating to your legal representation of the Company.  However, you can still gain from discussing personnel issues, how to approach a hypothetical situation, and ask what has helped people in similar roles.  Your discussions may focus more on how you conduct yourself than on any specific situation you may be facing.  And being able to speak with someone who is not involved may give you some clarity.

Why You Gotta Be So Mean?

You know those stereotypes about girls and women:  vindictive, catty, controlling, and, earlier this year, bossy. . .  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but they are based on characteristics that a lot of women share.  When the whole “bossygate” thing was in the press this year, I was as indignant as the rest of them.  Why are woman considered bossy when men with the same style are leaders?  That’s outrageous!  Right?  Well, yes, that’s right as long as we’re talking about a good leadership style and fostering a culture of accountability plus strong teamwork.  But a lot of women behave badly.  Men do, too, of course.  Bad behavior is equal opportunity.  But in my experience, most of the time you know that a man is behaving badly so you can prepare for it and defend yourself.  Women have this unfortunate habit of passive-aggressive manipulation.  Whether in friendships or in the boardroom, their targets often don’t know what hit them until after it’s all over.  I’ll take a bombastic, screaming a**hole over a subversive, smiling bitch just about any day.

Why is this such a common trait in women?  I wish I knew.  I’ve been a member of the species all my life and I just realized that we aren’t going to grow out of this.  Seriously, for a long time I thought that the junior high behavior was just hanging on longer than it should.  But after a friend of mine shared yet another story of her women “friends” behaving badly, I reluctantly concluded that this is just they way a lot of women are.  They stir things up, look for the negative, magnify it, and turn it into something it should never have been.  Obviously, we should all be caring, supportive and constructive with each other.  And every so often, in work-life or in life-life, I am happy to observe someone who knows how to behave.  Someone who is all of those things, and is also able to hold herself and others accountable in a straightforward way.  It’s so refreshing.

I’m outing myself.  I have been guilty of bad girl behavior from time to time.  I’m a work in progress and I hope to be a better friend, boss, wife, mom and example of how not to be so mean.  I may still be bossy, but in a good way.

Come on, ladies, admit it.  Junior high wasn’t all that great . . .

Tom Petty’s Words to Live By

I love Tom Petty.  He writes the best lyrics.  Let’s take a moment to sing a few lines from a smattering of his songs (they’ve been in my head since last night, so it’s only fair that someone else is out there humming along):

“Learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings.  Coming down is the hardest thing.”

“You don’t know how it feels, no you don’t know how it feels, to be me.”

“I won’t back down.  No I won’t back down.  You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down. . . . In a world that keeps on pushing me around, no I won’t back down.”

“Into the great wide open.  Under them skies of blue.  Into the great wide open.  A rebel without a clue.”

And, just because I love his swagger:  “You got lucky, babe, when I found you.”

A terrific mix of brazenness and insecurity.  Tom, I know you’re at Red Rocks next week.  Give me a shout if you have a few minutes to chat about your ability to express what everyone feels.

Everyone feels fear.  Fear is a crazy thing.  It breeds insecurities and raises adrenalin.  It prevents action or causes irrational actions.  It spurs goal setting or overwhelms.  Fear itself is not bad, unless it irrationally takes over and limits participation in life.  Fear can be a good thing. It keeps us out of dangerous situations. It causes us to put together first aid kits, carry drinking water, wear helmets, slow down on icy roads and rehearse for a difficult conversation with a colleague. But it can also hold us back from experiencing some of life’s greatest moments.

Fear has been a familiar voice in my head throughout my life. My fears have absolutely affected my life’s journey, sometimes without me recognizing that fear was turning the wheel.  Let’s look at some fears I’m willing to admit to, tied to choices that I made in younger years.

I am an introvert who fears rejection =  I did not rush a sorority in college.

I fear making a mistake in public and making a fool of myself = I did not participate in debate.

I fear pain and failure =  I did not participate in scary sports like water skiing and snow skiing.

I feared working in a grown up job after college (really, that possibility of sucking and getting fired . . .) =  After college, I . . . wait for it . . .  WENT TO LAW SCHOOL.

So, law school sucked worse than getting fired (I have now experienced both) and it was really expensive.  But, even though my decision to do so was guided by fear, law school was a good path to take.  I met my husband in law school.  I learned that it was ok not to be the smartest one in the room.  I learned how to work really, really hard.  Eventually, it led to a career suited to my abilities and supported our family well for many many years. Choices based on fear aren’t necessarily bad ones.  But unless you’re being chased by a bear, in which case fear should be present and active, try to recognize that fear could be a lurking driver, face it, and consider whether it should influence your decision.  Address the fear and put it in its rightful place.  Behind you.

Fear has made me miss out on a lot of great things.  When I was young, we spent our summers on a lake.  Friends across the lake had a ski boat and offered to take my older brother out for a few laps. Mrs. Allen then asked if I wanted to give it a try. Me? A scrawny seven-year old? I didn’t do things like that – way too scary. They pointed to the shorter skis on shore and I went over to take a look. Just then, giant spider crawled into one of the boots as absolute proof that I was not meant to water ski that day.  No way. No one could convince me.   And that was it; I didn’t water ski until I was well into my 30’s, when I tired of watching my husband and son have all the fun and decided to give it a go. Turns out I have pretty good balance and it’s fun, even though I’ve fallen, a lot, and with great opportunity for embarrassment. This year I even figured out how to drop a ski. My son is confident that I’ll be “cutting” in a year or two (we’ll see on that one, this middle age body has some limitations). Due to those childhood fears, I missed out on several decades of an activity that I really enjoy.

I almost missed out on snow skiing as well. Growing up, my family had neither the funds nor the inclination to snow ski, so it wasn’t something I thought I needed in my life. In college, my boyfriend convinced me to go ski with him and his friends at Mt. Brighton in Michigan.   I borrowed my sister-in-law’s boots and skis, put on my jeans and headed to the hill. My boyfriend was no phenom in the skiing world, but he had a little experience. I scooched along behind him to the poma lift and by some miracle made it to the top. “Just follow me. Do what I do,” he said over his shoulder. I slid right into a fence and fell over. With determination I didn’t know I had, I got back up and headed for the bottom.   The next moment, my face met the ground, and my ski hit the back of my head. Broken nose. A less than fabulous first run and confirmation of my fears.  I was done.

Fast forward a few years, and I visited my new fiancé in Colorado over Thanksgiving weekend. And he wanted me to go skiing at Keystone. Seriously? As we drove up to the “hill,” I became convinced that he wanted me to die. There was NO WAY I was going to survive this day. I (literally and to his dismay) shook with fear.  He patiently took me to the ski school, where I was fitted with torturous boots and taken to the beginner slopes at the top. My instructors were a sweet retired couple who started us off with, “These are your skis. Let’s stand on them for a few minutes,” and then gently guided us to the bottom of the hill in our snow plow stances. To my great relief, I didn’t die. I persevered in spite of my fears and eventually conquered the slopes. Don’t get me wrong, fear still bubbles up when I look down a steep face and think about it a beat longer than I should.  A good friend of mine once told me, as I stood at the top of a pitch wondering what the heck I was doing there, “Sarah, sometimes you just have to commit.”  She’s absolutely right.  Sometimes, we just have to stare fear down and move forward. With Tom Petty singing in our heads.

What Is Your Passion?

What is your passion? A leadership training professional asked the question in a seminar I attended several years ago. We could not say family or job (and this discussion was definitely not about love interests . . .).   I was stumped. I sat there for a few seconds, looking blankly at the woman. Then I glanced around my table to see how others were responding. A couple of them had the same blanched expressions on their faces as I did. Others were completely at ease and ready to share, having had no apparent struggle identifying that thing that really got their engines going. I stumbled through the exercise, coming up with something, anything, so that I could finish and the next person could share his love of restoring cars or throwing pottery.

That question haunted me. Why didn’t I have a passion? Did this confirm my insecurities that I really am just a boring person? Or, had I neglected some inner, art-loving child who was now a shriveled lump?   There are a lot of things I like to do, I told myself. I enjoy reading, hiking, skiing and going to the beach, to name a few. But, I couldn’t say that I am passionate about any of them. Being passionate about something is to pursue the subject of the passion with a sustained, heightened level of intensity and interest, similar to the way a third grader anxiously awaits recess.

I’ve since been an observer of people who have a passion, the “Passionates,” to see what makes them tick. This is really easy to do in the Vail Valley, which is full of people with passions for skiing, biking, fishing, kayaking, golfing, hiking, hunting and backcountry activities, to name just a few. I listen to their stories with interest and curiosity about all the time and energy they lovingly put into their interests.

I also live with two Passionates. My husband is an ardent fan of Wolverine football and basketball. Very few can match his level of enthusiasm and the depth of his knowledge of every player, coach, game, opponent, type of turf, or size of the stadium. He also loves to cook, especially for a group of people. With great intensity and pure joy, he will get out cook books and go online searching for recipes, make the shopping list, prepare the food, cook and serve it to us fortunate souls who get to eat it.   My son is an alpine ski racer, who every day works to improve his mind and body to be better at his sport. Passion.

A passion isn’t necessarily a life-long thing. For example, I don’t recall my mother having a consuming interest or even a hobby until she retired, when she became an avid quilter. She found a niche that suited her active mind and outgoing nature. She now wins awards for her beautiful work and has filled her life with interesting people who enjoy and appreciate the same things she does. I love to see what she has created when we get together, and to hear her stories of finding the perfect fabric for her latest project.

On reflection, I realize that those of us who don’t have capital “P” passion are the yin to the Passionates’ yang. Our more balanced, or perhaps less intense, approach to life gives the Passionates room to jump in and splash around. We are their audience, cheering section and sometimes the happy beneficiaries of what they do.   Just because we don’t have a passion today doesn’t mean we won’t someday be consumed by one. To keep an active body and mind, to continue to grow and to be open to new adventures are elements of a life well lived. Passionates, go forth and embrace your love, and share it with those around you. As for the rest of us, let’s continue to live our relatively restrained lives with a healthy curiosity about those Passionates with whom we share this world. But be prepared — we just may become one some day.

A version of this was originally published in The Vail Daily on February 19, 2014.

Punching the Clock

Recently, I got a job working at Beaver Creek Resort a couple of mornings a week for fun. This was kind of a big step for me, as I haven’t had a boss for over two years (if you don’t count my dogs) and before that, I was a senior level attorney at a large company for many, many years. Having such a position isn’t like having a job. It is a life. It is all-consuming. At least it was for me.

During those years, I didn’t take a vacation without my laptop and Blackberry. I once went from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to New York City in under 12 hours to get to a board meeting. I knew how to get out of the Grand Canyon by plane (you have to take a sight-seeing expedition, which is sort of fun), because I had been required to leave a vacation at the Grand Canyon several years earlier for an off-site “team building” meeting.   This was the norm. An executive vice-president at that same company once confided that she would sneak into the bathroom to check her Blackberry when she went on a family vacation, because she didn’t want her son’s memories to consist exclusively of her working. Admittedly, some people seem better equipped to separate their personal life from their professional life. But I certainly observed many who, like me and my colleague, were struggling mightily with the elusive work-life balance concept.

When I started my job at Beaver Creek a couple of weeks ago, I was told to punch in and out on a time clock. It had been 25 years since I had punched a clock, back when I worked at a Ponderosa Steak House in college. I loathed that job and lasted barely a month. What a surprise, then, to discover that punching the time clock is my favorite part of the new job. When I punch in, I’m on the job. I’m there to do what needs doing. But when I punch out, I’m gone. I don’t think about work. I don’t check my email every 60 seconds. I don’t call in, just to make sure things are going ok.   I’m gone.

I find that I’m not alone in my love of the time clock. My new boss is a former consultant with a large accounting firm. He lived and worked his job for 30 years, in and out of the U.K. and the U.S. During my orientation, he shared with me that he loves punching in and out, for the same reasons. As I look around at my new clock-punching colleagues, I see some pretty happy people.

Someday in the not-too-distant future, I fully expect to go back to a position similar to the one I left a couple of years ago. Even though I tend to point out the negatives of that life, there were a lot of positives, not the least of which was the paycheck. I also enjoyed (much of) what I did for a living. However, when I do go back, I have decided that I will place my very own time clock on my desk. Or on my phone (is there an app for that?). I know I will still be checking emails and voicemails and dealing with crisis du jour while vacationing on Maui, but I am hopeful that the act of punching in and out will help demarcate the boundaries between work and home. And when others see me embracing that clock, I hope it reminds them that they, too, have a life worth punching out for.
Originally published January 8, 2014 in The Vail Daily.