A Blast From The Past

Baby Michele

 

When you look back, what do you see?

Every March, I take a look back – which is pretty natural because it’s my birthday month.

This March I’ll be turning 55 (double nickels, baby) which is older than some and younger than many. I’ve also been asked to moderate a panel for active duty and retired female military officers at a career conferencelater this week. The topic I’m moderating is “A Letter To Your Younger Self.”

Funny how everything’s coming together for me to be even more reflective this March.

In 1960, when I was born, the world was a much different place. Global population was about a third the size it is today, and it felt like there was plenty of open space here and out in the galaxy. We were a year away from a visit to space – the Soviet launch of Yuri Gagarin into Earth’s orbit followed closely by US astronaut Alan Shepard, in a demonstration of the competitiveness of the Cold War.

How surprised would the world have been in 1960 to learn that the Soviet Union would crumble and capitalism would come to Communist nations?

When I was born, the U.S. had segregation – Dr. King had yet to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and even though Brown vs. Board had been settled, few schools had been desegregated.

Could we even have fathomed the relative ordinariness of seeing people of color as CEOs, Presidents, politicians, doctors, lawyers and professors not only in the US, but around the world?

Women, in my childhood, had a slim choice of jobs if they wanted to work: nurse, teacher, secretary, waitress, domestic help or bookkeeper. Even the brightest women faced a thick, impenetrable glass ceiling.

Small Michele might not have believed what’s possible today. Had anyone said that she would grow up to work with executives around the world who want to get better at their jobs, and that she’d do it from home, most often wearing yoga pants and a fleece pullover, while making a very good living, Wee Michele probably would have asked:

“What’s yoga?”

But some things today are exactly the same as they were when I was born. And these are things I’m exceptionally glad for:

People still fall in love.

Folks still have best friends.

Most of us offer help when we see someone in trouble.

Children smile and the world is all right.

We cheer for the underdog and applaud our heroes.

We laugh at each other’s jokes.

Songs are sung.

Meals are shared.

Lips are kissed.

Yes, we humans still see possibilities.

We still make things happen.

We still believe.

And after all these years, and all that change, that’s the world I believe you and I really want.

 

The Thing About Passion

 

 

Pair Of Shoes

There are so many people who will talk to you about Finding Your Passion.

These people, in my experience, tend to dot their i’s with eensy little hearts or smiley faces. In their worlds, Finding Your Passion appears to involve exotic trips, fabulous shoes, wine and botox. Oh, and buff, windswept, sultry people strolling on a beach. And inspiring motivational quotes.

Plenty of inspiring motivational quotes.

I, however, live in a different world and I’ll bet you live pretty close to me, too.

It’s a world where we work for a living and deal with plenty of competing pressures. It’s a world where things change, sometimes at the last possible minute, and what matters is less about the shoes you have on your feet and more about the resilience you have in your heart and mind.

How do you Find Your Passion in our demanding, fast-paced world?

It’s not a rhetorical question, believe me. In just two short weeks last September, I went from being a super-engaged, schedule-driven-by-my-children’s-interests mom to time-on-her hands, working from home middle-aged woman. I even have small dogs.

Yes, it’s true. In two weeks I became a cliché.

Lest you think I’m truly pathetic, let me say that I am thrilled for my kids. My son is engaged in a fabulous one-year entrepreneurial incubator program outside of Boston, and my daughter is in her first year at a really wonderful college.

They are doing what they are supposed to be doing – what I raised them to be able to do – and I could not be happier.

Yet, after years and years of going wherever their sports events were, and spending time on their enthusiasms – hairstyles and the films of Quentin Tarantino, for instance – I have found myself with plenty of time to spend on what I want to do.

Which is, precisely… what?

The first couple of months that they were gone was still a hubbub of activity. I shipped things they forgot or realized they needed, and managed long phone calls processing their new environments. I traveled to visit each of them and devoted time and attention to the logistics around coming home for Thanksgiving, and then Christmas.

But now we’re in the long stretch where no one is coming home for some time. And I’ve even caught them referring to “home” as where they live now.

Which is heart-clenching the first time it happens, and then starts to make sense. Because, they are well and truly launched.

So, back to passion. Specifically, finding yours after a big change or just when you realize that your life is not as fulfilling as you’d like it to be.

The standard question in these moments is “When do you lose track of time?” and that’s a good one. I also add, “When do you feel most engaged and happy?”

Whatever your answer is gives insight into what your passion might be.

But your true passion may lie beneath your answer.

Let’s say you figure out that you are most engaged and happy when you are traveling. OK – let’s go a little deeper, shall we?

What is it about travel that lights you up? Is it new experiences? New cuisine? Observations of differences in cultures? Is it the people you travel with? Is it because you always travel on vacation – away from work and chores?

Don’t say, “All of it!” because that’s too easy. And I am not letting you off the hook that easily.

Nor am I going to start dotting with teeny hearts.

Passion is not about what you do, but how you feel about what you’re doing.

If you figure out that you are driven to travel because you love to observe the differences in culture, then maybe you can also satisfy that passion by making sure to attend cultural festivals in your own town. You could regularly try different cuisines. You could host an exchange student. You could read books about different worlds. You could discover artists from around the world and learn about them.

Because, you see, your passion deserves to be in your life every single day, not just during one big trip a year.

When you live your passion, the world opens up for you. Possibilities become obvious. Connection is easy.

Life feels full and happy. Success is more and more effortless.

It’s pretty great.

As for me, after some deep reflection, I remembered my passions pretty clearly. They’re centered around creativity, mentorship, connecting and learning.

And while I miss the job I was really very good at and completely fulfilled by, I know that the things I am passionate about also fill me up.

So, let’s make a promise, you and I.

Let’s be less about shoes. And more about passion.

 

 

The Foundation of Success

 

IMG_3571What do you call it when someone takes pride in the things they do? When they’re not just phoning it in or checking off a box? When they really care about where they sign their name?

And what do you call it when that same person takes responsibility for everything they do – the big mistakes as well as the little wins?

What happens when you add in a healthy and solid self-respect? I’m talking about the healthy ego kind of self-respect that’s grounded in integrity and honesty. The kind of self-respect that, for instance, allows for difficult conversations to happen before situations get to a crisis point.

Know what this set of attributes creates?

In my book, it creates professionalism.

And professionalism is the foundation of success.

Imagine what it would be like to experience a real professional in, oh, let’s say, house painting.

You’d have a clear estimate of the work to be done.

The painter would show up on time, ready to work.

He’d have all his tools and supplies in good working order.

He’d work smart and thoroughly.

There would be no paint splatters or wobbly corners.

He’d finish when he said he would, and the fees would be as expected.

If there was some blemish, some something that you weren’t too happy with, he’d come back, accept responsibility and make it right.

And you’d hire that guy over and over again.

Now, imagine that same professionalism in your office, or in your home.

(Some of you are having a good laugh right now, huh?)

Seems to me that we live in a time when there are a lot of factors stacked against professionalism. In our go-go, get it done, check-it-off-the-list sort of world, sometimes bosses and organizations make it nearly impossible to take pride in our work. Or maybe we touch such a wee little bitty part of a massive project that our contribution isn’t that noteworthy.

Yet, you all tell me you want something different. You tell me you’re hungry for meaning and that you’re dying for connection.

You want what you do to matter.

You want to make a difference.

Easier said than done, I know. Last summer, I led a webinar for The Harvard Business Review on bullies and toxic people in the workplace. It became their most popular webinar ever and during the live session there were so many questions that the Q&A platform stopped working three times.

It’s really hard to have self-respect, pride in your work and personal accountability when you work in a toxic environment.

You may find that to be as fully professional as you want to be, you have to take the leap – to a new job. Which is easier today than it’s been in years – depending on what you do and where you live, of course – due to expanding employment.

This expansion means, too, that organizations will need to change and stop seeing employees as disposable widgets. Where there were once 400 people in line for a single job, now candidates will have to be sourced and wooed as demand outstrips supply. And, when attrition becomes a critical issue, toxic leaders and bullying work environments will finally have to be addressed and fixed.

That can be done by amping up our individual commitment to professionalism and for organizations to let go of those who refuse to step up their own.

Remember, it’s these three things: Take pride in your work; Be responsible for your actions; Respect yourself.

Everything else you want stems directly from these foundational pieces.

Whether you’re ten or ninety, you can do it. In your office, or your home, or at school, you need nobody’s permission, no certificate, no degree to be professional.

Now’s the time to start.

 

Open The Door

 

I’ll bet there are times during your day, or week, or even year, when you feel like no one sees who you really are.

That there are moments, maybe, when you feel bullied. As if you have a toxic boss. A very difficult situation.

You don’t know how you’re going to make it through.

Or even if it’s worth it.

You feel like there’s so little you control, so little you can do to turn it all around and get back to… something good.

Tell me the truth – you’ve felt this way, haven’t you?

Maybe you even feel that way today.

So, watch this video and then come right back and we’ll talk.

Inspiring, huh?

One kid decided one day to do one thing.

One thing that he could do.

That he could take pride in. That he could be responsible for, totally in alignment with his values and his aspirations.

And it made all the difference.

I’m here to tell you – you can be that kid.

You can find that one thing. Just one thing you can do to make the quality of your life, and the lives of others, better.

To bring things back to the good, happy, meaningful place you seek.

You can. I know you can.

Go ahead – it’s time to open a door.

 

Plan On Crying In 2015

Salt Shaker

 

When you start down a path, it’s always useful to take a quick glance behind you, too, just to orient your journey.

So, let’s take a look back. I bet that 2014 held a lot of surprises.

I bet that – regardless of how much you tried to be positive and set good intentions – it wasn’t all blissful, was it?

And, I’ll further bet that you have a deep-seated thought that if only you could get everything going the right way at once then your life would be utterly and permanently effortless.

You’d be, as we say in the South, in high cotton.

But this is a fallacy, my friends. No one lives in high cotton all the time.

Not Richard Branson. Not Oprah Winfrey. Not the Dalai Lama. Not the Pope.

Everyone – every single one of us – faces unexpected illnesses, freak lightning storms, car accidents, setbacks, obstacles and upsets in the course of our lives.

You can’t hold those things off.

You might not even want to once you realize what they do for you.

Give me one minute, here.

Think about baking. Whenever you bake something sweet, the recipe always calls for a measure of salt.

Have you noticed that?

A pinch, a teaspoon, a tablespoon of salt – some bit of salt in the mix provides a kind of contrast which allows the sweetness to really shine through.

Now, back to you.

You’re going to cry in 2015. Maybe more than once.

Because you and I know that things will never be 100% perfect.

Never.

Ever.

Try as you might, things will be…what they are. Some will be hard, some will be easy.

There will be salty tears and sweet joys in your life.

But you need both to have a full, fulfilling experience.

So the first time 2015 presents you with a challenge, don’t panic.

Don’t waste a second beating yourself up for not living a perfectly Instagrammable-Facebookable-Pinteresty life.

It’s your life. And you get to have all of it.

And, every tear you shed simply makes the inevitable sweetness which follows that much more satisfying.