All posts tagged Change

The Walker Was Waiting For Me

Walker Husband’s request was simple enough but it put me on guard.

“I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to answer rationally and not emotionally.”

Did he want my opinion on buying another ukulele to keep the one that he bought on vacation company? Was he at Coscto debating a super deal on a big screen TV? Or did he want me to meet him at the local car dealer to test drive a convertible?

“Where are you?” I asked.

“I’m at the little resale shop around the corner,” he answered.

The resale shop. That’s not an odd place for him to be. But it is odd for him to call and ask about buying something there.

“They have a used walker for $10. Do you think it would be a good idea for you to have, just in case?”

Silence on my end.

Husband was asking a perfectly reasonable question that could push me right into irrationality, or at least into being overly emotional. He’s calling to see if I want a walker because in one week I’m having foot surgery on both feet.  Surgery on three hammertoes and one bunion per foot. Surgery that requires ten days of being completely off my feet except for slowly making my way to the bathroom and back to bed, to couch, or to chair. Surgery that results in an 8-week recuperation period where my mobility will be immobilized to a degree that I can’t fathom.

He was asking a perfectly reasonable question and I needed to call on my left brain when forming a response not my right brain, which was screaming: “A walker. What? I’m too young too need a walker. This surgery won’t stop me. Oh, I’m turning into my mother, father, someone other than me.”

“What’s it like?” I asked.

“It’s small, silver and has tennis balls on one end.”

“Will it move over carpet?” The path from bed to bath is carpeted and if the walker was going to be useful it had to be an all-surface walker.

“I think so.”

Continued silence on my end.

“All right I won’t buy it. Your silence says it all,” Husband said.

“No. I don’t know. Do whatever you want.” I was still in denial and couldn’t be responsible for the decision.

“We’ll donate it right back when you don’t need it anymore,” Husband said.

“Fine.” I hung up. He was right. It might help. For $10 it couldn’t hurt.

Husband came home with an upscale version of the model he had described over the phone. This walker had wheels instead of tennis balls and it was still just $10.

I took it for a spin over the carpet. It worked perfectly. I imagined myself gliding through the dark of the night to the bathroom, my way illuminated by a small flashlight I could attach to the front bar. Add a backpack and I could roam from room to room ready for anything. Dress it up with a flag and some streamers and I’d be ready for the local Fourth of July parade.

“The walker was a good idea,” I conceded to Husband.

“I thought so. I promised I’d take care of you,” he replied.

And so he did. And so will Wendy, the name I’ve given to my new wheels. With Wendy and Husband by my side, my walking will be smooth. Or at least more manageable.

Bollards to You and Other New Words

Operable Bollards

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

Walking old/newpath

“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?

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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

NU PURPLE CLOCK

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.

Boomer Women: Listen to Your Elders

Boomer women the atlantic

I always enjoyed sitting like a mouse in the corner of the room when my great aunt, aunt, or grandma came to visit. My little ears learned big lessons about just about any topic from those who had come way before me. A recent article in The Atlantic reminded me to listen to my elders for advice on how to navigate the mid-life transition I’m facing today. Bottom line: Accept the age you are, rethink retirement, and immerse yourself in community. I’m all ears for this advice. (Photo courtesy of The Atlantic and the AP)

jmd jr year crop

1. Do not have that first cigarette. Not even that first puff. You have an addictive personality and it will take years and I mean years for you to quit. Smoking does not make you look sophisticated, attract the opposite sex (quite the contrary), make you skinny (although it does speed up your metabolism), or help you study. Smoking does age your skin, stain your teeth, char your lungs, and foul your breath, hair, and clothes.  Don’t start now. Please.

2. Too much self-deprecation is self-defeating. The right amount of taking yourself lightly is a form of taking care of yourself. That’s okay.

3 . Don’t do gaucho or capri pants. You’re too short. Don’t do big belts. You’re too short-waisted. Don’t get a layered haircut. You’re not meant to wear a shag. Painter’s paints are for painters, not coeds. Bandanas are not a good look, especially the one with three gold coins in the front. Really.

4. Don’t want everyone to like you. That’s exhausting. As exhausting as it would be to be friends with everyone. Be yourself and be friends with those who like that self.

5. Stop assuming people don’t want you to join their group. In fact, assume the opposite and you’ll find more open doors than you think.

6. Offer an opinion. Take a stand. Sitting on the fence may give you a good view but knowing what you believe puts you into the action. And you love action. Remember what your professors write on your papers: “The conclusion could use a little more of you in it. What do you recommend?”

7. Ask questions. In class. During office hours. While studying. While playing. If you don’t understand something you can be sure someone else is clueless too. Ask questions. You will be thanked.

8. Take an art history class. An economics course. Maybe even debate. Learn to play tennis and bridge. Develop an exercise habit.

9. Learn how to be friends with boys. They are more than just potential dates. They may seem like foreign beings, and maybe they are, but they feel the same way about you. It’s good to have friends of both sexes. So offer your friendship

10. You’re too young for could of, would of, should of. Stick with can, will, did. They move you forward which is the only place you have to go.

11. Don’t always look for permission first. Life isn’t a Catholic grade school.

12. Don’t forget the ones you left behind. Let Mom and Dad in on your new life. Remember your little brother. Reach out to your older sister and brothers too.

13. Watch the alcohol habit. Beer is fattening. Jim Beam and 7-Up is sweet and stiff, and champagne has always been a problem. CRM, champagne related incidents, may make good stories, but they don’t reflect well on your reputation.

14. Seek guidance and career counseling. Figure out how your interest in drama translates to another field. Be willing to consider doing something no one else you know is doing, like joining the Peace Corps

15. Learn to develop your own inner cheerleader. Getting support is like love. Before you can give it to someone else, you need to give it to yourself.

16. Don’t skip class, don’t oversleep and miss class, don’t fall asleep in class. Class is good. That’s why you are on campus. Attend class.

17. Smile more. People think you’re standoffish or mean.

18. Beware of M&Ms. Once you quit smoking they will become your next best worst friend.

19. Be more mindful of your finances. Now’s the time to learn to budget

20. Enjoy. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, stop doing it and take a minute (or more) to reflect on why you’re not enjoying it. There may be very good reasons for tears and fears. So cry and worry, and then call up your inner cheerleader and go on. Because that’s the only thing you can do. You have always wanted to go on to the next thing. It’s waiting for you. Go.

Reunions are Just a Memory Event

College Pals With Diplomas

So far 2012 has been a year full of school activities. It started with graduations attended (graduate school, college, high school and elementary), moved to being a specatator at extracurricular activities (college soccer game,  high school cheer leading), and continued this past weekend with a college reunion.

I can sum up the weekend in a word: memories.

Memories were stirred: My room mate reminded me of how nice I was for taking care of another friend who was sick from a night of partying. Apparently I was quite the Florence Nightingale. I don’t remember and am sure I blocked the memory because it might make me sick. Anyway, good to know that I pulled through when needed.

Memories were unexpected: At an alumni-student career networking luncheon I met a young woman who said she was in a sorority. This was the last piece of information she offered after stating her major (Learning and Organizational Change and Political Science), hometown (somewhere in New Jersey), and hope for the future (human relations in a corporation and then executive recruiting.) When I learned that she and I were members of the same sorority I offered my hand and we exchanged the secret handshake.

“I haven’t done that in years, ” I said.

“I never expected to do that here,” she said.

“What just happened? Did I miss something?” the boy sitting next to her said.

Memories were confirmed: For years I have tried to confirm the occurrence and particulars of a summer party that had something to do with the university. I lived in Dayton, Oh and have no memory of traveling to a suburb of Cleveland for a summer get-together of either prospective students or accepted, soon-to-be freshmen students, but I do remember being in a classmate’s back yard. I think I remember another friend being there, she had traveled from Columbus, but this friend draws a blank whenever I try to force the memory into and out of her synapses.

The most salient part of the memory is the  backyard soda fountain and ice cream parlor. At the edge of the brick patio, near the grassy expanse of the lawn was a stainless steel home version of Baskin-Robbins. The father of the house treated all guests to a soda or sundae of their choice. I hung out near the chocolate. I remember nothing else of that event.

At the Saturday night party I beeline to the classmate from Cleveland.  She can make or break my memory.

“Did you live outside of Cleveland,” I asked her.

‘Yes,” she said.

“Did you have a summer party one year and served ice cream out of a backyard ice cream parlor?”

“Yes, oh you remember that too?”

“Remember it, I’ve told stories of that party and the ice-cream for years, not quite sure it was true but hoping it was. Thanks for confirming my memory. Now, why were we there in the first place?”

“I don’t remember.”
Memories were awkward: So you haven’t seen someone in a gazillion years and she sees you at the reunion talking to your college boyfriend. Seems just like yesterday. You and he hanging out. In fact, you and he do hang out with a group of friends and have a great relationship.

“Julie, hi,  it’s Susie. How are you?”

“Susie. Hi, it’s great to see you here. Do you remember…”, and I start to introduce said college boyfriend.

“Yes.  Did you two get married?”

This mistaken coupling is not the awkward part of the story. The awkward part happens when my close friend, Abby,  standing with us says: “Oh, almost.” And then laughs. A lot. But my college boyfriend and I didn’t almost get married and we both don’t really know what to say so I just point out my husband, one of the non-alumni spouses watching the Notre Dame football game in the lobby.

Memories were made: I’m sure they were made but I won’t know for sure until I see my friends and classmates again. Will we remember that one of us announced his engagement? Probably. Will we remember that Northwestern beat Iowa for a record of 7-2? Probably not, but we will remember that the football team played better than they ever did when we were there. Will I remember Susie asking me if my college boyfriend and I were married? Not sure. Depends upon how much short-term memory loss I experience between now and the next reunion. And if Susie is there.

Some people are reunion people, others are not. I like them for the memories that are stirred, confirmed and made. I especially like being with people who help me retrieve forgotten memories that when remembered help make my past whole.

Go U Northwestern! Just feeling a little purple pride today.

 

FOMO: Orbiting, Exploring, or A Waste of Time?

9780670879830

The former Chief Guru of Hallmark, Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, gave presentations with notcards, not power point.  A picture and a number adorned each card, which  was attached to a clothesline with an old-fashioned wooden clothes pin.  The audience controlled his talks on creativity and innovation by calling out a number and Gordon would pick the card off the line and tell the story behind it.

“You are in control,” Gordon started each lecture. “I’ll talk until all the cards are gone or someone shouts, ‘Stop.’  It’s up to you.” Of course, the lectures usually went the allotted time, not because no one wanted to be the one to stop Gordon’s stories, but because no one wanted to miss out on what might be the best example of how to be creative and innovative in their jobs and lives. The Fear of Missing (FOMO) out drove the young innovators to listen and learn.

I recently thought about the FOMO influence on my own life. How many of my choices have been driven by the need to see what’s happening behind door number 1, and 2, and 3? Answer: a lot. FOMO’s been identified as a quarter-century affliction but this mid-century modern woman has been afflicted for years. And I like it. Or at least I’m used to it.  More on this topic later, I need to check something out.

 

 

220px-Codex_Manesse_Ulrich_von_Liechtenstein

“Some day your mouth is going to get you in trouble,” my mother would say.  This wasn’t such a difficult prediction given the number of times I brought home a report card from elementary school with a check mark next to the words: “does not exercise self-control.” That was Catholic school code for “doesn’t know when to stop talking.”

The nuns were just agreeing with what a school psychologist had told my parents earlier. “Julie’s mouth and brain don’t operate at the same speed.” This led to talking without filtering, speed talking, and non-stop talking.  And to check marks and verbal gaffes. Gaffes that could have been avoided if I had just known my audience

Understanding whom you are talking to is the key to effective communication. Talking without understanding often leads to unintended consequences.

If I had known my manager at one of my first jobs, for example, I would not have confronted him after he reprimanded me like a drill sergeant in front of a row of administrative assistants.

I understood that he was upset. I understood that there was a check mark next to my name for “did not meet deadline.” But if I had understood his management style, I would have known that ignoring his outburst versus asking him to not talk to me like that was the key to keeping one’s job.

If I had understood the makeup of a typical comedy club audience I would have never entered the contest to find Jay Leno’s sidekick when he took over the Tonight Show in 1992.  I headed to my hometown, Dayton, Ohio to perform a two-minute stand up routine.  Mind you, I wasn’t a stand-up. I had studied and performed improvisation sketch comedy. I gave 20-minute talks as a business humorist. I was just a marketing consultant looking for a creative outlet.

I whittled down my material, donned my red power suit, and froze when I entered the club. I was not like this hometown audience. This audience did not work in corporate cubicles or talk corporate speak.

This audience laughed till they cried and ordered another beer throughout the stand-up routine before mine – which was filled with tales of working for the man, men behaving badly, and scatological asides.

This audience did not smile when I performed. Thankfully, they didn’t laugh me off the stage. Thankfully, I still had my day job.

Just two weeks ago I accompanied Husband to the Principality of Liechtenstein for official diplomatic business. Husband is the Honorary Consul of Liechtenstein to the Midwest, and I his unofficial chief of staff.  Our program included meeting the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein, which I was excited about, until it came to packing.  What do you wear when meeting a prince?

On the first day of our visit, a young diplomatic officer met our group at breakfast and accompanied us to the Prince’s castle for Liechtenstein’s National Day ceremonies. The young diplomat sat next to me on the bus and I asked him how to spell his first name.

“U-l-r-i-c-h,” he replied and then asked about my family and work back in the States.

“I’m a former advertising executive,” I said. “Currently I teach on the university level and I’m a freelance writer/blogger.”

“What do you write in your blog?”

“I write personal essays and cultural commentary for women of a certain age who are reinventing themselves. Going through transitions.”

“I imagine there is much to write.”

We talked easily about my writing, my teaching, and my impressions of Liechtenstein.

If I had known my audience I would never have told Ulrich that the title of my last blog post was:  What to Wear When Meeting a Prince”

‘Well, I can imagine that might be difficult to determine,” Ulrich, the diplomat said.

“It is. I’ve never met a prince before. I don’t know anyone who had met a prince before. I want to be appropriate”

I proceeded to give him a synopsis of the endless options listed in my blog:

Formal or semi-formal, long or short, pants or skirt, cocktail, business or business casual, and so on. I did not share my quandary about whether or not to wear pantyhose.

“Later this week I’ll be posting about what I wore when I meet the prince.”

“I will read your blog. Perhaps you will write and tell your friends that you have already met a prince,” Ulrich said, and smiled, and bowed with his head.

And I remembered that when he introduced himself at breakfast I thought he called himself Something Something Liechtenstein, but I thought that can’t be right and let it go and focused on the pronunciation of his first name. Ulrich.

“You. You’re a prince. Of course, you said Ulrich Liechtenstein. Are you a cousin? Oh, I am so embarrassed. Have I hurt Husband’s appointment?” I stammered along until I just had to ask: “Well – what do you think – how am I dressed to meet a prince?”

“Quite fine,” Ulrich, the Prince said.

“You’ll learn your lesson one day,” my mother would say. The best connections are made when you know your audience. Whether it is one person or a group. However, some of the best consequences happen serendipitously when you are just truly yourself.

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