Category Archives: Confidence

How to Survive a Lay-off

I ran into a friend of mine in the Old Navy parking lot a few weeks ago.  When I mentioned my recent lay-off, he replied, “well, it’s the season for it, isn’t it?”  Truly, I have several friends who are recently unemployed or about to be.

This is my first lay-off in about 12 years.  And where I ‘celebrated’ the last one with a tremendous amount of day-drinking, late-night hell-raising, bad daytime television, and unhealthy doses of self-loathing and self-pity, this one felt more like a gift.

Sure, I’m sad that I lost my job – I really liked many of the people I worked with, respected the company, and was proud of my success there.  But I wasn’t really going to get my name in lights.  And selfishly, secretly, I still really want that.

The best thing about being laid-off is that you don’t have to make a secret about your job hunt.

If you, like me, had a highly connected boss who is well-liked around your industry YOU ARE SCREWED if you look around while still employed.  It is just uber-awkward for all involved.  Lay-offs solve that problem.  Not only can you look openly but you can hit her up for a reference when the process gets real.

So what about the dirty details of life for the newly unemployed?

Well, there is always this.

And of course day-drinking.

But if your mortgage, dependents, or liver prevent you from getting pruny in a pity-pool, here are my suggestions for surviving a lay-off.

First, apply the 30-30-40 rule.

Spend 30% of your time looking for a job.  Not more and not less.  If you focus and act quickly, 30% is enough time.

I concentrated on 3 things and I started the same day I was laid-off:

  1. I rewrote my resume – a half-dozen times – with feedback from people who were not afraid to tell me the truth.
  2. I called/emailed/wrote everyone who loves me in my industry to tell them I’m looking and that I need their help.
    (People like to feel useful but usually only take action if you ask them directly.)
  3. I set up interviews with every job that was even remotely interesting.
    • You will freshen up your knowledge of what is hot and what is not.
    • You will sharpen your conversational skills/ interviewing skills.  e.g. I learned that it is probably not in your best hiring interest to casually mention that you didn’t see any female executives on the company’s website.
    • You will meet some cool people in positions of influence along the way.

I had 23 interviews in my first 3 weeks of unemployment.  That felt AWESOME.  Most of them were not going to go anywhere but I was active, and engaged and it didn’t leave much room for the whole “nobody wants me” narrative that likes to creep in when you are dismissed from a job.  Jobs and relationships only work when there is a mutual match.  If one of the parties changes his direction, the relationship is doomed.  No blood, no foul.  Part as friends and get back into the fray!

The second 30% of my time I focused on giving to others.  I am not the greatest at volunteering my time.  I do make pretty decent donations throughout the year to causes I care about but have idealized the notion of donating talent as even more valuable.  My talent seems to be creativity.  I’ve had a few random connections with people who’ve found my Linked In profile and asked for help with theirs.  I HATE resumes.  They are painful and sterile and austere.  Linked In summaries should ‘show some leg.’  While not actually sexy, the narrative of your career should also showcase a bit of your style and personality.  Make something that people will actually want to read and they will.  People interview for skills but they hire for personality.  (I sound like I really know my sh*t, right?  I am 83% certain I’m right.)

While unemployed, I rewrote some Linked In profiles, made some recommendations on Linked In, shopped for and crafted some decor and activities for a 5 year old’s birthday party, and did some small business marketing consulting for free.  Every single minute of it was fun.  It wasn’t the gratitude that made me feel so happy; it was that I did something that actually benefitted these friends.  I might not have had time to do these things while working full-time.  But I did while unemployed and I was able to show both new and old friends how much I value them by giving up my time to do something that came easily for me but caused them headaches.

Finally, I spent 40% of my time taking care of me and my family.  I have spent so much time with my daughters – playing, learning, adventuring, etc.  My 4 year old has said multiple times “Mommy, this is the best day of my life.”  My response?  ME TOO.  And it has been.  I will never get another chance to be unemployed when my girls are 4 and 1.  I soaked up every second of their filthy, silly, annoying, whining, giggling, wrestling, dancing, singing, mess-making, crafting, writing, reading, snuggling, cuddling, and general awesomeness.  I am so full and yet I have room for more everyday.  It is a gift that keeps on giving.

To a lesser extent, I also doted on my husband.  No, I didn’t suddenly become a sexpot runway model who fed him bonbons while shaking mine.  Although that would have been nice…  I did, however, chip in a great deal more on housework  – which usually falls on his shoulders as a SAHD.  I continued to cook even though I felt like ordering fatty, starchy badness.  Since the hub is on the Ironman training regiment, I also cooked mostly healthy, flavorful goodies to support the goal he is working toward.  We even managed to sneak in a couple of date nights where we cashed in some gift certificates to offset expenses we weren’t sure we could afford.

And for myself?  I did two things:  I worked out regularly and I tackled my “Icky List.”  The work-outs shouldn’t need explanation.  I feel good about myself when I’m fit.  I have made peace with not being a string bean.  I actually like being big and strong.  Dressing a big and strong body without looking like a hoochie?  Another post for another time.  But for my heart, my longevity, my waistline, and my confidence – there is no better money or time spent than in the gym, pool or yoga studio.  And I didn’t give that up over this break.

The “Icky List” is comprised of the things that I don’t want to do but that need to be done, at varying degrees of urgency, that tiptoe into my consciousness on nights when I really need to sleep.  They start off like stealthy reminders – using ballet feet to sweep across my otherwise calm, dark mind just before sleep comes.  But only one of them needs to be a code orange to jar me out of calm and into “Oh crap!” mode.  Once that happens, the Icky List becomes a heard of elephants trampling any remaining hope of rest while cackling witches swoop around my cranium mocking my incompetence.  It isn’t pretty.

I reorganized two rooms of my house to make better use of space and hide/remove clutter.  I donated 147 books from my introduction to hoarding stash to allow for toy bins, stationary boxes and less unsightly clutter.  I regrouted my kitchen counter.  I organized pictures.  I purchased a new external harddrive and back up external harddrive.  I saved my pictures and music on both.  I organized the basement storage and DVDs and closets.

The list is not completed.  It probably never will be.  But I look around this house in which I have spent so much more of my time lately and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.  I enjoy the home we’ve made here.  I have no nagging anxiety about devolving into a messy, clutter-loving nightmare.  I am not tied to my things.  I am tied to my people.  And that’s a pretty good tie in my book.

The best part is?
I’ve been sleeping pretty well.

Finding my dream a job certainly helps.

Author note:  Not, in fact, a dream job after all.

The Evil Queen Myth

queenWhen my daughter got into fairy tales and princess things, she would dress up and play pretend every chance she got.  She would construct elaborate stories and wear as much of her costume jewelry as possible.  If her dad or I were around, we would usually be added to the cast of characters.  Daddy was the King or the handsome Prince, and I was the Evil Queen.

At first, I was totally taken aback by this label.  EVIL QUEEN?!?!?  Was this an early rebellion?  Was I coming down too hard on our preschooler such that she had already identified me as the “mean” parent?  I don’t WANT to be evil.  Something had to be done!

But as I paid closer attention to what my daughter was actually watching, the innocuous Disney dramas took on a slightly sinister role.  Fairy Tales were teaching my daughter that while girls were good, women were evil.  Of all the unholy sermons… this was the most offensive.

Undoubtedly, stepmothers have always had a bad rap from Cinderella.  Snow White literally has an evil queen character who is not only competitive and vain, but also a witch.  Hansel & Gretel were left in the woods to die by their (step)mother and are nearly eaten by an old… you guessed it, witch.

The kicker for me, though, was Tangled.  My daughter didn’t understand that the woman with Rapunzel wasn’t her mother but an evil old woman who STOLE her from her mother.  I had to explain that several times that Rapunzel called her “mother” because she was tricked and didn’t know any better.  I explained that her REAL mother would never stop crying until Rapunzel was returned home.

But, I think, the damage was already done.

Despite my joy at the movie’s red-headed heroine, I was initially put off by Brave because the Queen was, again, the enemy.  She was the disciplinarian, the strict parent, the “problem.”  The movie saved itself (spoiler alert) as the Queen and Merida reconciled to understand each other better and grow to become friends as well as mother and daughter.

Why are grown women always portrayed as the bad guys in children’s movies?

Is this some kind of sick joke?

Who is writing this crap?*

*Note to self:  Write a decent fairy tale that doesn’t make women out to be the bad guys.

This “Evil Queen” thing shows up outside of fairy tales too.  There is a commercial airing now for Multi-Grain Cheerios with a mother-daughter exchange that I HATE.

I found plenty of posts about this on some entertaining threads and thoughtful blogs but the thing that disturbs me about this commercial is the look the mom gives the daughter acknowledging that she is, in fact, wearing her daughter’s jeans.  It is smug.  It is confrontational.  It is a challenge saying “HA!  What are YOU going to do about the fact that I am as skinny as you?”

It is so repulsive to me.

I love Cheerios.  (I especially love the new fruity Cheerios.)  But this portrayal of the mom as mean-girl is such an enormous offense that it could not possibly have had a mom on the creative team.  [Or perhaps it did and she is keeping her mouth shut because she has had to take one too many personal days to care for her kids and is worried about her job… another post for another time.]

It gives me pause to think about how much we manufacture the drama between women and how much of it is inevitable.  Why did we stop being community sisters – helping each other with household chores, errands, child-rearing, feasts, etc. – and start being bitchy mortal enemies?

Who has the time for all this drama?

I have two daughters.  And while they are not yet growing into little women, I look forward to when they do so that I can help them feel proud of their changes and confident in whatever shape nature gives them and to honor the wonder that is the female body.

Despite my fierce desire to protect my little princesses, I have noticed a bit of “Evil Queen” mentality creeping into my own mind recently.  As I barrel into 40, I’ve taken to calling out my age in much the same way as I used to call out my weight – as an apology.

There can be no good that comes of it and it likely makes people as uncomfortable as it did when I belabored my weight-related self-loathing.  So why do it?

Old age is a privilege.  Hell, MIDDLE age is a privilege.  I may not be the perfect, powerful, rich and thin me I had dreamed for myself at 40 but it’s all relative.  I’m not too shabby.  I made a terrible princess but I might yet make a fabulous queen if I let myself get into the role a bit.

I’ve got two princesses watching how to grow with grace and honor and humor.  So snap out of it, Schmidt!  There is no dress rehearsal for mommies.

I wouldn’t trade my life now for any other time.  I really DO believe that the best is yet to come.

And as the great philosopher Will the Krill says, “Fearing the best is a complete waste of time.”

So, tell me.

Where do you see the Evil Queen myth creeping in and what are we going to do about it?

The Devil Wears Pixels

(Originally a Facebook Note, posted August 2009 – but I have been thinking about it recently.)

I watched a deliciously girly movie tonight on FX – and amid the pomp and circumstance of the fashion and fuss, I was reminded of some amazing lessons I’ve learned in my career.

I’m not one of those people who is overly critical of movies. I consider films great if I laugh or cry and absolutely phenomenal if I get to do both. Beneath the gilded tapestry of lines in the Devil Wears Prada are some wholly un-materialistic value messages.

There’s a scene where Andy and Miranda are in a town car in Paris. Andy says “I could never do what you did” and Miranda retorts “You already did.”

If you’ve seen this scene you know exactly how cutting this exchange is. If not, it is like your mother holding a mirror up to your face the morning after an all-nighter.

You feel shame and disgust and guilt even if you didn’t do anything.

I am so fascinated by the way women treat each other in life and in business. One of my favorite sayings is that ‘only ugly girls are catty’. If one looks okay on the outside and is still obsessed with cutting and undermining, well… that ugliness lives somewhere.

I remember in my teens and early twenties, I proudly pitched myself as a guys’ girl. I simply didn’t have anything in common with other women. They were idiots or bimbos or superficial or prissy or backstabbing or bobbleheads. And then I realized I was simply hanging out with the wrong women.

In addition to a few, key teammates and some artistic types, I credit my friend Martina with helping me embrace my universal sisterhood. As a transplanted woman, she focused exclusively on cultivating friendships with strong, smart, fun women. Since we’re still friends, I’m going to assert that she was wildly successful in her venture.

It took me a long time to figure out how to navigate the treacherous and often treasonous world of female friendships. Admittedly, I sometimes still get it wrong. But for all of the mistakes I’ve made (too often when I felt my most awful and insecure), I have done some things right.

  • I believe in giving women compliments. I give them all the time. I give them to people I know and to total strangers. I don’t care if anyone knows or hears except for the recipient. Women don’t know enough good things about themselves. Women NEVER hear enough good things about themselves. There is nothing like a spontaneous compliment to plug the leak in the self-esteem drain.
  • I also believe in honesty. False support/friendship is a weakness and should be banished from our gender’s repertoire.
  • I promote the idea that two wrongs do not make a right. And a shallow, caustic comment should not inspire an equally biting retort.

This goes for work environments as well.

In advertising, I was privileged to work with a lot of women. I mean that. Privileged.

That doesn’t mean that I liked or respected all of them. And that doesn’t mean that my first impression was right all the time.

But here’s the thing…

It is a mistake to stab people in the back, or the front.

Anytime.

No matter what.

(SIDE NOTE: Have you seen the great speech Robyn Williams delivers to Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Patch Adams” about being a dick?  He says that it is a mistake of youth to think that one has to be a dick to get ahead in life and naiveté to think that it is a new concept. It is a brilliant statement to me. Simply brilliant. Because for all of our striving and struggling and studying and suffering… what, in effect, will our legacy be?)

In the movie, Andy goes to Paris instead of Emily. She says she had no choice – it was to preserve her future.

pumpsMiranda scoffs at Andy’s repugnance with the comment “Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us.”

I

think

not.

For me, I am laying down once and for all any feelings of betrayal or indignation or rage. People make choices that we cannot understand or explain or accept. But that is really, in the end, only their problem. It becomes ours when we hold onto it.

As for me, I plan to love and be loved. I plan to teach and to learn. I plan to hope and to laugh.

And to wear fabulous shoes.

7 Things I’ve Learned About Life… From Work

7 Things I've LearnedOne of the things I seem to struggle with is knowing my unique value proposition.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what I know, you know?

Turns out, I am not quite as dumb as I look.  I’ve picked up a few things along my path that have turned out to be useful in my battle between thinking and feeling as a professional and in my quest to be a better human in the real world.  What do you think – do they ring true for you, too?

1)  Companies Don’t Love You; They Love Money.

I am mostly a starry-eyed jackass when it comes to the world.  I want to believe in the good of everyone and everything.  I do, still, hope for the best… always.  But no matter how cool/evolved/compassionate/balanced your work is – if you’re not making money, someone will eventually get sacked.  And maybe everyone.  I’ve worked for three companies who have gone belly up (call me Molly Brown) and been part of several more who have been acquired – wreacking havoc on executives and workers alike.  I’ve worked within two industries as they declined into almost oblivion and one that rebounded mightily.

I’ve taken more than a few jobs because I was impressed with charismatic leadership.  In the long run, however, it is more useful to think of your boss(es) like Stuckey from Pretty Woman.  Like Edward says, “You don’t love me; it’s the kill you love.  I made you a very rich man doing exactly what you love.“

There will be jobs and people who only ‘love’ you for what you can do for them.  It isn’t good or bad, it just is.  Learn to recognize them so you don’t  mistake value for emotion.

2)  Money Isn’t Everything

The best things in life are free.  Don’t tell my boss, but this is true at work too.  I do what I do because it supports a good life for my family but I feel my absolute best, not on payday, but on the days when I do something extraordinary for a client, a colleague, or the company.

When  I am able to use my strengths in a way that is not narrowly defined by my role, I know that I’m making a contribution that cannot easily be replicated.  And for me, being unique – being different – is among my chief fulfillments.  I enjoy being part of a team but only when I have a role in addition to the team one.

Find out what your fulfillments are and make sure you’re satisfying your non-money buckets.

3)  Balance Your Staff

“It takes all kinds.”  You’ve heard this before with respect to tolerance, yes?  Well, in the workplace and in life – it takes all kinds of people to create harmony and balance.  Having a staff of pleasers may make the boss feel awesome and create a superficially agreeable workplace.  But people who avoid ruffled feathers at all costs can nicey-nice a company right over a cliff.

Strengths in people build strengths in families and companies alike.  In the same way that opposites attract, if you have aligned goals but different talents there is less competition and more forward momentum – provided people are trusted and empowered to do that at which they excel.

It also helps to say “Thank you” to your counter-balance when she/he does the proverbial (or literal) dirty laundry in your world.

4)  Everyone Needs To Feel Useful

This one I’ve only learned recently and, embarrassingly, it caught me off-guard.  I went to work in an office for the first time in a while.  The team was established and had a rhythm established.  There was, however, a disproportionate amount of one-kind of personality – the “relationship builders.”  I failed to recognize that these colleagues value their connections with people above all else, they need their style to be reciprocated.  By NOT connecting with them on a personal level, they felt marginalized – even insulted.  Unintentionally, my actions told them “you are not useful to me.”  People hate that.

Since I’m a nerd for quotes, this seems like a perfect time for one:    “Everyone Is a Genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Einstein.

That quote bombs me into submission every time.

Now, I want to discover what everyone’s genius is as quickly as possible so that I can connect with them and learn from them and promote them for their strengths.

5)  [Some] People Are Mean

This is the hardest lesson for die-hard Pollyannas.  Some people suck.  They just do.  I don’t know why.  We may never know why.  But they do.  The thing is, though, that people often suck for a reason.  And it is probably not (really) about you.

I once managed a team where it was revealed that all of us were on anti-depressants.  I knew my situation was icky but in my myopia, I hadn’t thought about how bad it was for them.  I needed to cut them some slack – to give them greater empathy and help them navigate through a really uninspiring time.  I didn’t realize that until it was too late.

The advice I love best on this is that you can only control yourself – how you act, how you react.  YOU control that and nothing more.  So let people suck.  Don’t follow their example.  Two wrongs still don’t make a right.  But also, don’t let their moral bankruptcy (I love that phrase so hard), their bad attitude, their laziness, their obstinacy, their overinflated sense of self, whatever – change who or how you are.

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”  ― Thich Nhat Hanh

6)  Relationships Are All That You Can Take With You When You Go

Do people who are not creative types have portfolios?  I don’t.  I probably would have less of a confidence crisis if I could review some of the smart, original work I’ve done for clients and employers.  I’m not great at organizing the past – I still don’t have a wedding album for crying out loud.  I prefer the Josiah Bartlett life approach of “what’s next?”

In this day and age, people don’t stay put.  People move house, town, country.  They change jobs with greater (and greater) frequency.  The smart media plan you did for so-and-so, the partnership you brokered while doing blah-blah-blah… those have already been absorbed into the company and taken credit for by someone who couldn’t tie your shoelaces but has all the boot-licking skills necessary to be a lap dog for a very, very long time.

The thing that you have that they never will are the relationships that enabled you to win that business, broker that deal, make the introduction, etc.  Anyone can exchange business cards.  Anyone can throw around a company expense account.  Amassing a network of people who know you and respect you as a person and a professional is a value that is unique to you and cannot be touched.

Leave people better for knowing you – whether five or five thousand – and they will stay in your corner no matter what is said about you.  Even if you’re the one spouting the slander.

7)  It Isn’t Greener Anyplace Else

No one, and I mean NO ONE wants to admit this.  But every company, family, group, organization is a shit show.  There are varying degrees of shit, true, but anything made up of humans is going to have flaws.

Everyone is a brand of crazy and the goal is to find someone (or some place) whose crazy matches your own.  You can change jobs and you can create your own family.  But getting itchy because things aren’t going well doesn’t mean it will be better anyplace else.

An industry friend once gave me some sound advice – forget about “smart,” everybody is smart – look at the what (do you believe), look at the who (are they moral), and look at the how (could this game plan work for the next play – because game plans always change… they have to).

This was so damn simple and wise – it made me feel like a jackass for not knowing it already… but just for a minute.  Because that is what HIS genius is – distilling messy complexities into pocketsize wisdom.

Now I just need to figure out what’s mine.

The Confidence Quotient

While I’m not exactly sure why I stopped writing, I am certainly worse for it – and I do not mean my Klout score.

I’d like to claim that line from the movie Contagion where the dad-from-Six Feet Under called blogs “graffiti with punctuation” chastened me or that sitting ten feet from the bureau chief of Chicago’s NYT editorial team has intimidated me.

The truth, however, is that I’m just in a confidence crisis.  My slightly-neurotic analysis has yielded something like this:

When I was smart, I just wanted to be pretty.
When I was pretty, I just wanted to be loved.
I know now that I am neither smart nor pretty, but am miraculously and unquestionably loved.

My simple mind isn’t processing this well.

Further, what’s love got to do with it?

I’m talking about SELF-confidence.  Belief in oneself apparently has nothing to do with how other people view you.  But lack of it sure makes you vulnerable to the worst opinions others may or may not have.  (You would not believe how far I can take this.)

Shouldn’t truly having self-confidence make you a bit impervious to outside forces?  Is it not your own invisibility cloak when the ghost of crappy economy haunts you?  Or the shield against the morally bankrupt thugs who would rob you of your vehicle to success and kick you as they drive away?

I am reminded again of that haunting statement by an interviewer that his dream candidates are single women because they have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.  It made me furious then, but merely more self-conscious now.

Writing, like any art, is about sharing your impression of the life that surrounds you.  And since we are all the hero of our own drama, everyone’s impression is unique to their storyline.

What has risen up as a monumental roadblock is the nagging disbelief that my storyline matters.

I think self-confidence is the elephant in every woman’s mental room of her own.
And my elephant has taken to sitting on top of me and crushing the life out.

This isn’t to say that men don’t suffer from a crisis in confidence.  I’m sure they do.  But overwhelmingly, I have noticed that women (including me) get derailed by circumstances beyond their control and then struggle to compartmentalize a sucky situation so they can get back to being awesome.

I had a fantastic conversation this week with someone who wanted ME as a mentor.  [If that doesn’t boost confidence, what on earth will?]  Listening to her story and her self-doubt felt very raw.  In the beginning of the conversation, my nag was reciting “blind leading the blind” over and over… but when I stopped thinking about poor me and what an unimpressive loser I’ve turned out to be, I felt my indignation rise on her behalf.

She didn’t embezzle a million dollars, or have an affair with a married supervisor, or punch a client in the face.  [For the record, neither have I – I was just trying to think of things that would, in fact, warrant feeling a little self-loathing.]  Yet she was behaving as if she deserved to be sitting in ashes wearing burlap.

I was a relative stranger and a brand new connection but even I could see that she had something sparkly inside.  And I told her so.

I’ve been inspired by this woman to seek out connections with people who won’t pump me up, who don’t have anything to gain by injecting my ego with steroids.  I’m on a mission to read and subscribe to confidence and positivity bloggers.  I have pulled out my child psych books to learn what I can about building confidence and what plays a role in one’s “confidence quotient.”

So much is determined by it.

Sometimes the mirror your friends and loved ones hold up to you is like a funhouse mirror.  Their investment in your happiness and obvious love throws waves into the truthiness of their feedback.  In my experience, at least, it is rare that someone close can give you raw truth.  Most people shroud feedback in fluffy nonsense rendering any kernel of actionable insight unrecognizable.

I had a high school ‘phriend’ who, while she wouldn’t be seen with me in public thereby reinforcing my leperous sense of self, would write me ridiculous notes about why I shouldn’t think poorly of myself.  These little gems had very little to do with weighty issues but still gave some perspective to the tragic sensibilities of a teenager – things like “You have all your teeth.” and “You do not smell bad.”

While funny in a Dax Shepherd sort of way, this has given me an idea.  I’m thinking about a little project over the next few weeks.   I’m going to emphasize positive things in my life that I can claim credit for as a way of focusing on good and praising my accomplishments as a valuable human, no matter how small.

If Gretchen Rubin can have a Happiness Project, I get to have a confidence one.

I’ll call it The Confidence Quotient – Small Wins or #CQsmallwins.

Who wants to play?

Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.

That quote is from the cult classic, “Better Off Dead” and has long been stuck in my head as my life’s roadmap.

It’s been a long time since I last wrote.

If I were to be honest, I’d admit there’s no reason other than my lack of discipline but in the time I’ve been literarily mute, I have started a new job, a new year, and had a birthday.

My last birthday, I wrote about how little the numbers of your birthday matter – how so many of the professional women I admire were 20+ years my senior when they accomplished what it is that I admire them for.

On this year’s birthday, a friend gave me some great advice – that I should use a bit of time from my “work from home day” for writing.  She isn’t as close a friend as I would like but she honored me by knowing how important writing is to my spiritual wholeness and by asking me about it.

So here I sit, at 11:16pm on my WFH day, scratching out a few thoughts.

And it is this friend of mine – who took time out on HER rare night out to celebrate with me on mine – who reminded me of a post I’ve been dying to write.  It is a post about who and what we admire and how we guide and are guided.

In moments of self-loathing and melancholic nostalgia, I will bemoan my assertion that I’ve suffered from a lack of mentors.  I use this term like I know what it is.  Like someone who could easily answer “Who is your hero?” or “Who is your role model?”

Am I the only person who doesn’t feel like I had one?

Am I so critical that no one measured up for my aspirational admiration?  Am I so sheltered that I lacked esposure to stand-outs?  I have to assume that neither are true but I stall when trying to recall help/guidance/direction in my professional life.

Now I’m knocking on the door of 40.  I’ve had one marriage, two kids, and more jobs than I care to admit to.  As I evaluate my value – fiscally, empirically or otherwise, I revisit the concept of mentor with equal parts sense and wonder.

In my adult years, I’ve counted a number of incredible women as my friends.  And perhaps I should view them in some capacity as mentors.  They’ve weighed in and stood by as I explored and failed and rebounded.  But I think it is my insufferable ambition that makes me want to identify someone just beyond ‘peer’ status as an advisor, a confidant, a professional coach.

I have had a few female bosses in my career.  My Aussie boss who got me started in this crazy world of internet advertising went on to launch her own site and become a bit of a maven.  A couple of peers turned bosses have traded sales roles for management ones and made significant marks on their companies.  A former CEO remains a sentimental mystery whom I wished I had known better.

But then there are friends too – or phriends, perhaps – but let’s not let cynicism ruin this, eh?  I have perhaps, half a dozen friends who are wildly accomplished in their fields.  For example, one recent friend who is executive status, politically connected, and philanthropic; another is a self-made social correspondent and contributor, published author, and well-recognized speaker/blogger; A former colleague created her own network of bloggers, sold it successfully and remains a consistent presence in the social and digital publishing reviews.  These three in particular, I think would take my call and work with me on a project.

I have asked them about their path to success exactly… let me count…. ZERO times.

I have asked them for advice on my own zigzag, mishmosh career precisely the same number of times.

I’ve another friend who has finished a book and is in the process of publishing it who asked me to collaborate on her next one.  COLLABORATE ON A BOOK!?!?!?  The honor!  The thrill!  I rewarded her by doing and writing almost nothing.  And then I had a baby and she let me slither away in humiliation.

And then there are the stable, serious, no-frills sugarmamas who just get the job done day in and day out.  One of my oldest friends is a single mom who owns multiple properties and has worked at the same company for a dozen years.  Another has been married for eight? I think?  and manages a family life and a sales team with grace.  HOW DO THEY DO THIS?  I’ve no idea.  I am exactly the kind of self-absorbed, pity-party-of-one fool who never asked.

Seriously.

I’ve done this to myself.

The truth is – I suck at asking for help.  I always have.

I don’t know how or where to begin.  I wouldn’t know the first thing about opening up honestly to someone about my professional goals.  And I dare say that I’ve managed to land on my feet more than once despite that handicap.

But I do have goals.  And perhaps they’re to be fulfilled when I’m in my Ariana-Hilary-Nancy years.  But shouldn’t I be mapping a plan for them now?  And writing about it in the process?

These are the questions I would be asking anyone who would listen at Blissdom right now, were I there with wine in hand.  Since some of the aforementioned heroines are there, I’d best simmer a bit and ask them upon their return.

In the meantime, who do you turn to for the really big career advice?  Where did your best counseling come from and how did you ask for it?  What happened when you took or didn’t take it?

I’m asking…

Growing girl

Recently, the hub and I found out that baby #2 is a girl.  Up until then, we’d been saying we win either way – a girl meant we don’t have anything to buy, that we know the plot, that baby #1 will have a fun shadow to teach/torture/tease and a boy meant we could be done with the whole pregnancy thing.

Now that I know, that statement was actually incongruous with how I feel. 

Getting another girl isn’t a consolation prize for me.  This is quite possibly what I was meant to do with my life – raise daughters.

I can remember when I was young, I would opine that I’d want five boys because girls were just too much trouble.  Back then, that was my experience.  Girls WERE trouble.  Girls made my life miserable.  Boys were often dimwits, horndogs or annoyances.  Girls?  Girls were dangerous.

Girls spread rumors and played psychological games.  Girls wielded friendship like Uzies.  Girls were catty and fickle and passive aggressive.  A few standout exceptions aside, it was a world removed from the homogeneous, isolationist Middle where I found a different kind of woman.  I finally understood that not all women need you to be low so they can be high. 

Most of these lessons were hard-learned.

In middle school, it wasn’t my many awards or the intense, shortlived friendships that made me swell with pride – it was my leadership in a successful coup against the top mean girl. 

In high school, my besties were fringe girls – the kind my parents were hesitant about – who listened to the Cure or Al B. Sure.  No matter in what sport or art I dabbled, I was never ever included by popular girls. 

In University, I deigned to pledge a sorority.  Parties?  Sports?  Elected leadership?  I couldn’t sign up fast enough.  But the night before I went active, despite my rank as the pledge with highest points, I was very ceremonially dismissed.  I can only point to my tenuously composed diatribe of curses to the sanctimonious president and her wholly unconvincing panel of henchwomen before I exited that house and entered my life as both legend and outcast as a positive takeaway.

I’ve read several of the pop psych ‘biggies’ on this topic, from Reviving Ophelia and Please Stop Laughing At Me to Mean Girls Grown Up.  The stories were so familiar to me that it helped to contextualize my experience as common and not the wholly unusual, even abnormal, one my own family believed it to be. 

Through several decades of harsh introspection and the odd evening of alcohol consumption even Hemmingway would envy, I learned to stop accepting and start liking myself.  Someday I will write a book about spiritual inheritance and the wastefulness of shame, the value of self-esteem, and the most important gifts a woman can bequeath another – her offspring or otherwise.

Whether by chance or Karmic justice, I have now a collection of women who are sisters in everything but DNA.  These women are proof enough to me that there is divinity inside us and that friendship isn’t a gauntlet to be run.

I unwittingly participated in much of my own suffering for fear of exclusion, unfortunate prioritization, or simply not having confidence in my own person, my own voice.

My daughters will suffer that same fate over my dead body.

I have no doubt that each will encounter situations I can’t foresee or forestall.  I have no doubt that each will wield a personality wholly unique to mine and values completely foreign to me.  I can only hope to prepare them to defend themselves and their ground with wit, charm, and defiance. 

Even against me.

No, I’ve no need to “keep trying for a boy.”  I have everything I need – a hub (in whom feminism thrives), a daughter (with a fiery Leo mane and spirit to match), and a mystery making its way to me as we speak.

If I do nothing else in my life, I will honor my daughters with honesty, empower them with tools to navigate their own path, and respect their gifts whether I understand them or not.

Throughout my time with them, I hope to show them how to pursue and embrace happiness. 

The Buddha says that all life is suffering.  I think many of us in America, especially those raised Christian, have a flawed sense of injustice if our life includes suffering.  Suffering isn’t punishment.  It isn’t unique to any of us.  It is a universal truth of humanity – a thing that binds us as sisters and brothers. 

The quality of your life is defined by how you roll with the punches.  You can lay yourself out if you aren’t bobbing and weaving in time.  I’ve never met a soul who wasn’t sucker punched once.

So I’ll teach my girls how to get back up, how to dust themselves off, how to get back after it.

And I’ll teach them to love being a woman.

And I’ll teach them to be women who love.

And I’ll learn from them my legacy.