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How Does My Collage-Career Sound Today?

“What do you do during the day?” Karen asked.

Pulling my head out of the refrigerator where I was looking for an elusive bottle of balsamic oil and vinaigrette salad dressing, I responded, “Do you mean for work or what?”

“Just generally, I guess.”

Luckily, Husband interrupted my answer when he announced that the salmon was ready to come off the grill. Luckily, because I have a difficult time answering that question in a way that sounds sufficiently productive–in my estimation. I dislike not being or sounding productive.

For almost five years I’ve created a non-corporate life that combines teaching, writing, blogging, freelance marketing consulting, taking classes, active volunteering and reinvention exercising into an ever changing collage. It’s as if the glue I’m using to piece the whole together doesn’t want to dry so there’s always room for change. So saying what I do, generally, on any given day doesn’t come tripping off the tongue.

When Husband asks, “What’s your day look like?” I usually answer, “Writing” or “Working.” I think the latter sounds more productive even though writing is the majority of my work and would be more specific. If I answer, “Writing” and he asks, “About what?” I usually answer, “You.” He likes to hear that I’m working more than writing.

I’m not sure why I feel more compelled to justify my daily doings today versus when I occupied a chair in front of a desk in a high-rise office building off of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The activities today and then are much the same: check email, respond to email, initiate calls/meetings, follow-up on calls/meetings, call the Help Desk, do research on and off line, write up research findings in various formats but mostly power point, try to persuade people to my point-of-view, try to inspire people with what I’ve uncovered in my research, and so on.

Sound exciting or interesting? Not especially, not with out the context of the email, research, persuasion, or inspiration. And therein lies the rub, how do I describe what I do so that it sounds like I’m really doing something and not just dealing with email, writing reports, wishing I had a Help Desk, and updating my social media presence – which is a big part of what I do today and didn’t do yesterday. I’ve learned that writers, not just social media managers, need to update Facebook, and tweet, and tumbl, and pin, and so on, and so on.

“Who cares?” you might ask. “I do,” I will answer. I wasn’t unhappy when the layoff came. I didn’t like doing what I was doing at the time. But I certainly wasn’t ready to stop doing in a meaningful, income producing, having something to talk about with peers and former colleagues, sort of way. Which brings me back to where this post began. When Karen asked what I did during the day my insecurity around how to make collage-making sound meaningful, income producing and interesting announced itself. Especially the income producing part of it. Seems the value of my collage lies mostly in the eyes of the beholder, at least at this stage!

Karen is on the precipice of a big transition, closing out her corporate life and wondering how she’ll fill her time. “Don’t worry about that,” I told her. If she chooses to worry – which I don’t recommend – then worry about other people filling her time before she has a chance to fill it. It’s difficult to say no when the calendar is suddenly free of corporate clutter.

“Take time to figure out what you want your new life to look and feel like,” I told Karen. “And give it a name, something you can call it when talking about your new life. You could be in transition, working freelance, acting as a business advisor, going back to school, or even semi-retired.” So what do I do now? I’ve gone from having a corporate to a collage career that focuses on communication. Some days I talk more than I write. Other days I write more than I talk. And everyday I tweet – which feels a lot more like play and harder to explain to Husband that tweeting is part of writing. So I just don’t try and tell him I’m working instead.

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.

 

Here’s Some Advice on Life

Notes from the first graduation attended this year:

The classic mortarboard headdress was joined by bonnets, tams and one fez at recent Denison University ceremony. The fez was worn by a professor, as were the bonnets and tams, undergrads all wear the mortarboard in the United States.  My extensive Google search did not turn up an answer to the question: What degree and/or university results in a fez as a topper? Guesses or answers appreciated.

Best advice, in my opinion, from commencement speaker, Dr. Ellen Gould Chadwick, a professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and associate director for the Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal HIV Infection section of the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago:

  • “Change directions before you feel you can’t afford to change directions.”
  • “Setting priorities is not a compromise but a choice.” Or, in other words, you can have it all but maybe not all at once.
  • And heed the words of New York Times op-ed columnist, David Brooks, who said, “the most important decision you’ll make is choosing the person you’ll marry.”  No pressure there for someone young and in love.

Two more graduations to go. I’m looking for all the advice I can get because I believe it’s never too late to make a change, even though it is more difficult when you think you can’t afford to for any number of reasons.

 

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.

 

 

No Guts. No Glory.

The graduation season starts this weekend for me. One niece from college, another from high school and a goddaughter from 8th grade all enjoy a little pomp and circumstance this year. I hope to enjoy a good inspirational speech laced with a bit of humor. I won’t hold my breath. In my experience, commencement addresses rarely rise above platitudes or offer a thought that will be remembered at any reunion.

Last year, at another niece’s graduation, one of the three speakers (one or two would have been sufficient) spent his allotted time emphasizing that if history repeats itself things will get better, but not any time soon. This Civil War historian told the student audience that they would probably not get a job right away and if they did it probably wouldn’t pay what they wanted or be in their preferred field. But don’t worry. If he/his parents survived the Great Depression, they will survive the Great Recession.

I applaud him for not offering any platitudes and for delivering such a depressing speech that I still remember it one year later. I don’t remember anything from the three higher education commencement ceremonies in which I marched the long aisle to receive a diploma. (Yes, three. I had a course correction on the way to my eventual career.) Not one of them included an innovative businessman (Steve Jobs, Stanford 2005), statesman (John F. Kennedy, American University 1963) or comedic pundit (Steven Colbert, (Northwestern University 2011) of whom I would have at least remembered the name if not the words. (For a list of great commencement speeches see: Time Magazine 10 Best Commencement Speeches www.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1898670,00.html)

The only words I recall from my last degree are “Not Guts. No Glory.” That phrase became my motto in business school. It’s what I repeated to myself as I prepared to take my seat in the cubicle farm wearing a floppy bow tie and pinstripe suit. In the mid-1980s I was part of the surge in women infiltrating the male business world. I needed guts and a whole lot more to succeed.

I didn’t have a motto until I was asked by my university to talk to a local news anchor doing a segment on businesswomen. Hard to imagine that just being a woman in business school was news. I guess the public wanted to know how were we different from our male counterparts? What did we want out of a career? Did we have a business philosophy?”

I looked for a sound bite so I would make the evening news and found it in a Sandra Boynton Recycled Greetings card where an adorable little pig dared a large hippo, standing on top of a ladder, to jump into a teeny bucket of water, or something like that.

“My philosophy is no guts, no glory,” I told the seasoned anchorwoman. I am not proud that I used a greeting card greeting as my anthem. I’m not so proud that I spent time trying to figure out how to game the interview. I am pleased that I made the news – that was fun. And now that I know history repeats itself I’m pulling my platitude-like motto out of the mothballs to prepare me for the challenges ahead and to offer it to any new grad who wants it.

 

 

 

What I Wish I Had Known – Earlier in My Career Volume 1 is live at http://whatiwishihadknown.org.  Cool content from 69 excellent individuals.  The download is free for the next 75 days so you can share it as widely as you would like.
“Who do you know who has accomplished my goal and how can I reach them?”

This question prompted Anita Brick, Director of Career Advancement Programs at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to create “What I Wish I Had Known Earlier In My Career, Wise Words From Those Who Have Been There,” Vol. I.

This new ebook features rich quips and wise insights from 69 professionals, including choosing the right career, leading in challenging times, rebounding from a setback, and an A-Z humorous view of career lessons learned. (That’s where I come in…see pages 153-155 for my alphabet list of things I learned – some of them the hard way.)

The book’s contributors have paid their dues and are now paying-it-forward by sharing their life lessons.“Beyond their generous advice, participating professionals have offered to pay it forward again. Readers have a chance to win a mentoring conversation with one of the professionals featured in the book,” said Brick.  This will be determined by how well readers share the book via the Book Booster app.

Insightful, brilliant, funny and wise, these well-seasoned bite size pieces of wisdom from industries as diverse as aviation, psychology, banking, tech, health care, finance and media will resonate with individuals at any career level, be they job seekers at all levels,  career starters or career changers.

Get your free ebook today (free for the next 75 days) at www.whatiwishihaadknown.org.

Share it tomorrow.

And don’t forget pages 153-155!

 

 

 

 

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