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“At 57, I Don’t Lean In”

“Congratulations,” Sheryl Sandberg said with a smile as broad as the years that separate our generations when I told her that at 57, I’d recently gone back to a corporate job. “At this stage, I’m standing up—not leaning in,” I continued. This statement did not generate another high-five from the Facebook COO and author of Lean In, a new working woman’s manifesto for success.

Glancing at my business card, Sandberg said, “I’ll find out who you can talk to about Lean In Circles at your company,” before turning to greet another BlogHer ’13 attendee in the crowded Skyline Ballroom in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center.

A corporate layoff in 2006 interrupted my 30-year marketing career. When I returned to corporate life after six years of teaching and writing, I knew my future called for a new outlook. I had been the prototypical MBA-owning, globe-trotting, leaning in career girl in my twenties, thirties and forties. Now, I’m a fifty-something woman standing up for the pursuit of personal satisfaction and enjoyment on the job and for living every day as if I’m worth it, because I am.

* At 57, I don’t lean in at work because I don’t feel the need to prove myself anymore. I believe in myself and know that I will deliver value.

* I don’t lean in because I already take a seat at the table. I speak up when needed and not just to be heard.

* I work for satisfaction in a job well done and the personal growth that comes from that, not to position myself for the next big move.

* I’m standing up at work rather than leaning in because I know the importance of a meaningful job. It requires my energy, but it’s just a part of my life, not the whole.

* I’m past worrying whether everyone likes me. I’m not sure I like everyone anyway. But I can figure out how to work with them, and that’s what counts.

* I want to see what’s around and ahead of me, and you can’t do that when your nose is leaned-in to a corporate playbook. I will travel the rest of my life gazing at serendipitous experiences outside those pages.

* I still haven’t heard from anyone in Sheryl’s office about the Lean In Circles at my company. It’s unfortunate that she missed the true significance of going corporate again at 57. There is meaning to be found, purpose to be had, and passion to be explored.

My generation must stand up and be counted. We are in vigorous pursuit of the ultimate goal—a life well lived.

Photo:
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., center, poses with students for photographs after her speech at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea
Photo: Woohae Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Originally published on LifeReimagined.arrp.og
Life Reimagined AARP “At 57 I Don’ Lean In

Bollards to You and Other New Words

Bollard. Returnship. Showrooming. All but bollard are new, made-up-to-fit-the times, words that I learned this week. In an effort to learn these words so that they will flow seamlessly from my mouth I’ve been told to use them in sentence a few times.

Returnship.
I came across this word in the Wall Street Journal Returnship is an internship for people returning to the workforce. The WSJ blurb reported that Goldman Sachs, among other companies have “short-term paid jobs” for people coming back to work after taking time off.

I’ve experienced internship envy before. I desperately wanted the job at CBS that my niece-in-law took or the one with the United Nations that my nephew filled. When caught between what I’m doing and what I think I want to do next, an internship offers both parties a chance to see if there’s a fit in job responsibilities/skills and culture.

Showrooming
This is what the lady at Target was doing the other day. I just didn’t know it had a name other than comparison shopping. But if you comparison shop online while standing in front of merchandise in-store, you are showrooming.

I’m not sure I’m the showrooming type. When caught between looking for cheaper shampoo online or buying the fairly priced bottle in front of me and not driving, parking, and walking through another set of aisles, I usually grab what’s in front of me. And if I’m buying something significantly more expensive, say a new TV, I’ve done my comparison shopping online at home. That must make me a home-showroomer.

Bollard
Every thing has a name and the little posts that prevent cars from driving into the front of buildings, usually important buildings, are called bollards. Who knew? Sailors perhaps, since the word has been used to describe the posts used to moor ships for many years. But an academic friend found an “operable bollards” sign on his campus the other day and wondered, “What is this and what is a non-operable bollard?”

I don’t imagine I’ll use bollard much in casual or formal conversation. If I need to warn someone about an upcoming bollard, I’m going to say, “Hey, watch out for the post,” not, “There’s a bollard obstructing our ingress/egress.” Come to think of it, I don’t use ingress or egress very often either.

Words open new worlds. A returnship brings new work opportunities. Showrooming brings cost savings. And bollards bring the lowly post up a few notches in status.

And the Transition Goes On

“Why don’t you just say it, you’re retired,” a male friend said after my layoff that produced an unemployment check and a Cobra health insured life.

“I’m not retired,” I insisted. “I’m in transition.”

At lunch with a working friend from the good old days of full employment and a certain path I shared the nascent beginning of my blog.

“I’m writing about women in transition.”

“You’re always in transition,” my male lunch partner said.

He was right. Whether in a job or not, I have always felt in transition. I prefer to think this makes me an expert on the topic rather than someone who always looks for the next patch of greener grass.

When I told my sister about the potential job offer she asked, “Aren’t you enjoying your semi-retirement state?”

Semi-retirement? Is that what my life looked like to the outside? It didn’t’ feel like that inside.

The five years that I didn’t report to an office, I still worked. Not at a corporate office doing the same thing. But I worked. From a home office or at a borrowed desk. At various things. Consulting projects. Committees. Content development. And mostly teaching.

Two hundred students–give or take a few–have sat in my classes and been mentored over coffee and during office hours. Teaching has been the hardest work I’ve ever done. By myself. In front of a room of young adults hoping to advance their careers with the material they are learning in my class. Finding new ways to fill the hours, to bring the principles and theories alive. A three-hour, one-woman show running for 10 weeks straight. Each week required a new script and the ability to improvise.

“I never want to retire,” I tell Husband, who is on the brink of retirement. Teetering so close to being able to nap at will on any one of our couches. To putter in any number of puttering spaces in the house, garage, or outside. To being able to do something else as soon as he discovers or defines else. To being in transition.

Retiring sounds old. And I reject being old, while fully acknowledging being older. So I’m rejecting retirement and accepting rehiring into a new role in a familiar field. Or as I prefer to look at it, I’m just entering one more transitional phase in my life of transition.

Fashion Faux Pas or Face Plant?

Coming of age in the 70s I was more than a fashion faux pas, I was a fashion face plant. Nothing can explain away the dress I wore to the junior prom. I looked like a picnic tablecloth on the bottom with a matching place mat on top. Since I can’t find the picture, which I know I saved, you’ll have to use your imagination.

Large red and white checked gingham fabric. Long skirt accented with a ruffle. Halter-top attached to the skirt, also accented with a ruffle. Straps crisscrossed in the back and buttoned into the top of the skirt. My father made me dance around the living room to make sure nothing fell out of the square piece of material over my chest. Since my chest amounted to nothing at the time, I was safe.

Ruffles play a major role in my best wardrobe worsts. My early choices for formal dances at college all had ruffles on the bottom and unfortunately a few had gathered sleeves with ruffled edges. And there was the ruffled yellow dotted swiss bridesmaid’s dress accessorized with a matching floppy hat. Of course that was chosen for me and truth be told, the whole time I wore that dress I squelched the urge to cry out, paraphrasing Scarlett in Gone With The Wind, “I’ll never go dotted swiss or ruffles again.”

Of course it took a whole new decade and career before I found my ruffle replacement. Half the fun of going to work in the mid-‘80s–for me¬–was wearing the businesswoman’s bow tie. Floppy or stiff. Bright red, blue or black. It didn’t matter. I simply liked the ritual of tying it. And it announced my competence without me saying a word.

I first learned about power dressing from The Women’s Dress for Success book written by John T. Malloy. His advice to women hoping to be taken seriously by others (men) in the workplace: look like those others (men) as much as possible. My closet was full of men’s styled dark colored suits that I wore with white, blue, or an occasional pink shirt, when I felt rebellious, and a bow tie. Simple jewelry, gold or silver stud earrings and maybe a pearl necklace rounded out the corporate career gal’s look.

I took all of Mr. Malloy’s advice and added my own twist. Looking at my first-day-on-the-new-job picture I wish I had applied Coco Chanel’s advice: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I wore a dark gray pinstripe suit with modest shoulder pads and a light blue wing-collared shirt with pleated front. A bow tie in the same color as the shirt flopped under my wing collar more than it stood at attention. A necklace of alternating silver and lapis-colored beads lay under my tie. Thank goodness I just wore matching silver studs.

In the 90s my bow ties and starched shirts gave way to flowing scarves and silky blouses. Then I went casual, business casual and then work from home casual. Today the most flounce in my wardrobe is found in the pashmina-style scarves warming my neck in overly air conditioned and under-heated environments. I am aware of the return of the bow blouse to the workingwoman’s closet but have resisted. Much as I have resisted anything in red and white checks. Neither bows nor gingham fit my style anymore.

The New Year Feels Different Already

Signs that 2013 will be a different kind of year than 2012:
1. On January 1st Northwestern University won its first bowl game in 64 years.
2. On January 1st I watched a whole football game on television since the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl in 1985.
3. I learned more about probiotics and restoring the good bacteria in your gut than I ever wanted to learn while watching said football game.
4. An anonymous friend sent me a five-day pleasure challenge to start the new year, and I’m taking it.
5. In a few minutes I will drive to my new full-time job and first corporate job in five years. I didn’t sleep well last night and my stomach hurts now. Some things never change.

What Kind of Blogger Am I?

According to a study of blogging styles and attitudes conducted by Zemanta, a content suggestion engine (according to Wikipedia), I’m a Life Stager/Hedonist/Life Improver. Translation: I write about How to Enjoy and Survive Midlife With A Smile on Your Face, or My Face, as the case may be.

If that sounds like a mish mash of styles and attitudes, it is. According to the study, I’m not alone in exhibiting more than one blogging persona. And that, my blogging friends, is comforting to know for a couple reasons.

I’m forever being asked what my blog is about. I’m forever finding myself searching for a one-word answer because people like one-word answers that quickly categorize who you are, and because I teach marketing. I tell my students that an effective brand positioning statement is consumer-centric and singular in its promise. It is the rare branding success that offers two benefits in one drink. (Miller Lite’s Great Taste…Less Filling!) So if my blog is a brand or a product, it should offer something singular. Something it can own.

Here are some of the words I’ve tried on their own: Transition, Humor, and Midlife. But they don’t work on their own. Transition from what? What’s funny? And midlife, what does that mean? Midlife is about as broad in definition as Middle Class. Far as I can tell, Midlife means you’re not wearing diapers.

However, I also teach my students that a target audience or consumer can’t be defined narrowly by demographics. A brand’s consumer is more nuanced than a woman between the ages of 45-55. My students learn how to develop consumer personas, which include a demographic description along with information on attitudes, goals, lifestyle, and behaviors related to the product.

The Zemanta study highlights, for me, that while a blog has a brand identity, it also has a persona attached to it. Maybe I have difficulty describing my blog in one word because I can’t define myself with one word. Maybe I’ve just rationalized why I shouldn’t even worry about coming up with the one word. Maybe I should just focus on the one thing that differentiates me from the rest of the midlife bloggers talking about the midlife journey with a touch of humor. Right now the only answer – and it is one word or two, depending upon how I express it, is: Me. or Julie Danis. Only I can own that.

A Short Note On Lists

I hate lists
They bring me bliss(ters)
From writing and reading
And seeing my pleading
Of what to do and say
Throughout the day

On my lists there resides
Many plans and other asides
That missed being done
Or were never begun
Oh I hate lists
They make me pissed

My POV on COB and WLB

While I’ve been teetering between three volunteer “jobs” and creating content for my blog, book, and future radio program (no, I don’t have a program in development, but a girl can dream) a great debate has been stirring on work-life balance for working women. So much, maybe too much, has been said already so I won’t offer any new points of view. But I will share one point that I just read on HuffPost (http://huff.to/LdDqLL) that resonated with me:

“I think work-life balance is something you can only achieve later in life,” said Merit E. Janow, a professor of international economic law and international affairs at Columbia University, the first woman member of the WTO Appellate Body and the chairman of NASDAQ Exchange LLC. She adds:  “You can’t start off with work-life balance and be successful. Period. If you’re not willing to acknowledge that, then there are certain lines of work that you shouldn’t go in. I think maybe people haven’t quite accepted that reality.”

I hear from many 20-somethings today that their new jobs require long hours, well past the proverbial 5pm end of business. They find it difficult to fit in volunteer work, exercise, or even cleaning their apartments. While I’m sympathetic, my response is: “Duh.” It’s work. Whether the work involves clients, sales, training, or services, whether it is profit or non-profit, creative or routine, it’s work and work happens when it needs to happen.  And rarely on your preferred schedule.

In my first post-MBA job I was asked for my POV by COB, which I quickly learned was point of view by close of business. But what was considered COB, I wondered? Five PM or midnight? Eastern or Central Time? My POV was that COB needed to be defined else I miss the deadline. And my POV on WLB (work-life balance) is that it’s all in your definition of balance and it’s not always in your control. That’s work and that’s life.

Living and Loving Life in the Middle

“What’s your book about?” my long-time friend Pete asked.

“About how my worldview – or at least my dreams – has been informed by sitcom characters. I always wanted the life of someone on TV – That Girl, Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, but now there isn’t anyone on TV like me anymore – a boomer working women in transition.

“You’ve been in transition for a long time,” he chuckled and pushed me through the revolving door to the restaurant.

“Yes, and,” I started and stopped. I wasn’t quite sure what came after the “and.”

It was five years ago that I proudly and boldly told everyone and anyone that I was in transition. Fresh off a layoff from a job that led me to a desperate depression I decided to hangout in transition for a while before jumping to a new destination.  This hanging out in the middle is a concept I had read about years ago during an attempt to “find myself.”

In Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, author William Bridges posits that transitions start with an ending and have an indefinite middle period that is uncomfortable and ends in a new beginning.  The middle period – he calls the neutral zone – should not be sped through or the change you seek will not happen, at least not the way you want it to happen. Basically you have to be willing to swim in the deep end, traverse the dessert, live in no-man’s land for as long as it takes to process the ending and creatively find the new beginning.

“I’m in transition” is a certain, yet open-ended response to the “what do you do” question posed at every turn in the road. Fluid and interesting.

My first attempt at figuring out my life led to a career coach who I met at a fashion show for workingwomen. I hoped she would help me find a place to express myself without feeling censored.  And she just might have been able to do that if I hadn’t really needed counseling to get over a recent firing and subsequent loss of confidence.

Next stop on my career trip-tik was an EST like weekend with my travel buddy Lynnette. Lynnette and I had been to Hawaii, Australia and Dallas together. Dallas is where we both began our post-MBA careers hawking salty snacks and where I was fired. Lynnette knew me from the bottom up and inside out. She was the only person who could get me to do things that I really didn’t want to do because they sounded corny or hokey – like going to a sheep shearing, Waltzing Matilda- singing hoedown in Sydney or attending a weekend retreat aimed at unlocking our human potential– because I trusted her with my sanity.

So one Friday evening we entered a nondescript hotel in Schaumburg, a suburb of Chicago famous for its mall, along with 20 other seekers. Each of us carried the required boom box and empty notebook. We were assigned roommates and had our first meeting in an empty conference room, save a table and two chairs for the retreat leaders.

Before we begin whatever we’re going to begin I ask,ed “Are there bathroom breaks?”

I had heard that in the EST movement of the ‘70s Werner Erhard wouldn’t let anyone go to the bathroom during the marathon enlightenment sessions. Just thinking about that filled my anxious bladder.

“There will be bio breaks. But please try to not leave the room until then,” the male leader replied.

All seekers sat on the floor with space between each other so we were on our own carpet island. We went through exercises that had us walking backwards in our dreams, conjuring up our child self and writing letters to our tormentors. Boy, did the guy who fired me get a mouthful.

We talked to empty imaginary chairs, walked in circles and reversed. We shared intimate details of our lives with total strangers. If the moments weren’t intimate enough we were encouraged to go deeper, to find the root issue.

We made collages on large poster boards. They represented who we were and wanted to be. We wrote anthems that we would declare to the group, only when we were ready and able to believe them.

At night we listened to tapes on our boom boxes and some of us crept into the halls and shared secreted snacks. I stole outside and had a cigarette. One of the bad habits that I had identified as holding me back from my true potential, and possibly my future husband.

On the last day of the weekend we sat on our carpet island and closed our eyes. The leaders took us on a guided journey.

“Imagine a suitcase and open it up.”

We were told to put anything that bothered us, nagged at us, hurt us, or held us back in this suitcase. This could be your mother, boss, extra 20 pounds or slow drivers who always end up in front of you when you’re late. Take the bad and pack it away. I threw in a pack of cigarettes among other items I can’t remember.

“When you are finished packing your suitcase, close it and lock it with a key.”

“Now stand up and throw that key away – in the ocean, the trashcan or field. Throw it away where it can never be found or retrieved. Now pick up that suitcase – no matter how heavy it may be – you can pick it up – and open your eyes. Walk to the door and leave your suitcase next to the door. And take a short break. We’ll meet in 15 minutes for our graduation.”

And so I packed, locked, threw away, deposited, and took a long needed bio break.

During the graduation ceremony I stood in a circle with the other seekers cum finders and when I felt moved by the emotion, I stood in the middle and declared:

“I am a happy, fulfilled, smoke-free woman.” I cried. I left the circle, went outside, and lit up.

Pete is right. I have been in transition a long time. And I’ve moved to some new things while still developing others. . But maybe transition is my destination – to always be exploring and sharing my exploration. Wouldn’t that be a kick if where I’ve always belonged, is where I’ve always been leaving?

I tell myself (and Pete) that I’m okay with being in transition. I’m moving and creating, not stagnating.  And I’d like to tell the circle of seekers that today I could truly declare: I am happy and smoke-free (11 years now!) As for the fulfilled part – I’m pretty full, but there’s always room for more.

 

I enjoy dressing up. Give me a scarf and I’ll become a bubba in a babushka or a nun in a whimple. I’ll try to be   Grace Kelly in a convertible, but I’ve never mastered tying the scarf around my head and neck like she did. Bottom line, give me the opportunity to don a costume, to take on a character, to let my clothes inform my performance and I’ll take it. I enjoy dressing up.

This personality twist serves me well and serves me not at all. Sometimes I forget that I’m actually the real thing not the character I dressed in the morning. I first learned about power dressing from The Women’s Dress for Success Book written by John T. Malloy.  A man’s styled blue suit with a pair of gold earrings made you fit in around the conference table even if you weren’t a perfect fit for the job.

So a recent article in the Wall Street Journal on fashion for the modern female boss made me think about how my dress code has changed over the decades. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304451104577392652319112084.html?KEYWORDS=boss+dressing

Half the fun of going to work in the mid-‘80s was wearing a bow tie. Floppy or stiff. Bright red, blue or black.  It didn’t matter. I liked the ritual of tying it. It announced my competence without me saying a word. It stood in for all that I might lack. As long as I kept my mouth shut I was part of the club.

In the mid-‘90s I pushed for my office to go business casual. We were a 5-person consulting group hidden in a top floor of a tall skyscraper in the Chicago South Loop. Clients didn’t come to our office we went to theirs. It just didn’t make sense – monetary or otherwise – to wear and run pantyhose on a daily basis. The chairman of the firm balked. He believed in what I like to call the Catholic school rule: “Children behave as they are dressed. Dressed in dungarees they will be devils. Dressed in blue plaid and white shirts they will be angels.”

When the chairman finally agreed he insisted on written rules for business casual, which seemed oxymoronic to me. Rules for casual made it formal. Luckily our band of five was seasoned and didn’t need much guidance. “No jeans” ended up being the first and only rule on the list.

In the ‘90s I moved to a creative field – advertising – where dress code meant you just needed to be dressed. In my office you could wear graphic tees, jeans with or without holes, flip flops or army boots. However, most of the business types – suits as they are called in advertising – wore nice dress pants and a collared shirt if they were men and nice dress pants/black skirt and the collared shirt equivalent of a top if they were women.  In other words, they dressed like grown-up Catholic school students.

As my workplace shifted from corporate office to home office my need for a business or business casual wardrobe decreased dramatically. I found myself waking up and pulling on my favorite yoga pants for the short commute across the hall to where my computer lay in wait. I didn’t need to be showered and coiffed by any hour so often that hour of cleansing occurred after lunch. I found it difficult to dress the part of my new life when there was no definition for this new position I was crafting. There was no job description that hinted at the appropriate wardrobe choice.

I had this same problem when I went to college. Twelve years of uniform dressing did not prepare me for picking out an outfit every morning before 8 AM biology. I had a uniform and weekend clothes when I was in high school. In college I needed to figure out everyday clothes.

At home, pulling on my stretchy exercise pants every morning reminded me of pulling on my go to college painter’s pants. Pulling my hair into a ponytail was like wearing a bandanna. Sliding on my flip-flops or UGG slippers, depending upon the season, was equal to wearing my Dr. Scholl’s sandals or Minnetonka moccasins.

Had I regressed to college?  Forgotten how to dress? Was I struggling to find a role to dress – just as I did in college when I floundered from theater to something else? I asked myself: “Do I need a costume to inform my identity?”

The answer was: “Maybe.”  And if so, that isn’t such a bad thing. If the bow tie gave me confidence, prepared me for the business battle then why not arm myself for my current freelancer and writer challenges?

What do I need to feel ready to market myself and write? I need to feel fresh, creative, and adventurous. So now I look in my closet and find a bright color or crisp white top – it may be a tee but not one in which I would exercise. I do rely on jeans for the bottom – but jeans I would wear to a nice restaurant with a blazer or sweater, not jeans better worn when cleaning out the garage. And I add fun earrings after my hair has been dried. I may not do full makeup, which isn’t much in the first place, but I always add a dash of mascara.  My shoes are comfortable but not suitable for the gym or beach.

This new ritual is like the old ritual of getting ready for work in an office. It resembles donning the uniform of school days. It signals to my body and mind that I’m ready to create the role I’m living. This may sound crazy – to anyone who can be productive no matter what they’re wearing but hey, I’m not one of them.  I’m better when I’m prepared for the task and I’m best when I’m dressed for the part.

 

 

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