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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

It’s Not Wishy-Washy To Be Square

ESD COLLEGE GraduationHail to Purple Hail to White, Hail to Thee Northwestern

The last lines of Northwestern University’s Alma Mater sprang from my lips. As an adjunct faculty member I had just witnessed 96 master’s degree candidates in the Medill School’s Integrated Marketing Communications program walk across the stage. A handshake with the Dean certified them as professionals and alumni at the same time.

Getting dressed at home, prior to the graduation, I discovered that my rental cap was too small. No amount of bobby pins could secure it. One head bob too many or ever so slight would topple it to the floor. What to do? Luckily I remembered that my Mother’s college mortarboard sat in my dresser drawer. Luckily we had the same hat size.

I found Mom’s graduation cap in her closet after she died. Her name was clearly printed on the silk label inside. It didn’t seem right to give or throw it away. She graduated top of her class from The College of St. Mary of the Springs (now Ohio Dominican University) in Columbus, Ohio in 1940. She went on to teach elementary school until she had children. She then instructed her children during summer vacations with reading and math workbooks, writing on a double-sided black board in the playroom. Mom was all about learning.

Mom was also all about dressing appropriately and when it came to wearing a cap and gown, the cap should sit squarely on top of the head. Flat, not angled.

“Flat is the proper way to wear the mortarboard. Do not wear it on the back of your head,” she would say. “I don’t care if you think it’s unattractive or crushing your hair, this is the way it is meant to be.” I wore a cap and gown for the first time during kindergarten graduation and even then Mom made sure I wore it “regulation” style.

As the graduate students lined up to process into the auditorium I found myself repeating my Mother’s advice:

“It’s meant to be worn flat. Really it looks better that way,” I said in a friendly yet knowing tone. “Lose the bobby pins and stand up straight and tall. It won’t fall off.”

Mom’s advice fell on deaf ears and many a mortarboard slipped and slid as the group marched to the stage to the untraditional and rousing tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Graduates held their caps on with one hand while shaking the Dean’s hand with their other. One cap completely crashed to the stage floor in front of the Dean.

Mine, however, stayed put throughout the conferring of degrees and a series of upbeat speeches that dispensed advice both thought-provoking ¬– have an account balance of goodwill¬ – and head scratching – don’t be wishy-washy.

Don’t be wishy-washy? What odd advice I thought at first. But then the speaker explained that the opposite of wishy-washy is taking a stand. He encouraged the graduates to have a point-of-view and be prepared to support it because without a point of view one must depend on others for movement.

As I pondered his words I realized that it was Mom’s strongly supported point-of-view on graduation attire that was keeping my cap squarely on my head and me moving across the stage confidently. I felt squarely ready to go out and conquer the world on my own terms. Hail to Mom.

Smile and Say Thank You

ESD-New-Orleans copy

Mom didn’t teach me to cook. I wasn’t much interested and I don’t think she was either. She tried to teach me to sew but when she insisted that to be a good seamstress one had to learn how to rip out and redo the seam I decided I didn’t have the patience. She did teach me penmanship with limited success. I may have looked just like her but I scribbled like Dad.

She did tell me that the best thing to say when someone offers a complement is a sincere and simple “thank you.” I had/have a tendency to defer the compliment, deny the reason why it was given, or deliver a full history of how whatever is being complimented came about.

Most of the lessons I learned from my mother were delivered silently as I watched her go about her day, which included saying the rosary at 4:30 every afternoon. The lessons I learned from my mother were delivered when I watched her laugh until she snorted when her sister visited and coo endlessly at my baby brother after his bath. The lessons I learned from my mother were about living with caution because you might get hurt and how unexpressed grief manifests itself.

My mother’s first husband died in the aftermath of the D-Day invasion. One night when I was 9-years old, my father took me into the living room after dinner to have a talk. I knew I hadn’t done anything particularly bad that day and was excited to see what Dad wanted to share with only me. He sat on an ottoman across from me in the big armchair in the corner of the room. My saddle-shoed feet stuck straight out.

There he told me that my mother had been married once before. That her first husband had died in the war. That my oldest brother was from that marriage. That my Dad had adopted my oldest brother. That we did not consider my oldest brother to be a half brother. He was a full brother.

Years later it struck me that Mom didn’t tell me this news. Or that Mom and Dad didn’t tell me. It was her news, her life. Mom wouldn’t talk about the man she married at 24, who died less than two years after their marriage. She once said that her parents told her she was lucky. She might have lost a husband but she had a good job, a wonderful son, and family to help her. She learned to keep her grief to herself and adjust to her situation.

The main lesson I learned from my Mom wasn’t directly imparted to me. The lesson I learned was to be in control of the narrative of my life. If I hurt, hurt. If I love, love. And if I have to laugh, laugh until I snort.

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Rites of Passage: Mid-Life Marriage

Bride & Groom _NEW

It was a normal blind date at a nice restaurant, when the banker asked me some getting-to-know-you questions.
“Are you originally from Chicago?”
“Where do you work?” And,
“Why aren’t you married?”

Why aren’t you married? That’s the number one question on a single woman’s hit list. Running close, in second place is: “Why isn’t a woman like you married?” The latter moves to first place if any of the following adjectives modify woman: smart, pretty, wonderful. Why isn’t a wonderful woman like you married? Those positive adjectives only underscore the absurdity of the situation. You’re such a catch but still at sea.

Over the course of my extensive singlehood, I collected an arsenal of retorts to questions about my single status:
“Because you haven’t introduced me to him yet.”
“I haven’t found a man that makes me want to share my closets.”
“My husband is still married to his first wife.” And,
“I haven’t met the right person.”

Past dates have also identified reasons for my long-tenured singledom. I’ve been told:
“You’re too independent.”
“You’re not vulnerable enough.” And,
“You’re ovaries are too old.”

Okay, the guy didn’t actually say that to me. But he implied it. He asked, on the first date in a nice restaurant after finding out where I was from and where I worked, “Do you want to have children?”
“Sure, but I want to be married first. Anyway, I have plenty of time.”
“You’re over 30, I wouldn’t be too sure,” he said, and then told the manicurist who had fixed us up his real assessment. He felt I was too old to have babies. Had filed me under reproductively undesirable. He wanted a younger, more sure thing mother for his children.

I married when I was 48 years old for the first time, to someone I had known, on and off, for 12 years. Being so used to the “why aren’t you married” question I was caught off guard when, post-wedding a twice-divorced college friend of mine asked: “Why did you get married at this point in your life?”

I didn’t have a quick answer to this two-part question. Why get married, period? Why get married when you’re past child bearing and rearing age and all the benefits of a relationship can be had without marriage? Why? Why not?
“I married for love and adventure,” I answered.

Marriage was one of life’s great adventures that I had never experienced. Not even pretend experienced. I had never lived with a man before I married. I’m not even sure a man ever stored a toothbrush or razor at my apartment before I married. Not that I’m against co-habitation before marriage, but merging without a contractual commitment never made sense to me, especially as I got older and bought and decorated and redecorated my space in my way. I liked my space. I liked the way I cluttered my space. Control is my friend. Why would I give it up without a license?

Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband, and I met on a blind date in June, when I was 36 and he was a 48-year-old, divorced, father of a college-age daughter. I wanted children and wondered if he wanted more. I broached the subject while kissing on my couch one night.
“Do you like children?”
“Of course, I have a daughter.”
“I mean would you have any more?”
“I could but…”
“You could, good.”
“Isn’t it a bit early to be talking about babies?”

Yes, it was. We dated maybe six times over the course of that summer, and the relationship faded as summer did. His impression lingered though. In a journal entry on the following New Year’s Eve I summed up each date of the last twelve months with three words. Except for Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband, he rated four: “handsome, intelligent, good cook.”

Fast-forward eight years to a charity art auction. A small event, maybe 75 people. Hoping to meet new people – men – a girlfriend and I dressed up in leather skirts and boots and headed off to an up-and-coming but not-quite-there-yet Chicago neighborhood.
“Oh no,” I said as we walked in the room.
“What?”
“See that man over there.” I threw my head to the left and described Man-Who-Would-Become-Husband. “Tall, salt and pepper hair, blue eyes, blonde woman on his arm.”
“Yes…”
“I went out with him years ago and just never called him back.” I told my friend that he was the only man I had dated – if five dates constitutes dating, and in your 30s it just might –to whom I wished I had given more of a chance.
“But he was such a man,” I said, “and I was used to boys.” He told me jokes in German and knew about art past the Impressionists. We danced in Greek restaurants, on his deck, and in my den. But I let him go.

That night I bought a piece of art that I didn’t even like just to spend time talking to him at the auction table. I made sure he had my telephone number and the following week we went to dinner where he did not ask, “Why aren’t you married?” I learned that he had just started seeing someone in London and I told him about a budding relationship of mine in Wales.

For the next two years we casually went out to dinner when we were both in town. His cross-Atlantic relationship ended before mine. For a year, he patiently listened to me agonize over whether or not I should marry the man from Wales. Then one night on our way home from dinner, as he placed me in a cab, he said:
“I’ll dance at your wedding if you marry this guy, but if you don’t, I think we could have something here.”

The walk down the aisle didn’t come right away. My need for control and doing things my way tested and retested our relationship. I insisted we stop at the edge of the crosswalk; he insisted on standing a foot back from the curb. I needed to know the exact directions to a location, and follow them. He expressed a boyish delight in the serendipity of getting lost and then found.

But nothing was more irritating to him than my popcorn rule. I insisted on my own small, no butter popcorn on movie dates. He was perplexed and mildly put off. It was as if I had committed Dating Crime #1. If I couldn’t share something as inconsequential as popcorn could I share the New York Times Magazine? The last squeeze of toothpaste? The final drop of milk?

In my defense, I was used to buying my own movie ticket, my own diet soda and especially my own popcorn. I’m not selfish. I just like to ration my popcorn so it lasts through the first half hour of the movie. Most people I know finish their popcorn before the seventh preview. If I share I can’t control the pace and therefore, my satisfaction.
On one typical movie date night, after we found seats in the front row behind the break in seats, he went to the refreshment stand.
“A small, no butter popcorn and medium Diet Coke for me, please,” I ordered.

He returned with two popcorns, as I had hoped. One child’s size, no butter for him and the jumbo tub of popcorn, no butter for me. Jumbo, as in big-enough-to-feed-the-rest-of-the-audience-please-take-some-as-you-walk-by-popcorn. Jumbo, as in see-how-ridiculous-it-is-to-insist-on-your-own-popcorn-when-you’re-in-an-intimate-relationship-with-someone-popcorn. I got the message as well as everyone else in the movie theater.

So on the next movie outing, in a spirit of compromise and in an effort to see if I could live outside my control zone, I agreed to share a medium, no butter popcorn. Sharing that first bag of popcorn was as stressful as I had imagined. His big hand, which never seemed big before, opened and closed like one of those claws in the arcade game that tries to grab a stuffed animal or plastic encased prize but never does. He grabbed a gross of kernels and started eating. His fist moved from bag to mouth, bag to mouth. I watched him eat and slowly put one, two, maybe three kernels in my mouth hoping that he would see this as behavior he should adopt.

Bits of popcorn decorated his sweater. Staring at me. Daring me to leave them alone. Popcorn shrapnel trailed from the bag to my jeans, to his jeans, and beyond. I cleaned up after him, off of him and off of me. If we were going to make it as a couple I needed to take control in a non-controlling way. I spread a napkin over my lap and created a little bowl-like shape. I poured a large amount of popcorn out of the bag into my makeshift receptacle and handed it back to him.

“It’s all yours,” I said and proceeded to eat by the 1s, 2s and 3s. He didn’t drop as much popcorn on our laps. I got my fair share and munched happily 30 minutes into the movie. I turned to him and said,
“You know, this could work.”

A couple more years and a few more adjustments to coupledom passed before we married. Bit by bit my singledom behavior and habitat have changed: I surrendered half my closet space. I eat real meals for dinner instead of just grazing on pretzels, yogurt, and Diet Coke. I’ve relinquished control over the remote control and sometimes watch the Military Channel, car auctions, and the German news. Some things will never change…my night owl will never understand his morning lark (and vice versa), driving directionless still frustrates me, and I get antsy standing behind a gaggle of pedestrians at a crosswalk.

There is one change that I didn’t make from my single days. My name. This doesn’t bother Husband. “It’s a sign of the times,” he says. “My first wife won’t give up my name, and my second wife won’t take it.” As I see it, there are only so many changes that could be accommodated in my middle age marriage.

FOMO: Affliction or Lust for Life?

FOMO

I am one of the Older Persons in the room. We are surrounded by Youthful Twentysomethings for a panel discussion on their latest obsession — FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.

FOMO is quite different from FONBATR, the Fear of Never Being Able to Retire, which is an affliction many of the 50-plus-year-olds attending this ideas festival/policy-wonk conference are experiencing. But I digress.

Technology has brought FOMO upon the under-25 generation, MIT professor Sherry Turkle argues in her book Alone Together: “Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere.” John Grohol, PsyD, puts it plainly it in his blog PsychCentral: FOMO is “the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting or better than what we’re currently doing.”

I have joined these youngsters at this panel because I’m curious about how this generation lives, thinks and dreams. I also believe that one of the best ways to stay relevant as I grow older, which I want to do, is to build intergenerational bridges.

The twenty-something panelists describe a FOMO lifestyle to the audience. Party surfing versus hanging out with one crowd for an evening. College and high school students gorging on after-school activities. Career-hopping and hopping and hopping. The more choices available, the more FOMO.

As they share, my mind strays to my own personal version of FOMO, which drives me to distraction, or at least to not knowing what to do now, next or never. Should I write a blog post before I pin a picture on Pinterest? Submit an essay to a publication? Catch up on the latest marketing trend so I can teach it later? Follow the presidential campaign, search for agents or go to the gym?

Just as I’m ready to move mentally from FOMO to FOMU (Fear of Messing Up), a young female breaks into my consciousness:

“Do people your age suffer from FOMO?” she asks the older audience members.

My hand shoots up, pumping as if I were in a classroom of 5-year-olds: Me, me, call on me!

Before I can start talking, a booming male voice offers: “That would be FOHMO — Fear of Having Missed Out.”

“Wait a minute!” I respond. “I still have FOMO, the original kind. There’s plenty left for me to experience. I haven’t missed out on life. I’ve had FOMO all my life. I was the kid who never came in from playing outside because I didn’t want to miss anything,” I tell the group.

I don’t tell them that my youthful FOMO often led to near-accidents outside my back door because I refused to leave the party, game of hide and seek or Foursquare match even if I really had to go to the bathroom. What if I missed a really great girlfriend secret, thrill-ride skating behind someone’s bicycle or a sighting of my latest crush? Biology be damned, I’d always wait until it was almost too late.

“Perhaps,” I suggest, “the FOMO in our youth has led to the creation of bucket lists in our middle age.”

“I don’t like bucket lists,” another like-aged woman says. “They sound so negative.” And I have to agree with her. Bucket. Dirty plastic. Dented and rusted metal. “Kicked the bucket” equals dead. “Bucket list” suggests decline. I may be on the declining side of life, but so far the ride down has been pretty exhilarating, and I plan on keeping that outlook.

Sure, there are things I want to do before I die, but if I don’t get to them, it won’t bother me. I’ll be dead. On my deathbed (I hope I’ll be in a castle in Europe or a treehouse in Tahiti ) I doubt I’ll be worrying that I missed traveling to all seven continents because Antarctica was just too cold and slipping through penguin poop to get to the penguins discouraged me. Nor can I imagine that I’ll bemoan the fact that I wasn’t on TV à la Katie or Oprah, because I’m sure I’ll be able to see that I had some influence on people around me, and isn’t that the essence of being Oprah or Katie?

Crossing things off lists can be depressing, too. Done that, and now what? What happens when the bucket list gets down to one or two things to go? Am I over when the list is crumpled and thrown in the bucket? Bucket lists. Who needs them? Not me.

Goals, desires, passions — that’s what I need and have. Write. Build and maintain relationships. Share. Learn. Love. Each of these items can be expanded and detailed. With a bucket list, if I’m successful, I’m left with an empty list and a full bucket. But by stating broader goals I’m left with an expansive, never-ending opportunity to do, to experience, to live. Uh-oh, I think I’ve just described my life in terms of an ultimate FOMO. Oh well, better than FOMTB — Fear of Missing the Bucket.

Originally seen on the Huffington Post

womensvoicesforchange.org

 

 

 

 

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