You Are What You Do.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a “management type,” so it came as something of a surprise when I transitioned to a new job a few years back and found myself surrounded exclusively by managers and leaders. This turned into a fabulous education, I’ve met fabulous mentors and friends who have taught me  things about office leadership and working as part of a multi-disciplinary team that were so new and revolutionary to my ways of thinking that I’ve accidentally developed skills I didn’t even know were learnable. (Seriously, the first time I learned that there were STRATEGIES you could use to facilitate meetings it about blew my mind.) I’m beyond grateful for everything I have learned here, but I’ve also begun to question if this is really how I want to spend my career.

[when]I feel in my element. There’s a natural rhythm… a flow, a palpable buzz.

One of the most fascinating revelations I’ve had in my adult life is that you really do continuously rediscover who you are while continuously choosing who you eventually want to be. I think we all secretly think there’s going to be some sort of “arrival” where you’ve become who you’re going to be and you can just kind of coast through the rest of life with this knowledge you are now in possession of. Since I didn’t develop into a smooth, confident leader by my mid-twenties that must not be in the cards for me, right? I’ve always really admired people with those skills (what I sometimes refer to as “real grown-ups”)  so I’m pretty jazzed to have learned that I do have some capacity to DO this kind of work and project that kind of demeanor. At the same time I’ve come to see that I don’t really like doing it. A lot of the necessary skills of management feel like something I have to FORCE myself to actually do,  I’m THINKING then DOING, like translating from a foreign language and that is EXAHUSTING. It also has the result of making me feel unconfident in my abilities, even when things are going well.

When I am working on a creative team either doing something actually artistic, or just developing strategies in a communal setting,  I feel in my element. There’s a natural rhythm that we find, a flow, a palpable buzz.  My ideas bounce of their ideas and together we make something FUN, or INTERESTING, or HELPFUL. I leave these sessions feeling INSPIRED, ENERGIZED, CONFIDENT. Then I compare that to the way I feel after a typical day at work; off-balance, exhausted, unsure. I have to question, are these normal growing pains you must suffer through to learn something new? If they are, is this where I want my focus to be? Am I doing what I want to be?

I’m grateful to be developing my leadership abilities, these are the types of skills that are great to have, no matter what your focus. But at the end of the day I’m a person motivated by what I create and build. To be able to create and build things I’m proud of I need to focus on that, and on surrounding myself with people who support and inspire that kind of growth. If I’m going to do something 8 hours a day, (and think about it even more than that) I want to DO something I value. You can think as many things as you’d like, but in the end you are what you do.

I want to be someone who creates art with awesome people, so that’s what I’m going to do. What about you? Who do YOU want to be?

Shopping with Kids – My brilliant product (that doesn’t exist yet)

Samantha turned 5 last week, as a gift she received some birthday money from her Great-Grandparents. In past years we’ve handled birthday money by taking her on a shopping expedition, allowing her to choose one nice toy and then putting the remainder of the money into savings.

There’s nothing wrong with this plan, but it lacks a real-world connection between money and price and it misses the opportunity to teach about money management. So this year I wanted to get Samantha involved in choosing an amount of money to spend, and then finding a toy (or toys) to purchase that fit within that amount. It seems to me that the perfect place to enact this plan would be our family trip to DisneyWorld.

Here’s the problem – 6.5%,that’s the sales tax in Florida which means in Samantha wants to buy herself a princess dress ($65) she’s going to need almost $70. While accounting for tax is a valuable lesson, it’s more advanced then the basic math lesson I was thinking of for this year.

Which got me thinking. What we need is a tax-exempt kids gift card. Parents would buy the card for $50 + sales tax, and then all purchases made on the card would be for sticker value. This would work best in a single shopping location – like DisneyWorld so that you don’t run into issues with varying tax rates. I know my kid would love having a card they could spend “just like mommys” and I know I would feel better letting her use a balance protected card then carrying extra cash around for her.

What do you think – would a “prepaid-tax gift card” be a good fit for your family vacation?

The matter of appearance

About a year ago I started wearing make-up daily. I felt (feel) like it gives me a more finished and professional appearance. I also changed my hair to a more “done” style and generally began trying to carry myself more like an “adult”.

I’ve felt somewhat conflicted about this. On one hand, I like the way I look better when I take care with my appearance, and I feel that other people respond to me differently than when I walked around like a college kid. On the other hand I find it disturbing when Samantha asks me to use the flat iron her hair or put make up on her. I worry what example I’m setting for her when she sees me taking 20 minutes on my hair in the morning, or checking my eyeliner before we head out the door.

Then I worry about the fact that I’m worrying, after all if I think that these things improve my day-to-day attitude why shouldn’t I want my daughter to learn to take care of her appearance as a natural part of her day? People do respond more favorably to people who take care with their appearance, why shouldn’t part of my job as a parent be to set a positive example of reasonable care?

Then I see videos like this – http://www.good.is/post/intermission-a-year-s-worth-of-makeup-in-a-day/ and I don’t really know what I think, I find this piece profoundly disturbing – but I’m not sure WHY it’s disturbing. What point does this really illustrate? I mean if you put a years worth of shampoo on your head that would be pretty gross too – or a years worth of deodorant – but I don’t see a huge movement to dirty hair and smelly arms coming down the pike.

I guess this video is interesting to me primarily because it sparks thoughts like this. Does appearance matter, and if it does, does the fact that it matters matter?

What defines me

I’ve had several occasions recently to question “what defines me”. You know how it goes, you’re talking with some new people and they ask the question “what do you like to do?” now, this being DC we’ve already discussed our professions, so this question is always more aimed toward your hobbies and interests. And I’ve been finding the question challenging to answer.

What to I do? It’s such a vague set of criteria, I mean I “do” an awful lot, but most of its not that interesting to talk about, I do the dishes and the laundry (stop laughing mom – I do to) I read, I sing (mostly to myself), I think (probably too much) I write a blog (that’s probably a little too personal in subject matter to bring up to total strangers). So what do I do that will lead to an interesting, but still light-hearted discussion? And how will what I “do” be interpreted by the people I’m talking to? Will they think I’m dull if I say I like to read? I mean after all does reading constitute a “hobby” really? Will I be pegged as slow or  vapid if I take to long to think of an answer to what’s supposed to be a straight forward question?

My go-to answer lately has been that I make videos, which tends to spark interest at least. But honestly, it leaves me a little dissatisfied as an answer. Partially because it sounds, I dunno, pretentious? in my ear – I don’t know why, this is something I’ve done for a long time, but I guess it just doesn’t ring true. Perhaps it’s because making videos is something I do with my husband and some good friends of ours. Which in my mind somehow makes it less ‘my thing’ then ‘our thing’.

Which leads to my next conundrum. I find that I define myself, in large part, by the actions or existence of others. So when I claim to “make videos” I become concerned that I’m in some way stealing competence from my more experienced husband. So generally I fall back on the other thing I spend most of my time on, being a Mom. And I’m not sure why I find that definition troubling, other then to point out that most of the people I find the most interesting to read about or talk to don’t define themselves primarily as parents (there are Mom bloggers who are exceptions to this – but other than them…) So when someone ask me to write a brief bio and I find myself starting with “I’m a mother of 1″ that gives me pause. Is that really the *most* interesting and *most* relevant fact about me – that I’m someone elses mother?

I mean, sure, it does consume a large portion of my life, and yes, I do want to do the best job that I can for her – but is that really the large sum of who I am? That seems like an awful lot of pressure to put on a 4-year-old. “Hey, I know you don’t really know anything about the world or who YOU are yet, but just so you know you’re the primary defining force in MY world” and I don’t think it’s accurate, but when you hold up individual facts next to that role “I like Buffy”, “I read a lot”, “I bake a mean cupcake” they all seem kind of petty to “I helped create one of the coolest little people I know.”

So I don’t really know where this is going (there’s a shock) but I’m pretty stuck on the idea of how to define myself in 2 sentences or less without leaning on the mom crutch. What about you, how do you define yourself?

The only thing to fear

Someone called me a coward today. I mean, technically they didn’t point at me and say “Lori, YOU are a coward.” it was more of a general statement of fact. What did happen was they described something I do,and said THAT TYPE OF ACT is cowardice. And it’s not that it was a particularly unique thought, calling it cowardly, but I don’t think I’d ever heard it put so–bluntly.

So what is this dastardly act of cowardice that I’m guilty of? It’s, not trying, which in my case (as it is in many others) is really just a fear of failing. Because, of course, if I don’t really try then it’s to be expected when I don’t succeed,and it’s not really my fault, because if I HAD tried OF COURSE I would have succeeded, it’s just that was tired/busy/uninterested/other-excuse-goes-here. Again, I’m not trying to claim this is a unique condition, or even a unique interpretation of it, but it is a stark one. And sometimes that’s what you need to get a handle on a situation is an unvarnished take on the truth.

So what am I to do with this now-clear truth? I don’t really know. I suppose a first step is to identify the times when I’m half-assing something, but the second step, you know, NOT doing that is a lot more difficult to get a handle on.

Why are we all so lonely?

I just finished ANOTHER article about how hard it is to make mom friends (or friends as an adult, or friends at all take your pick) and not to state the obvious or anything, but it seems to me that if we’re all so frickin’ lonely we should like, go get coffee or something. I’m not saying that I’m not guilty of it, please,  I created an entire blog that is (apparently) dedicated to how lonely I feel sometimes often less-often-than-I-did-a-year-ago. But that’s kind of my point. Look how many of us their are – and how many of us are saying the same thing – shouldn’t there be a way to connect with these like-minded, lonely souls? So what’s the issue? I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with everyone else, but I think I’m too busy to make new friends. And that’s odd, because I’m not sure how I have time to be lonely and bored but not time to make friends.

Since I realized how strange it is to be lonely and busy at the same time I’ve been forcing myself to take the time to try to make friends. I’ve been reaching out to my old acquaintances who are still in the area who have kids, trying to see if we have anything in common to reconnect with. I’ve been trying to make sure to take time to connect with the few local friends I do have, and I’ve just joined a mom’s group. We’ve had 1 meeting so far, which wasn’t spectacular, but I’m committed to giving it some time.

I’m still concerned though about the actual phenomenon though.  Mostly my concerns stem from the question “what’s driving this?” Are we really more lonely now then we have been in the past or are we just talking about it more openly? And if we are more lonely now, why is that? Is loneliness just a mental game of keeping up with the Jones’s? Are we over-estimating the amount of friends others have and thus perceiving a lack in our own social circles (perhaps due to social networking?) or is this just a failure to adjust to our new reality. We had lots of time to be social in our teens and twenties, perhaps this loneliness is just an attempt to hang on to our youth by hanging onto that lifestyle.

While I know that at least part of my loneliness comes from mismanaged expectations I think more of my issues stem from the fact that I’ve had too much time on my hands, or at least the things I’m filling my time with aren’t hard enough to fully engage my focus. I also have too many options. So time+options leads me to spend time ruminating on whether I’m having *enough* fun. I have trouble enjoying what I’m doing, because I’m always wondering if this is the *best* thing I could be doing right now.

One of the things I started focusing on last year was mindfulness. I’ve been reading several of the works of Thich Nhat Hanh. He posits a similar idea, that we’ve actually become too busy, and that by trying to do too many things in too short a time we end up enjoying none of them and feeling worse then when we started. The first book of his I read was Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices. I knew it was going to be a good fit for me when I read this passage.

“We often become so busy that we forget what we’re doing or who we are. I know many people who say they even forget to breath. We forget to look at the people we love and to appreciate them until they’re gone. Even when we have some leisure time, we don’t know how to get in touch with what is going on inside us.”

I hadn’t realized that I was busy, because I never felt like I accomplished anything, so how could I be busy – I wasn’t *doing* anything. But this passage helped me to frame what I was feeling. Basically I was so busy worrying about all the other things I wasn’t doing that I never enjoyed what I was doing.

I haven’t had much success in doing less, but I have found that when I force myself into mindful thought patterns I immediately feel calmer, more focused, and overall happier.  I’ve even been finding that it helps when I’m trying to make new friends. (See, I bet you were wondering where I was going with this – but it all comes together in the end). When I go out with friends, or meet with my new group I’ve been taking a few minutes before hand to gather myself, and put myself into a present frame of mind. Instead of worrying about what they’re thinking, “Do they like me?”, “will they want to get together again?”, I’m thinking about what they’re saying, how pleasant it is to be sitting out having a nice conversation.

The difference it makes in what I get out of these meet-ups is amazing. Even if it’s not the most interesting conversation, or the greatest outing I find myself relaxed, engaged and recharged when I’ve approached the event mindfully* from the start. So, in short, I think that perhaps at least a little of of our loneliness is coming from failing to be present in the relationships, both big and small, that we already have and failing to be present enough to form new relationships when we do finally meet a likely match. I’m also working on a theory where we spend so much time looking at our problems trying to codify and understand them that they become more of a problem than they began with – but really that’s a totally separate topic to discuss some other time.

*Here’s my little mantra I’ve been saying to keep myself mindfully focused. “This may not be the *best* thing you could be doing right now, but it is *what* you’re doing right now so focus on where you are and what you there is to enjoy about what you’re doing”

The Great Disappearing Act

I got a new job in March. It’s pretty awesome all-in-all but it’s been a hard adjustment getting used to not only actually working all day long but having projects that require a good amount of brain power. I’m not complaining mind you, it is a wonderful change to feel engaged and productive during the day. I  also notice that my days generally fly by. It is often 1 before I have a chance to notice that it’s lunchtime.

All of this leads me to ponder the slow mire I let myself get sucked into over the past several years. I was underemployed, there simply was not enough to do at my last job, which lead to a lot of free-time and a general sense of malaise. I was making plenty of money for what I was doing, but I didn’t feel valued. How could I be valued when I wasn’t DOING anything.

I suppose more than anything I wonder about WHY I allowed myself to stay in such a clearly (in hindsight) poisonous situation and HOW I can ensure that I won’t get sucked into such practices again. I don’t have any real insight other than to promise to remind myself that no amount of money is worth your mental-health or sense of self-worth, and to know that I won’t stay in a job where I’m no longer being challenged and no longer growing.

It is so easy to stay in a benignly bad situation, what makes my last couple of years especially frustrating to recall is that I *knew* they were bad, I just didn’t ever stop to evaluate to realize that they were, in fact, getting worse. That slow slide is what saps you’re drive. Because as you slowly become obsolete you begin to believe that you deserve it. You begin to believe that the reason you’re not doing anything valuable is because you’re not capable of doing something valuable. The reason people treat you as disposable is because you don’t bring anything special to the table. It’s a shame, and we should all do our best to remember what we do bring to the table and not let ourselves be marginalized by poor circumstance.