Category Archives: Confidence

Numbers Game

In one week, I celebrate my 38th birthday.  Well, ‘celebrate’ might be too strong a term. 

Not to say that I’m fretting over this number or birthdays in general.  I’ve already lived longer than I expected to and known more joy than I ever allowed myself to hope for.  So why am I feeling ambivalent about this year’s marker of my birth? 

Ordinarily the entire month of February is a cacophony of self-congratulation.  I’m a firm believer in asking for what you want and I ALWAYS ask for people to celebrate with me.  Most people (in the North) think of February with dread and lethargy.  I think of Valentines Day and Mardi Gras and a three-day weekend I like to call “Christine’s Birthday Gift from the Government.”  (I was President once, you know.) 

Plus, it’s a mini-month.  It’s over before you know it. 

I’ve felt 38 since my hub’s birthday in September so there won’t be anything to remembering my new age.  I’ve been saying it for months by accident.  And this year is undoubtedly going to be my best since my 35th.  I know this truth in my soul and am manifesting it all over the place.

When I was 35, I became a mom.  The rollercoaster joy of motherhood is something I never expected to experience.  It is a largely unacclaimed role but undoubtedly the most substantial one I’ll ever earn, undiminished by the volume of peers in the field.  Whatever my professional aspirations, this windfall of importance and comedy and humility has made me richer than I ever thought possible.

Yet, I thought, in my hubris youth, that I’d have more to show by this point, that I’d have accomplished something tangible and laudable.  I expected my achievements to be showy, enviable, and unmatched.  And like any self-respecting-perfectionist-first-born, NOT having ‘reached my potential’ makes me want to wad up the sketch of my life and toss it in the bin.

Just when I get to that point of self-loathing agony, mourning for my lost chances and unruddered choices, my wise old-soul of a husband discusses starting points.

I feel like I often write about life and love ‘not being a competition.’ And maybe I need the reminder as much as I need to share my belief.  Life, for sure, cannot be competitive because no one shares the same starting line.  We aren’t given the same legs to run on.  We aren’t given the same course to navigate.  Looking at friends (or foes) with more or less of anything we desire and feeling failure is tragically flawed logic.

A surprising source of perspective came from a former manager, who while we worked together almost drove me to homicide, but since has become less a tyrannical figure and more of a sympathetic one.  Indeed, she observed my impolitic professional life with dispassion saying that I still had time to make the ascent to real leadership and influence.  It was one of the most hopeful things I had ever heard and from such a pragmatist, I couldn’t justly dismiss it.

In fact, at 38, I am not quite middle-aged.  The lifetimes I packed into the last two decades were, in fact, only warm-up acts.  Nancy Pelosi won her first elected seat to the House at 47 and became the first female Speaker at 66.  Arianna Huffington launched her magnum opus, Huffington Post, at fifty-five.  The youngest female CEO in the Fortune 500 is 47.

I’ve still got time.

And right now, I’ve got a birthday to plan.

Finding me

Do you know Story People?

It’s a beautiful collection of child-like art with simple, witty, heart-wrenching quotes like this one:

I was never good at hide & seek because I’d always make enough noise so my friends would be sure to find me. I don’t have anyone to play those games with any more, but now & then I make enough noise just in case someone is still looking & hasn’t found me yet.

I was given the book years ago by a friend and devoured it during a time I needed something a little less cheese-tastic than “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”  Story People fit the bill.  The quote above has always been one of my favorites.

I remember myself always being loud.  I write it like that “remember myself” purposefully.  (Don’t we all color our memories?)  I watch young girls with their friends with one or more of them inevitably shouting out her words so as to draw attention to herself.  I see friends or even strangers at bars or parties being audacious and looking around the room to see who is watching them.  I used to be just that way. 

It really doesn’t take any great psychological mind to figure out why people do this. 

Everyone craves recognition.  Not just being seen and heard but really being known.  It is among the greatest gifts we can give another person – to know them.  I think people seek that out in myriad ways but mine was usually to act out loud, to create my own spotlight, to shock and awe.

It strikes me that writing is a new extension of that behavior.  Writing is nakedness.  It is opening up one’s mind and soul for others to inspect.  (You have been weighed.  You have been measured.  And you have been found wanting.) 

There is both selflessness and greediness involved in revelation.  I think each circumstance and each relationship require a slightly different balance of each for success.  Inevitably we get it wrong sometimes.  And the hope is usually that we learn to get better at what to show and when.

I married a man who knows me.  He doesn’t just tolerate some parts and secretly wish there were less of those.  He celebrates me for the whole of my being.  He knows bits about me that I’ve never revealed to him.  Insight is a rare and amazing gift possessed by few.  They are the true people-persons.  It is this insight that enables one to be compassionate in ways most of us will never be capable of.

I remember my younger self with compassion – all that showy, bravado.  I’m happy she lived through it and came out the other side.

Compassion, though, is difficult to come by most days.  An Aunt of mine signs her emails with a beautiful quote, “Be kinder than necessary.  Everyone is fighting some kind of battle. ~Billie Holiday”  It makes me pause every time I read it because of its simple wisdom – a reminder that you are not the protagonist in others’ lives.  Everyone you meet is someone’s daughter or son,  mother, father, brother, sister, friend…

I believe wholly that everyone is loved by someone.  There must be some good in them.  No matter what they show you.

Recently, a classmate of mine reached out to introduce himself.  His approach was cautious and unconventional but his delivery was kind.  According to his note, if he had never read my writing, he’d only have known that young, showy girl who was just a little louder than necessary in case someone was looking for her.  He was glad to meet the rest of me, he wrote.

Me too.

Imposter Child

It’s been almost a month since my last post.  No, I’m not really that busy.  I’ve started and stopped a half dozen posts but always got intimidated by finishing the research, organizing the links or even establishing my position on the topic. 

This is really unlike me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m kind of an all hat, no cattle dreamer.  I LOVE to think of big ideas, get people all excited and then move on to whatever the next thing to catch my attention.  I’m not much of a “sticker.” 

But having an opinion?  Expressing it?

I’ve got that down pat.

Or so I thought.

It has occurred to me over the last few days that I’m suffering from an uncured case of imposter syndrome. 

In college, I reached a little too far.  I remember being corrected by my beau about the proper way to eat soup while out on a date at a fancy restaurant.  I felt constantly unqualified to keep the company I did.  Exposure alone had made my peers cosmopolitan and wise.  I was constantly in fear of being discovered as the simpleton, scholarship kid I was.

Fifteen years later, I find myself engaging with women whose professional accomplishments dwarf my own and I feel the creeping fear of discovery cast a cold shadow.

Maybe not on my interactions with them, but my actions reaching to join them. 

I have been invited to write with a professional blogger.  She’s completed one book and makes her living as a writer.  While I would LOVE to be a part of this project, I feel paralyzed when I think about whether my contribution would actually be worthwhile. 

Another women I’ve known of for years, suggested we meet for lunch.  We share many friends but have never had occasion or commonality to strike our own friendship.  I felt myself apologizing for myself because she is so effortlessly rebellious and cool.  Where I try too hard, she wouldn’t have considered trying worthy of her attention.  Yet, somewhere within the span of our lunch there were some raw honest moments that might grow into a mutual respect.  She too, offered up the idea of collaborating on a writing project.  The boldness of the idea, the nakedness of the truths she proposed we would tell appealed and repelled me equally.  I don’t even know if I’m healed enough to revisit the experiences that would have taught me the lessons I’d share for the project.  Like Forest says of Jenny’s childhood home, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Finally, I discovered a really great potential friend almost by accident.  She’s my peer in years only.  Her career path has been nearly vertical, while mine has strayed from a flatline only to plunge occasionally. 

I’m the first to promote the idea that life, love, and work are not competitions. 

But my weaknesses have been baldly revealed by these new friendships and my self-consciousness makes me pause before proffering my opinion as anything other than the silly musings of a woman trapped by her own limits.

And so I’ve been silent for the last three weeks.

I just thought you should know.

Enough about me, what do YOU think of me?

Last week I got together with about 300 or so of my closest friends (a.k.a. clients and industry peers) for an annual outing on Lake Michigan.

This event is always a little nostalgic for me for reasons not relevant to this post but this year’s was particularly emotional.  After two years of fairly rough waters, my life has resumed what I would consider smooth sailing.  My bank account looks hurricane-ravaged.  My self-esteem has been leveled like a tornado tore through it.  Yet on that boat, I felt the warmth of some of my sunniest days.

There were some unabashedly joyous reunions.  I loved every one of them.

Two were outright surprising though.  Both former male colleagues, whom I liked then and now, gave me what seemed like spontaneous, candid insight about how they see me.

In the order they were given, “Christine is like, ‘Process, Schmocess.  What do you need done?  Pffft!  I got this.'” and “Christine is like TWENTY MEN… and three women.”

I was flattered, humbled, awed, and tickled all at the same time.  It has been a long time since I felt like I had the world by the proverbial balls but neither of these guys knew that.  They still saw me as the maverick, competent, sometimes legendary gal they worked alongside.

HOW. GOOD. IS. THAT.

It got me thinking about other great compliments I’ve received in my life.  There was the female classmate in Japan who told me that I was the perfect balance between masculine and feminine.  There was the high school crush who told me I may not be the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen but I was definitely the sexiest.  There was the man  who said I was the most grown up person he’d ever met in his life.  And that same man also said that he never thought about having kids until he met me.  When he finally told me his feelings, he said “Christy, I don’t just love you.  You’re the love of my life.”  I married him.

But I don’t think compliments are common.  If reality shows are any indication, I think we tend to experience schadenfreude more than we share our admiration, respect, or pleasure for people.  Why is that?  And how do we unlearn that behavior?

With the inexorable deluge of criticism playing on a loop in my head, it is refreshment to hear something positive from another.  It helps me silence my past, my family, my ghosts and view myself more fairly, as I am, right now.  I know I’m not alone.  Women, especially, seem to be finding new ways to hate and punish themselves all the time.  And when we REALLY hate ourselves, we often punish each other.

In face, I think we’ve gotten so bad at being nice to ourselves that many of us have forgotten how to TAKE a compliment as well as how to give one.  I would bet that if we got better at both, the popularity of the behavior would grow exponentially.

What do you think?

Want to do an experiment with me?  Ok… for the rest of the week, give out five GENUINE compliments.  They can be spontaneous or premeditated.  You can give them to strangers or to family.  You can give them all to the same person or to five different ones. 

Listen to what they say after you give them the compliment.

Then come share your experience here.  I really find your stories interesting!

(Four to go…)

To Market, To Market

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. ~Dr. Seuss

This weekend, my family took a much needed break from unpacking, cleaning, and organizing to celebrate Market Days on Halsted Street in Chicago.

If you don’t know, neighboring Wrigleyville to the east is a little place affectionately known as “Boys Town.”  Boys Town has the same great walk-up style architectural as the rest of Lakeview, is even closer to the Lake, and is walkable to any kind of food or drink you could imagine.  It has the added benefit of progressive bars & restaurants (Love SideTrack’s Showtunes!) that proudly showcase rainbow flags, risque art, and a menagerie of staff and clientele who make it a vivacious, exciting place to live and people-watch.

Market Days 2010 didn’t disappoint. 

I haven’t been to the festival in years because of travel or conflicts or new-baby-having-syndrome or whatever.  Unlike Pride, Market Days is much more of a street festival than a showcase.  You’ll still see your occasional hot-pink bikini briefed boy-tow or tanned and oiled leather-daddy but most of the patrons look like any other street fest, except there are more same-sex couples and much better tshirt slogans.*

We took Claudia as a matter of course.  One of the things we are so excited about is that our daughter will grow up surrounded by diversity, that she will ask questions and be challenged by answers, that she will experience the richness of life in all its colorful splendor.  My favorite quote of the day was from a bartender at one of the many booths that served champagne or champagne-based drinks and using plastic flutes.  When I commented that at least they were using appropriate plastic-ware, he replied, “Well duh, what are we?  Barbarians?”

One of our fellow fest-goers appropriately dubbed her the “Queen of Market Days” as she high-fived and gave knuckles to every person reaching out to her as she walked along on Daddy’s shoulders.  Claudia ‘won’ a pink duckie that she got to pick from the Affinia Hotel’s duck pond giveaway.  An apparent rough-rider in leather straps and chaps, winked and melted as my red-headed girl danced to the music.  She won gold beads from him.  Our pnut stopped to watch the hot-pant wearing  jugglers and clapped appreciatively when one completed a successful round.  It was  brilliant!  She laughed and smiled and danced.  I think it was her wicked dance moves that drew the most affection though everyone who smiled her way seemed to comment on her ginger locks. 

What I took away from the experience was a sense of happiness and fun that carried with me through the rest of the weekend.  I wish I could have danced along with my daughter and toasted our fellow party-goers through the night but bedtime is strictly enforced in our house and we were all home and quiet by 8:00p.  My only regret is that I opted out of a fan-photo because I’m so self-conscious about my size.  I hope to see hub and bub on the fan page, though!

Our neighbors continued to rage on until the wee hours.  They will do the same tonight.  And what I honor in them and in all of us is a sense of joy and an appreciation for life.  I won’t pretend that homosexuality immunizes you from any of the human drama.  Unfortunately, I think all of us are subject to heartbreak, death, disappointment, ambition, infatuation, vanity and so on.  What I appreciated about our experience at Market Days, however, was an approachability, an eagerness to be known, and a fearlessness of showing and speaking one’s truth.

Those lessons are worth sharing, I venture.  And worth teaching to my peanut.

What do you think?

* Favorites included one for a No-Kill shelter that read “Stray Pride”, one with the face of Christ saying “Jesus thinks you need to lighten up,” and “Sorry, Girls.  I **** Boys.”

Signs of a Mama

If you catch me without makeup on, you might think to yourself, “Voldemort 1, Schugarmama 0.” 

I have a ‘Harry Potter mark.’

Right down the middle of my forehead is a jagged stripe of skin that doesn’t tan.  Or rather, the bulk of my forehead has turned brown save for a lightning strike down the middle.  I also have little patches that are reverse raccoon eyes (white instead of black) but those are less obvious, I think.

I’m not sure exactly when I got them but sometime during my last few months of pregnancy, they showed up. 

I understand the phenomenon is called “Melasma.”

The other day we went to Toddler Time at the Rec Complex and I noticed several of the other mums had similar masks on their faces.  Others had spots.  Not freckles but big brown spots. 

I’m not sure why, but I was fascinated seeing these women.  I did my best not to stare, because honestly… swimming suits are a recipe for self-consciousness as it is.  I just thought they looked beautiful.

The interesting thing about Toddler Time was that the pool was filled with all pint-sized kiddles and their folks.  The parents ranged from a few years younger to a few years older than us. 

There were thin mums and round mums.  There were mums expecting another baby.  Some mums had great arms, some had great legs, some had great abs.  (How is this possible?)  All of us had an extraordinary amount of skin exposed.  This is the same skin that has browned and bleached, dimpled, torn, scarred and stretched, mostly as a result of pregnancy.

The crazy thing is that I didn’t feel at all out of place. 

And ordinarily, I feel like the biggest person in the room.  Even if that room is the whole world.

Have you ever seen Gok Wan’s show? (Carson is fine, but Gok is Divine.) He does a queue of his naked beauties and asks women to place themselves in the queue by size.  They are always wrong – sometimes horrifically wrong.  It is amazing to me that we can be so wrong about the body in which we live.

It wasn’t as if I didn’t see these women’s flaws.  I have no doubt they were aware of mine.  But somehow, with only our scraps of lycra, sunnies, and sunhats to camouflage us, we were comfortable in our skin.

And that, my friends, is a Sign of a Mama.

This One’s for the Girls

I once had an interviewer tell me that his favorite hires were single women.  Why?  Because they had to support themselves (necessity is the mother of invention) and they were hell-bent on proving themselves (ambition, competition, workaholism).  I wanted to be offended but couldn’t be.  In my case, he was absolutely, bang-on right. 

It’s hard to argue with the truth.

My career was one manifestation of “Fake it until you make it” after another.  I own this; I don’t even hide the fact anymore because I actually did ‘make it’ in some sense. I’m also reasonably sure that 92% of people are full of crap so what’s the use of impressing them?   I know that I have a particular set of qualities and experiences that might be interpreted as skills to some.  I also know that those skills are pretty damn valuable. 

So when I was recently offered a consulting role in addition to my full-time position with Technorati, I had no problem turning down the opportunity because it didn’t pay enough. 

What is ‘enough’?  That’s highly subjective but my calculation went as follows: 

What is my hourly wage for my full-time job?  Easy enough:  Salary + Commission / 50  weeks / 40 hours.  But consulting would be in addition to those 40 hours.  It would be subtracting from time spent with my daughter and  husband.  They’re worth every bit as much as I am so the answer is 3x(hourly wage) = HIRED. 

Do I need three times my hourly wage? No. 
Would I do work for less than that?  Probably. 
Do I deserve to be paid that much?  You bet your @ss.  And so do you. 

Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge your value before discussing your bargain rate doesn’t KNOW your value. 
Why work for anyone who doesn’t know your value?

But what absolutely bewilders me is that women who are wildly accomplished in their field still feel that tape-worm of doubt gnawing away at their moxie.

Last night I enjoyed a social media event here in St. Louis that was well-attended by some such women.  These women have marked achievements in marketing, journalism, social media and the like.  They are successful writers, speakers, strategists, and entrepreneurs. And every single one of them said some version of the following:

“I don’t know what I’m worth.”

WHAT. THE. BLEEP.

There’s no easy way to say this:  If you don’t know your value, don’t expect anyone else to know it.

Now that I’m back in the comfy embrace of my media world, the reciprocity switch has been firmly locked in the upright position.  Peers, colleagues, strangers, clients, and headhunters have all materialized with ideas, projects, jobs, searches, requests, and business. 
The universe has affirmed my decision with a dance in the end-zone.

When connecting some industry friends to one particular job opening, I heard it again – the hushed tone that ordinarily uninhibited women use when admitting some perceived shortcoming.  This time, that shortcoming was social media knowledge.  This branch of marketing is so nuanced with tentacles in search, design, writing, word-of-mouth, reputation management, and CRM that nearly everyone I have ever met in my entire life has some kind of knowledge to contribute. 

Yet, these women were essentially counting themselves out because they hadn’t written the book, or any book, on the topic.  This is just crazy talk.  Everyone can’t be Chris Brogan, and even the man with the plan makes mistakes.

Me thinks there be a branding opportunity here:  The Dove Self-Esteem Project  for business women? 
No?  Ok, well we’ve gotta do something because y’all are too damn talented to keep underselling yourselves. 

Next time you forget that, call me.

I’ll tell ya.