Neuroses

April 29th, 2014

My short stint on the trainer train

July 27th, 2013

Today’s Frank Bruni column made me think of this post I wrote a few years ago…

from January 2009

Firing My Trainer

I realize now that I was paying for someone to pay attention to me. After my free orientation at the gym with this woman, I was somehow talked into signing up for three personal training sessions. She listened to me talk about myself and my weight loss woes. About not having time to work out as much as I used to before the baby. About how I used to be so in shape. She was a mom, too. Maybe old enough to be my mom, almost. She knew what it was like to breastfeed for an extended period of time and how that affected weight retention and energy levels. She said I should make time for myself. I decided to go ahead and buy the three sessions with her and she said she’d make up a little gift pack that she usually gives to people who buy the sessions for someone else and it could be my gift to myself. Cool. I thought it might be nice and maybe there’d be some candy or coupons or a granola bar or some cute little thing with it. She seemed to know where I was coming from. Sort of.

There were red flags that I should have noticed. Things that should have tipped me off to the fact that we would not be a good fit. Like when she asked me if I wanted her to call my husband and tell him to get me the training three-pack for a Christmas gift. Uhm, no. I buy my own things, with my own money, thank you very much. And my husband would totally be like WTF if some lady called him saying this! Then she was telling me she had this “network” of people who provide services, like Mary Kay ladies, hairdressers and such. Because women need to put themselves first and take care of themselves. Blah blah blah. Of course, we need to do these things, but I think there is way too much talk about it. Just do what you need to do. Don’t make a religion of it. Besides, I don’t do Mary Kay. I am an Aveda girl. She also wouldn’t go along with me when I was telling her how fat and out of shape I was. She was being way too gentle. I wanted someone who would kick my ass. She told me I needed to stretch and do yoga. I told her I tried yoga so many times and I knew it wasn’t for me, so she let that go. Pilates? No. Boring. I am a blast-it-out, power, endurance kind of person. I basically just wanted someone to push me a little and make sure I was using the machines with good form. Someone to pay attention to me, too. She seemed to do that, sort of, so I ignored the flags and I went for it.

I signed up for the three sessions and gave her a try. Sadly, on the day of our first session, things felt differently. She was five minutes late. To me, that’s bad. She didn’t have her glasses—or any kind of plan for me. And she had coffee breath. She seemed tired and harried. She said she was worn out from being in class all weekend. I asked her what she was going for. She answered, personal training certification. Oh. Should you already be…uhm…forget it. Never mind. I wanted to tell her we could do this some other time, but I hesitated.

She started putting me through the paces. I’d already done my cardio warm up. Most of it was pretty standard stuff. Squats. Lunges. She kind of stared into space while I did my reps. Then I did some bicep and tricep stuff on the pulleys after she’d scrambled around less than expertly trying to set them up. She didn’t seem like she knew how to use them any more than I did. Things really got wacky when she had me doing this crazy wood-chopper exercise on the cable machines. She demonstrated and I tried to copy but I couldn’t do it. I got the concept, but I admitted to her I am not the most coordinated person. She kept barking “wrong!” when I did them. I tried again. “Wrong!” She said. After a few tries, I was almost in tears.

“Here” she demonstrated again. “It’s like chopping wood. You have to move your body and come down like this. Like if you were chopping wood, you’d come into it here. Not here.” Whatever. I am a 36-year-old woman office worker living in the DC suburbs. What do I know about chopping wood? And I suspect this woman knew no more about chopping wood than I did. I just didn’t’ like her vibe at all. I told her we should find something else to do. This move was just not working for me. She said I might have to do it a hundred times to get it right, but then it would be good. I told her I didn’t have time to do something a hundred times. I only have an hour or so a day to work out and so I have to make the most of it. Her yelling “wrong!” did not help, either, but I kept that bit to myself.

So, we carried on. “What do you want me to show you, then?” She asked. “Since you don’t like cables?” Well, I never said I didn’t like cables, just not those weird wood-chopper exercises. “Uhm, I don’t know. When I had a trainer before, he just had a basic program for me of straightforward moves on the basic machines.” Ah, yes, good old Monzeil, my old trainer from DC. Young, hot, black man. I am still not sure why the gym had assigned this woman to me.

When I first called to redeem my free orientation, the trainer coordinator was like, “OK, you will be with Jodi (named changed to protect identity). You will recognize her right away. She is really peppy. She will be the one with Christmas bows in her hair or antlers or bells or something. She has lots of spirit.”

Uh huh. Another red flag I should have noticed.

“OK.” I answered. “Uhm, I’ll come in at 8:30 and run for a half hour and then meet with her at 9:00”

“Alright. Jodi will be there early, I’m sure, if she hears you are going to be there at 8:30. That’s just the kind of person she is. Bright and early.” He said.

“OK. Well, don’t have her interrupt my run. I’ll just go to her when I’m done.” Ha! She was so not early! As I mentioned before, she was late.

Anyway, when the first session was finally over, we made our next appointment. I dreaded seeing her again. The next session went a little better. She seemed to listen to the bit about me wanting to maximize my results in the time I had, but misunderstood the hour I mentioned for a half hour. So, she created a half-hour workout for me. I like the workout actually, but she still said all kinds of off-the-wall stuff when she was actually paying attention to me and not staring into space or talking to the manager about equipment or giving some lady on the stairmaster pointers on her form. When she had me do squats she was like, “Squat like a Korean at the marketplace. You know how they squat. Those Asians can squat. They are just made differently.” And somehow taking a dump was also brought into play to illustrate the depth my squat needed to take. O-K. I’m not all chichi or easily offended, but I don’t need to hear sweeping racial generalizations or bathroom references from someone I hardly know in order to do a proper squat. Also, it wasn’t challenging enough. It was good, but I wanted something that would really push me. To her credit, she kept asking me if I was doing OK during the workout, and I was always, like, “yes”. I think I may look more out of shape than I actually am!

I knew I could not see her again for the last session, so I put it off til that time frame that seems so distant during Christmastime…after the New Year.

I didn’t want to get her in trouble. I didn’t want to complain. I mean, she didn’t really do anything wrong. She just was not right for me. She was a tad bit unprofessional, but nothing serious. Maybe she was not even a real trainer yet? Still. I don’t want to mess up anyone’s business. It was only $80. I could forget about it and move on. But, I was not going to subject myself to her again.

I put her off once when she saw me at the gym, doing crunches on the incline bench. She hollered at me, interrupting me as well as her own client who she was currently in session with. “When do you want to do your last session?!?!”

“Uhm, I’m going to have to call you. I, uh, don’t have my calendar with me.”

Then, she phoned at 6 pm (dinnertime) a few days later. “When are you going to the gym next?” My kid cried in the background. “Oooh, is somebody tired?”

No! Someone is just being the whiny toddler that they are and wanting my attention while I am both trying to cook dinner and get off the phone with you! I thought.

I said, “No…uhm….I’m gonna have to call you back. Now’s not a good time.”

I hung up. “That woman drives me crazy.” I said.

“Who?” My husband asked.

“Oh nobody…I don’t want to talk about it,” I said. Hopefully he would think it was a client or something. That’s the only reason I even answered the phone—thinking it might be a client or my mom. I never told him about the whole debacle. I know it was my money, but I don’t think he’d be thrilled about me spending it on a trainer, and now I was so regretful and embarrassed that I did because she was so lame.

I wondered how I would avoid forever making that last appointment. I knew I had to face it and be up front with her. So I wrote her a note and planned to leave it at the front desk for her. I told her thanks for giving me some new ideas for my work outs, but I am going to pass on the last session. My free time is just so precious and rare right now that I just want my time at the gym to be my refuge, just to go in and do what I do, get in the zone, etc. etc. etc. I pondered what she might think. Had she sensed my lack of enthusiasm about her, or was I sufficiently sunny and fake enough? Why was I faking for someone I was paying, anyway? Well, I was not going to make myself fake for another half hour that I’d paid for. If I wanted to sit it out, I would. I had wrestled with this for a while. I worried about hurting her feelings. I thought to myself, can’t you just sacrifice a half hour of your time to preserve this woman’s feelings? The answer was no.

I thought it would be the decent thing to do to follow up my note with a phone call. I didn’t want to be shady and I wanted to be able to look her in the eye and give a little wave if we ran into each other at the gym. So I called her and repeated my spiel from the note (which she had not yet received.)

She didn’t seem surprised. She reminded me that I had paid for the sessions. I told her I didn’t care. I’d sign off so she would get paid, but I didn’t want to do the last session. I just needed the time to myself. She said she understood completely. “You’re just like my daughter,” she said. “She works with kids all day and she just wants to veg out and be alone at the end of the day.” Hmmm. OK. This woman did not for one instance entertain the notion that something she did had done might have put me off. I guess I faked well enough. I was anticipating her maybe asking me if anything was wrong and me gently telling her some of the things I thought were strange, but reassuring her that maybe it was just me and she’d be a good fit for someone else. At the very least, I thought I might get the chance to tell her it’s probably not the best teaching technique to yell “wrong!” when someone is not getting their form right. But, alas, she “completely understood” where I was coming from. Right.

What I learned from all this is that I don’t think I like the idea of a personal trainer any more at all. I always thought I should get my husband a package for a gift so he could get some tips on new exercises or better form. He never seemed interested when I’d mention it though. I can understand why now. It is kind of awkward to have someone hovering over you, and for many people, myself now included, a workout is an escape. I like to just get on that treadmill, blast some of my favorite songs, get the heart rate and endorphins pumping and feel great. I did have a good stint with that fellow Monzeil, but that was a different time in my life. I will never pay for someone to pay attention to me again.

What’s worse? Having too much time on your hands or not enough?

May 29th, 2013

Ever since my kid started all-day Kindergarten last fall, I’ve had more time on my hands than I’m comfortable with. Now, if I was better motivated, I could have been working out several hours a day. I could have a spotless house and beautifully landscaped yard. I could maybe have learned how to code, to play guitar, or Portuguese (all things I claim I’ve wanted to learn for years). But, the reality is, I am not…that motivated.

My workload as a freelance consultant often comes in fits and starts, by the week as well as within the day, and I often have unpredictable chunks of free time contrasted with clusters of crazy time. I make enough for our family budget, survival, nice things, and all that. I’ve not been compelled to seek out new business for more money within my current lifestyle.  Besides, business development among the small business circles  just isn’t my thing. I like to dig in and do the work, not “schmooze” to get the work.

I won’t make excuses for my lack of motivation with homey projects, but will just accept that that’s the way I am.

I also struggled with loneliness and a strange sense of confusion at the re-structuring of my place in the world as a mother of a school-age child—not a mother of a baby anymore. I tried volunteering a bit at the school and it was alright, though not enough to really give me a strong sense of purpose and not my thing, either. I like to work independently, take ownership, do something completely as much to the degree of excellence that I can for the purpose of getting it done well. I don’t like group exercises for the sake of getting people together and having people feel “involved” (though I do recognize the value in that, those kinds of activities are not a “good fit” for me, and something I do now and then, only to stretch myself and lend a hand when it’s needed). It would not be exaggerating to say I suffered from a mild case of depression this first year my child was in school full-time. Nothing debilitating, but I definitely don’t feel as though I’ve thrived.

And so, when the opportunity came to go back to work, for someone else, in an office, full-time, I took it.

In June I will start up again at the place I left nearly six years ago when my baby was born. I didn’t know back then it would go down the way it did. When the time came for me to go back to work after my maternity leave, though, I just wasn’t ready. Wasn’t able to do it. They very graciously let me consult, and I guess I proved myself valuable to them.

In many ways I always knew, or at least hoped, this day of going back would come. I never viewed myself as a person who would “stay home” all day every day for years and years and years. It was mostly about doing what I felt was best for my child when she was a baby, toddler, preschooler. Now that the bird has flown, I need to fly again too. I simply have too much time on my hands and am too much of a “worker bee” to know what to do with it when there’s such a surfeit. I used to not think I’d be this way. I’d make art! I’d volunteer! I’d learn guitar! But, I didn’t do those things. I sat around and read the web and wasted my free time.

I feel a little lame that I wasn’t able to carve out a fabulous independent freelancer bohemian life that could last forever and instead am running into the safe arms of an employer at a solid office job, but, that’s just the way it is. Working for someone else brings many comforts—the obvious things like I don’t have to come up with work (ie, no business development), I don’t have to buy new equipment, software (woah, Adobe with your new Cloud scheme!), etc. The company will have in its interest to keep me in the mix of being current and educated to par in what I need to know to do a job, rather than me alone worried about “keeping up,” then there’s insurance, retirement accounts, all those things.  And there’s the camaraderie. I like to be in contact with people, bounce ideas, exchange pleasantries—even with some conflicts, human contact is good. I think that’s what I miss the most now that my daughter’s away for so many hours of the day. The dog doesn’t cut it for me.

I worry that having to be in-office, out of the house for prescribed times (and oh, the commute!) might stress me out and leave me with not enough free time. The time I actually see my kid is going to decrease and this is probably what worries me most of all.

Honestly, though, the time of day I am now not going to see her has not been the most quality time for us. The after-school hours are usually just her playing or watching TV and having a snack while I get more work done (my work always seemed to flow in at the end of the day rather than the mornings when I had more time to myself) or I’d be shuttling her to soccer or other activities. We’re fortunate to have found a great option for after school and summer camp activities that will keep her busy and I think she’ll really enjoy.

My daughter and I will still have our mornings together with no need for before-school care, thanks to a flexible schedule at my job, and I plan to make those quality. Engaged conversation, nice breakfasts, no rushing. And I’ll have a smidge of time before her bedtime once I get home. My rationale is that since I will have less actual time, I will be more directly focused on engaging with my daughter during the time I do have—and the net result might actually be an improvement. I might actually spend more quality time with her now that the boundaries between my life and my work will be more starkly drawn.

Aside from me feeling adrift in these hours at home, money and security matter, too. While I say that I make enough with my part-time independent gig, “enough” is relative. We need to save for retirement. We need to have financial buffers. I feel like I am placing myself in a more secure position by working for someone else full time. It will look better on my resume if I do have to leave this job (not thinking that far ahead, just thinking of how hard it is for the unemployed now to get jobs and how my “independent consulting” for all these years might appear suspicious in today’s economy). Plus,  it just seems wrong for me to be hanging around the house and not working (earning!) to at least some amount closer to my full potential. And, I really do enjoy the work I do, too. Sometimes, I can’t stop working, even when I technically can and should go tend to something else. I can’t stop because I’m enjoying it and in the flow.

So, there you have it. On-ramping made easy. My employer made it as easy as they possibly could, though I’m under no illusions that the lifestyle adjustment will necessarily be easy. I think that I’ll survive, though, and it will be better for me once I get my stride. I recognize that the flexibility of my new job, and my husband’s current job, as well as our being able to find a good activity for our daughter to attend after school (with trusted transportation) are all key in making this work and I’m so thankful that these factors aligned.

Mothers—and others—do best when they’re allowed to be whole people

March 17th, 2013

The Sheryl Sandberg Lean In story, and this response by Anne Marie Slaughter, reminded me of something I’d written last summer that speaks to the importance of supporting a wider range of peoples’ ambitions, even if we personally may be less ambitious.

FROM JUNE 2012:

I used to say you can have it all, but not at the same time—a cliché with some truth to it, though not my own concept, of course. Now more and more women with experience are coming out with this truth, following years of trying to pull it off. In the past, I didn’t think it was so important for mothers to hold high-level positions, I mean, being a mom is very important in itself, right? I’ve changed my mind, though. Yes, raising children is important, but women who are mothers really do need to be part of business and government at the highest levels in order to ensure balanced policymaking. Here’s a very good article wherein one woman from the highest ranks shares her experience and notes what needs to change.

 
Reading comments online to this and corollary articles, I’m struck by the lack of big-picture thinking many people seem to have. I really appreciated this article in terms of it being another voice coming out in support of work-life balance in general—and for moms/parents in particular. I think it’s part of the slow, but certain, wheel of change that will bring us to a better place.

I am reading Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Chris Hayes and it discusses the problem we have in America now with a relatively small and non-diverse leadership of our institutions, insulated at the top, who’ve failed us. Hyper-competitiveness and ego (the whole work-time machismo thing of being there grinding away into the night is an example) plays a role in causing these folks to actually not have the best or even good solutions to many of the challenges we face as society.

Ensuring there are mothers in high-level government and business positions will help diversify the leadership and balance policymaking. So, to me, it’s not really so much about whether or not I personally “have it all.” I may not want “it all,” but some people do and being a parent should not keep them from achieving it.

In the bigger picture for women who may be more ambitious than I and have it in them to do bigger things, it must not be at the expense of their families—we need them in these positions of power.

Regarding work-life balance for all and in general, also revealed in comments is how some people just can’t get their heads around this the concept at all. “Is it fair for childless people to have to work extra hours…” they ask. No! Nobody needs to work so much. Perhaps even more people are hired (thereby helping unemployment) and we all work a little less. Europeans seem to have a handle on this. Why, oh why, is there this assumption here in American that there is always so much very urgent work to be done that can’t wait til 9-5 tomorrow? Or, maybe 9-12 pm after the kids are in bed, before which an employee took off at 2 pm? The world is not going to fall apart if certain things happen a little later instead of now. Of course, there are exceptions in emergency responder fields, certain service jobs that are less of “emergencies” but are based on timing, but don’t be ridiculous, like I said, they seem to manage in other countries.

Those already well-positioned in life have to take the leap to claim it and we have to make it such that it’s socially unacceptable and gauche to grind for hours and hours and hours all the time at the expense of everything else. For example, one commenter on the New York Times Motherlode blog’s coverage observed, “I’ve learned that, in Germany, staying back late at the office too often raises questions about competency. My former boss got plenty of unpleasant scrutiny because he chose to stay back every night until 10pm, rather than go home and face his marital situation. Unfortunately, it made him look incompetent and unable to do the job in the allocated time and didn’t help him when it was time to renew his contract; he was let go.”

NPR did a series on work-life balance a couple of years ago. The concept has definitely been floating around for at least a few years now, so please, take it down a notch, America! We’ll probably get better results anyway.

What do Sheryl Sandberg and Kate Upton have in common?

March 16th, 2013

A regular chick’s take on Lean In

I am not a career woman. I enjoy my work, I take it seriously and do a good job, but I’m under no delusions. I have a B.A. from a small Liberal Arts university. I’ve never made six-figures. I am working, right now, part time from home. Really, a nobody. And yet, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In had something for me. I like to take lessons from wherever I can find them.

I’ve been enjoying the many reviews and online discussions about the book, and I  understand, even if I don’t necessarily agree with, many of the criticisms. Others, though, seem preemptively dismissive and angry, as this Salon piece notes.

One of the best commentaries I read on Lean In came from Penelope Trunk who observed, “Sheryl Sandberg is such an incredibly aberrant example of women at work…She is great. Smart. Driven. I get it. I am doing a life that she would hate. I thought I was a high performer, but Sheryl Sandberg has no time for people like me. I spent so many years working hard to get to the top, but the truth is that I’m not even close. I was never in the running. I am nothing like Sheryl Sandberg.” Trunk added, “Sheryl Sandberg gives up her kids like movie stars give up food: she wants a great career more than anything else.” Harsh, I know, but I don’t think she meant it in a mean way or meant that Sandberg doesn’t love her kids. She’s just…different.

I always used to think, regarding women who felt bad that they didn’t measure up to models and actresses, that they were out of their minds even thinking they were in the same league with these women to begin with. Women like Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover girl Kate Upton. The complaints about “the media” and women’s body image never quite resonated with me because I had already faced the reality: I am not a super model. Surely, most other women must know this too, shouldn’t they?

I once read a book called The Secrets of Skinny Chicks and found, really, no secrets, but just what one would expect. These women worked out a significant amount of time and they really, really watched what they ate. As one reviewer said “…this book absolutely does not pretend that you can be a Size 6 US without considerable deprivation; we’re talking 1200-1600 calories a day AND a two hour cardio and weights program, ladies. It’s also honest about wishing it could hate food; this is really not the book for anyone with much gusto about mealtime…” I kind of know. Before I had a kid, I worked out, actively, a couple hours a day, plus briskly walked a round trip of four miles to work. I just didn’t have that much else to do at the time. My life is different now and I accept it. You have to put in a certain amount of work to get certain results.

The same goes for careers. When Sheryl Sandberg was at Harvard, I was waitressing, partying, taking classes a couple at a time at community college and otherwise meandering through my twenties. I somehow made it out the other side with a degree and was able to hold decent jobs, but I don’t expect to be the billionaire superstar Sandberg is (by the way, she was also an aerobics instructor at one point). It really wouldn’t be fair. I can still learn from her, though, just like women can learn from the “Skinny Chicks,” super models and Upton, whose trainer describes her daily double sessions and multiple cleanse diets. Sandberg talks about going home for dinner at 5 and having taken a 3-month maternity leave like these were major breakthrough concessions she made for her family. The dedication to her work and the intensity with which she works is extraordinary and more than I’d be willing to put in, just like double workout sessions and super-strict diets are more than I’m willing to do to look a certain way.

As an aside, Upton’s trainer defends her “porkiness,” which, of course, is laughable, except that I can see that as lean and sexy as she is, Upton is fleshier than many other SI and Victoria’s Secret models. She’s somewhat approachable. Just like Sandberg.  In Lean In, her voice is friendly and diplomatic as she nods to caregiving being important and acknowledges “Many people are not interested in acquiring power, not because they lack ambition, but because they are living their lives as they desire. Some of the most important contributions to our world are made by caring for one person at a time…”

Understanding I’m not Sheryl Sandberg or Kate Upton, and not in their league, I can take notes from aspects of their successes I may be interested in achieving for myself to a lesser degree, keeping in mind the reality that I don’t have the will (or genetics or background at this point in my life) to take it to that level. I can still work out regularly and cut out extra junk and be in nice shape. I can speak up in business situations, be confident and lean in, where appropriate for me, and improve my place in the work world.

So with that, I’ll share some of the best points of Lean In that are applicable to women (anyone, really) in most jobs.

If you want or need something, ask for it. It never occurred to Sandberg, or anyone else at Google, that maybe pregnant employees could use parking spots closer to the building—until, that is, she got pregnant. After a mad rush to the office from a far flung spot, naseuous, she marched into Sergey Brin’s office and made her request. The company set up special parking for pregnant employees. Of course, you might get an answer of no, but you won’t know unless you ask.

Sit at the table. Sandberg tells of a Facebook meeting she hosted for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in which women on Geithner’s team hung back not even sitting at the table with the rest of the group—even when personally invited to sit there by Sandberg herself. I mean, really, I’m just a schlub and I know better than that. If there’s seats, take one. If you’re invited, gosh, it’s weird and rude not to take one. But, apparently the inferiority complex is so deeply ingrained into some women that they need extra cajoling.

When you don’t feel confident fake it. Pretty straightforward, read the book for more nuance.

Take initiative. Sandberg says, “The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” She cited data from Hewlett Packard that men will apply for a position if they meet 60 percent of the requirements and women only apply when they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria needed. “Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that—and I’ll learn by doing it,’” she says.

At my first job out of college I was hired as a Communications Coordinator making 30K. I quickly realized I could easily do what they expected and was always asking for more work. I got sick of asking for more so instead I just started looking for things the organization needed and doing them. I took over the website (it was 1999 and having taken one web design class in college, I knew more than anyone else there at the time). Soon after, I outlined what I had been doing, suggested a title change and raise to 45K and they agreed. That’s my little pond story of initiative. As Sandberg notes, “…opportunities are not well defined but, instead, come from someone jumping in to do something. That something then becomes his job.”

Understand and work the system, even if the system is wrong. Sandberg discusses the many challenges women face with regard to powerful women being not well-liked and the trap of women who are nice being assumed incompetent and women who are competent assumed not nice. She acknowledges this is not right, but gives great advice on walking the line, nonetheless. Using a negotiation as an example, she advises women to “think personally, act communally,” prefacing the negotiation by explaining they know women often get paid less than men so they are going to negotiate rather than accept the original offer. “By doing so, women position themselves as connected to a group and not just out for themselves, in effect they are negotiating for all women.” Sandberg advises the use of the word “we” instead of “I” whenever possible. She warns, though, that a communal approach is not enough and women must also provide a legitimate explanation for the negotiation.

Combine niceness with insistence. This piggybacks on the previous idea. Sandberg cites Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, who says this means being “relentlessly pleasant.” This involves “smiling frequently, expressing appreciation and concern, invoking common interests, emphasizing larger goals” and approaching situations as solving a problem as opposed to being critical.

Speak up, stand up. Sandberg talks a lot about how men in power can help women by standing up for them in key situations and she gives many encouraging examples of when this was done for her. She notes Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express, as a leader in this area who acknowledged that “in meetings, both men and women are likely to interrupt a woman and give credit to a man for an idea first proposed by a woman.” Chenault stops meetings to point this out when he sees it—making quite an impression coming from the top. Sandberg advises that anyone can do this, though. “A more junior woman (or man) can also intervene in the situation when a female colleague has been interrupted. She can gently but firmly tell the group, ‘Before we move on, I’d like to hear what [senior woman] had to say.’” Sandberg explains that this not only benefits the senior woman who was interrupted but boosts the junior woman as well, because speaking up for someone else demonstrates a communal spirit—and confidence—and shows the junior woman is both competent and nice.

In Lean In, Sandberg acknowledges the systemic issues women face that can make it more difficult to rise to the top, but also offers a useful mix of overarching ideas for society with nuts and bolts tips for women at work. Just like with the Skinny Chicks‘ secrets and a glimpse into Upton’s regimen, I can incorporate those ideas that fit my lifestyle, not expecting to find myself on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition or in a C-Suite, but inspiring me to run that extra mile or to speak up with confidence on something I’m knowledgeable about with colleagues.

 

Leaks and art geeks

February 18th, 2013

Light basement flooding (that’s what I get for trying to be “green” and catch a dripping faucet) ruins some college-era artwork that really needed to be thrown out anyway. I’ve grown and so much now is digital and client-based it was neat to see hand-drawn bits of history of who I once was (even with all the angst). Cool thing: I can salvage some leftover art papers for my kid’s projects. How symbolic is that?

 

Less wordy, more nerdy…

February 2nd, 2013

Less wordy, more nerdy

January 26th, 2013

Habit breakers

January 8th, 2013

I came across this article yesterday—on new research showing that we’re more focused and creative in the great outdoors—and it really struck me—I needed to get out into nature. I’d skipped running outside all weekend, trying to do new workouts and get over my lingering cold issues and so by then, I was longing for it. I didn’t feel like running, however, after doing this new DVD for the first time Saturday, my muscles were still ridiculously sore. (I really like Cathe Friedrich. She’s no-nonsense, really fit and older than me! An inspiration of what I could become, fitness wise, if I get my act together…On the other hand, I can’t say I love the new yoga DVDs I got, a Tara Stiles set. She’s kind of mumbly and the moves were really hard on the one I tried to do, with her offering no modifications and I miss the sanskrit terms, which add an air of specialness to it. Anyway, I want to like her, but we’ll have to see… )

I decided to walk around the local lake and take our dog—both new and different things for me as I usually run and I usually do not take the dog. It was really nice and I like to think of it as a bit of a “habit breaker.” I need to do more of these habit breaking things, and hopefully a book I’m reading, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, will help me. The book is about mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which has some good science behind it supporting mental health, peace and well being. (Yes, I am giving meditation another go, even after my disappointment over the summer.)

Each week of the reading will have two parts to it: a meditation exercise and habit breakers which are meant to free readers from their everyday, cyclical thinking. And, oh, do I need this. I am in quite a rut, but I do see trickles and flashes of sunlight way ahead of me at the end of some tunnel. The habit releaser for the first week is actually to sit in different chairs or alter the position of the chairs you use. I’ll do that while I’m working and eating. I do tend to sit in the same seat of the sofa all the time. (It will be good for my sofa, too to not be worn in the same place, ha ha!)

The walk around the lake was more immediately profound, though. It had the benefit of being outdoors, away from a screen and gave me the sense that I was doing something special and nice for someone else (my dog) at the same time. I learned, too, that it might be a good idea when I run to leave the headphones at home. While I don’t always have the time it takes to walk instead of run, and most of the time I do want the exercise of a good run rather than walk, I could probably benefit more from the mind-clearing, rather than grooving to mid-90s gangsta rap, trying to convince myself the lyrics don’t matter and its the beats I love.

On innovation, education and fostering ‘flow’

October 17th, 2012


As the parent of a kindergartener, I’m now navigating the world of public education for the first time. I’m trying to do all the right things and getting involved however possible. So I was really excited about the Principal’s Book Club. Our county’s school system is one of the best in the country and from what I have seen and heard, our individual school is quite good—and I see this book club as just one way they’re transcending basic expectations.

The book we read, Creating Innovators, discussed what parents, teachers, and employers must do to develop the capacities of young people to become innovators. I’m a natural skeptic, so I can’t say I am immediately on board with the idea of innovation as presented by the book—especially prioritizing innovation to the degree it does and especially when it seems there are issues with proficiency in basic skills across the general population. Yes, innovation is important and innovation was the topic of discussion, but we proceeded with the foregone conclusion innovation was necessarily worthy of pursuing as a priority without even questioning that. I’m concerned about the intellectual vacuity of the term (not always, but certainly sometimes), as well as how a pathological drive for innovation could actually be detrimental to humanity and our earth. So innovation needs balance, just like anything else. We didn’t have time to debate that premise.

It was actually a little comical—and highlighted one of my biggest issues with “innovation”—that the organizers spent so much time futzing with and ogling over “technology”—that it significantly cut into the discussion time. They wanted to connect an iPad to the projector (this did not work) so we could see how QR codes in the text played mini-movies. (I was unimpressed by this gimmick because when I’m reading I want to read, and it’s neat to watch a video and see what someone looks like, I suppose, but I wouldn’t do it intermittently with reading, personally, and chose to go back to the videos via the web after reading through the book.) Even after that, instead of digging in and talking about the book, we were shown a presentation touting innovation in the school system (shown at too high a resolution for the screen, cutting off content) and then Power Point slides were used to prompt discussion—but we only got to one question! I make these points not to be overly critical of those working the technology. Their efforts were fine and I appreciate even having the book club at all, but what transpired does offer a lesson, in my opinion. Technology is really just a tool. Technology can enhance our lives and make our work easier, but it can also get in the way—as evidenced by what happened at the book club meeting.

Our group did manage to have a decent discussion of the one question we got through, though, which was: How might we emphasize creativity & nurture imagination and innovation within children in a high stakes testing culture?

I thought this was a good question, and in fact, was one of the questions/discussion points I had prepared from my reading, along with: Which of the ideas discussed in the book are applicable to grade school children, and how? Let’s discuss incremental vs. disruptive innovation for grade school (which is preferable, more feasible, etc.); Let’s parse the hype from the substance and discuss the utility of fostering innovation among members of the general population, differentiating them from the “outliers”; What about “excellence”? We can’t let excellence in foundations fall to the wayside in the name of “innovation.”

To the question posed, though, I would acknowledge this is quite a challenge in the current culture of “Race to the Top” and teaching to the test. The school principal rightly noted her school has become very good at this challenge—and the numbers show it. She talked briefly about how they do it and highly-skilled, engaged and empathetic teachers play a critical role in this, of course.

Book club participants have the opportunity (whether they could make the in-person discussion or not) to tweet about the book and so we began last night. So, I found some articles that fleshed out my initial thoughts on how we can nurture creativity and imagination in children, even in the school environment, by fostering environments that allow for them to achieve “flow.” From the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, Can Schools Help Students Find Flow? and another Eight Tips for Fostering Flow in the Classroom.

I see my  daughter learning during almost every waking hour by creating projects for herself that just happen to use elements of the curriculum introduced at school (previously it was preschool, and previously it was just natural human development stages). Do all kids do this? I don’t know. But, I mostly get out of the way, supplying her with materials to pursue her projects and guidance as needed—how do I spell this or that? I help her sound it out, things like that, if she’s making a book or a sign, or I’ll assist with an “engineering” suggestion if she’s building something—as well as encouragement and gentle correction or push to make something a little better if I see window for that. I think similar things can be achieved in a classroom, although, there are different sets of challenges, obviously, dealing with a greater quantity of children and children at a variety of skill levels—but, that’s what makes teachers the professionals and me a mom!

While I made my complaints about the technology and not being able to discuss more, overall, I am grateful for and inspired by the opportunity to discuss with the school principal this book, and more importantly, my child’s education beyond just the scope of this book. And I will give credit to an idea laid out in the book of creating an online portfolio of work, which I set up for my child (in the book, suggested as an alternative to testing). I think parent involvement is the number one factor in a child’s success and being able to engage with the school in this way is very valuable to me. The principal said we’d continue the discussion on Twitter and in follow-up meetings and I look forward to them!