Working Plan B

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I had lunch with my childhood pal Lori today. This morning she texted me to confirm the time, and she sent me the below pic with the caption “Celebrating all things Sharon today!” Pop-tarts with butter is my favorite comfort food breakfast, and Lori and her Mom were the ones who primed the pump on my love for it as a teenage girl. She has known me just about forever.

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She also gave me this little refrigerator magnet. She thought of me immediately when she saw it. I am definitely a gal who lives in Plan B. In fact, I think I prefer Plan B. And often Plans C, D and E have even better things to offer.

I am a project manager in my role now. This week I’m facilitating my last meetings, documenting my projects for my replacement and saying goodbyes. But I’m also managing a major project at home. Relocating is a project in every sense of the word. In fact, somewhere deep in my hard drive, I have a project plan for moving. I never use it anymore because I know what I have to do. Besides, nothing will turn out like I planned, and it all will turn out alright. One day in the near future I will be blogging on my sofa in my little house beside Lake Michigan. It is going to happen, but it probably won’t be pretty. And I like life messy like that.

My very first project was at Whirlpool. I was on the Service 2000 team, and we were centralizing Whirlpool Factory Service. I thought a project sounded fun, but I had no idea what it would be like. All of my jobs prior to that were very clear cut and routine. My role was to develop the training for the parts branches across the country. My boss, Magie, was a little spitfire. She was about 4′ tall and some change, weighed about 85 pounds, had a pixie haircut and 20 earrings up the sides of her ears. She was very, very sharp, and she scared people to death. I LOVED her. I wanted to be sharp and focused and driven like her. She was our project manager.

I was standing in a parts branch in Houston one afternoon when she told me that I had to develop the training for the parts branches. This was the first time I’d ever stepped foot into a parts branch, so I assumed there’d be a person who could tell me how it worked, and how it should work in the future. Magie told me to ask Ralph. “Ralph is working on the parts side,” she said. “He knows all about how the parts operation should work.” When I got back to Knoxville, I asked Ralph to train me on the parts side so I could develop the training. He looked at me like I was crazy. “I’ve never even been to a parts branch,” he said. I giggled nervously and walked off. I had the sinking feeling that nobody knew how this was supposed to work, and I was going to have to figure it out. It was my first “Plan B” experience on a project, and I dove in.

For the first five or so months at my new job I will be on a project. They are centralizing the Global HR function. If it’s like any other project I’ve ever worked on, it will be behind schedule. There will be at least one major deliverable that is not going at all as planned, and it will more than likely be impacting other deliverables. It will definitely be understaffed for the amount of work that needs to be done. And, the date when it needs to be finished will be set in stone. I have absolutely no expectation that I’ll be walking into a well-oiled machine next week. And I’m thrilled. I can’t wait to jump aboard and see what I can take on. There will be days when I hate it, but there will be more days that I will be in Plan B heaven.

I am very sad to be leaving my projects here. One in particular has been my baby from the very first conference call. Today I said goodbye to my team and kicked off my transition plan. We are at a really good place since the big work is just around the corner. But, it’s also a place where things can start to get derailed. Our call today had a few hiccups, and after I hung up, I had that sinking feeling that everything was falling apart. But, this time, I don’t get to pick up the pieces and paste it back together. This one I have to hand off with the hope that the next project manager is just as excited about the inevitable Plan B. I have other Plan Bs to launch up north. Call me crazy, but I’m ready to jump into the fray.

Note to self: Pick up some pop-tarts and butter. I think I’m going to need them.

The Quest for Benton Harbor

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Me in Benton Harbor, circa 2001

In October of 1993, I needed a job. I was married to a sports columnist whose travel schedule was crazy, and I needed a job with flexible hours or we never saw each other. Whirlpool Corporation opened a customer service call center on Peters Road in West Knoxville. The center was 24 hours, and I had my coveted night-time and weekend shift to match my husband’s hours. The pay was good to boot, the work was interesting, and there was plenty of opportunity to grow professionally in an organization of 60,000 employees.

The Whirlpool Call Center in Knoxville

The call center was new. Most of the managers had relocated from Whirlpool’s corporate campus in Benton Harbor MI to open their newest project. It grew and grew and grew. From my first day, this southern gal was fascinated with the Michiganders who ran our office. We partied a lot in those days, and I would often corner a Yankee and quiz them about what it was like “up north.” From the very beginning, my dreams began to revolve around working in Whirlpool’s World Headquarters and learning to live in that curious land on the banks of Lake Michigan.

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I was married, of course, and there was no newspaper there big enough to support my husband’s career. Those were just a 30-something woman’s dreams. But after we divorced, my quest began in earnest. I took a job on a high-profile project which was the single biggest skill-builder of my career, and I focused on work. That landed me a sales job in Seattle, and I finally ended up in Benton Harbor in June of 2000 as a Training Specialist at the Michigan customer service call center. I will never forget the day that I drove up to the “Ad Center” (short for Administration Center) for the first time. I took a picture by the sign out front, and I took some time to soak up my accomplishment. It felt really, really good.

The Service 2000 Team

 

As a young girl I always, always dreamed of being a corporate executive. I was so thrilled when I bought my first suit. I just knew I was on my way, and I’d be running one of the world’s greatest companies. As my career progressed, I realized that I wasn’t really that ambitious. Money didn’t really motivate me. Power seemed empty. What motivated me was getting stuff done. I love the feeling of working hard for something and seeing a result. I love managing things. Over and over I am drawn to being in the hub of the wheel. I want … no I LIVE… to be in the middle of the action. And Whirlpool is where I learned how to be effective.

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The “Rent-A-Husband” Innovation Team

 

I left Whirlpool 3 years after I landed at the World Headquarters. I was distracted by a man that I married too soon. I was in a very dark period of my life spiritually, and I felt lost. Whatever I had in my life at that time felt wrong, and Whirlpool was thrown into the rubble by association. I was restless and scared and wanted something – anything – different.

I’m a lucky gal, and my scrappiness and lust for hard work always lands me in some great places. But I’m not always the most focused. Two years ago, I realized that I needed to focus more on my career “path” if I was ever going to be able to retire. Now is the sweet spot for saving money, and I had the skills and capabilities to be successful. But I had not been thrilled with my last few jobs, and I felt aimless. So I invested in a few visits with a career counselor.

Michelle and I explored my interests and inclinations with some personality testing and reviewed my resume and job experience for what worked and what didn’t. As we ripped apart each job and each organization, a common theme arose.

“Why did you leave Whirlpool?” she asked.

“I think I just felt done with it,” I said. It seemed like such  a stupid answer to a really important question. It looked like every job that I really liked was at Whirlpool. My greatest successes were in my early career at that company by the lake. And, as we reviewed companies and culture, we both looked at each other. “I have to look at Whirlpool again, don’t I?” I asked.

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So, once again, my sights were set on the appliance giant on the banks of Lake Michigan. This time, I had the disadvantage of being outside the organization, but I had the distinct advantage of having lots of friends in the fold. I knew that most jobs are filled by the time they are posted, so I had to start circulating my resume in the hopes that it would one day fall into the hands of my future manager. I also knew that I had a specific skill set that is very marketable. The doors would open for me in learning and development.

My Interview Last Year

I had an interview last year that was unsuccessful in landing the job. But I made a few contacts, and I got a look inside the company again. I knew that I wanted to be there. It felt good. A few weeks ago, I got a text from my friend Michael – another former Whirlpool employee – that I needed to send my resume immediately to our friend Sandy. There was a job, and they were looking for somebody quick with my particular brand of talent. I found myself standing in front of the Ad Center once again two weeks ago.

I sat in the parking lot of the Ad Center in my rental car awaiting my appointment with the Global HR team. The outside of what they now call the Global Headquarters (GHQ) looks very much the same as the first time I gazed upon it. I look very much the same. But the reality is that we are both very different. Whirlpool has matured, and so have I. This was the moment – and the job – that was going to bring me back. I just knew it.  And yes, Curt, I buried the lead. I accepted the position of Training Manager with the Global HR team at Whirlpool in Benton Harbor MI yesterday. My quest is complete, but the work has just begun.

I’m back, Whirlpool. Bring it on!

“You Can Fly,” He Said. – Analogies

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I pulled the Eagle card this morning. I’ve never pulled this card before. I was anxious to find out its meaning.

If you have pulled this symbol, Eagle is reminding you to take heart and gather your courage for the universe is presenting you with an opportunity to soar above the mundane levels of your life…. On some level, Eagle is telling you to seek higher ground on which to build your nest. The nest is the home of the heart and cannot remain in a swamp….

That sounds pretty promising. It does mention this “opportunity” may come as part of a spiritual test. That’s a little more ominous than I’d like. But I’d like to think that the last few years were the “test”, and the last couple of months have brought me into a new phase. I know that the relationships I’ve made and the confidence I’ve gained have me feeling like I’m in a new place. Maybe I’m out of the proverbial “swamp”… but, then again, maybe I’ve just begun.

I love my cards. They make me think of my life and my adventures in analogies. I know the power of analogies in learning. The psychology of learning depends on a very simple concept which is complex in execution. Our brains learn everything through a sort of web or scaffolding of information. That’s why flow charts and visuals are so powerful in learning. It helps us quickly see how information we already know relates to the new information we are trying to process.

When we are children, our brains are like clean hard drives. As we experience life, hardships and education, we build scaffolding in our brains. That’s why it’s so hard to change behavior when children experience abuse or loss early in life. As they get older, EVERY new relationship and experience is run through that same scaffolding. And the more often they experience abuse or loss, the more scaffolding they build. They have to experience trusting relationships and safe experiences in order to build new constructs. Otherwise, they BELIEVE every new experience will turn out the same way…. in abuse or loss. It’s also why it’s so hard for people to get out of the grip of poverty or addiction or any other type of cycle. Their internal scaffolding keeps them bound.

I, of course, have my own scaffolding that limits me. We all do. It’s part of the human experience. I have limiting scaffolding in the area of relationships. I’ve had two failed marriages. My brains says “yeah, I know how this movie ends.” I know it’s not necessarily so, but I haven’t had the opportunity to build scaffolding that says it could end up in a positive experience. I also have scaffolding that limits me as a woman professionally, as a enabler of change in my own life and in what I can afford financially. I was raised in a middle-class household with a tight budget, and, no matter how much money I earn, that scaffolding stays in place unless I let myself have the freedom to experience money in a different way.

So, analogies – and stories – are very powerful to build scaffolding that presents new ways of looking at things. That’s why I love my Medicine Cards and Native American spirituality in general. They used the animals and nature as their scaffolding on how to live life. And there’s a lot of wisdom in that. The natural order of things in nature is also very much the natural order of things in the world. And my biggest lesson – always my strongest challenge – is to trust that I am supported beyond what I naturally sense as a human.

That is Eagle’s message to me this morning. What I hear is that there is a path for me, and I need to trust that I am on it. No matter what I see or feel, I am supported by the Great Spirit. In addition, challenges are just tests for growth, so everything is good. In fact, pain can often be better even though I can’t see that at the time. It is in those times of great pain when I have grown most. In hindsight, I am always amazed at the amount of distance I have traveled personally – and the new scaffolding that I have built.

I’ve also learned that the most solid scaffolding in the brain is built when the event is emotionally charged. Divorce, abuse, addiction and trauma are powerful emotionally, and counseling and healing are important afterwards to put them into perspective. Emotion fuses impressions and memories into our psyche. If we don’t process the events,  we may build scaffolding in our brains that will keep leading us down the same path over and over again. Our brains may be powerful engines with infinite capabilities, but they are limited by our programming.

So, I’m noodling Eagle this morning. I imagine flying over the clouds with an amazing view of the world below me. “Legalize freedom,” the reading said. What would it mean for me to legalize freedom? What kind of movement and direction could that mean? What would I want it to mean? What kind of freedom do I desire, and what kind of structures do I have in place inside me that have prevented me from going there? Last fall in a meditation, Macaw came to me and said, “You feel like you are heavy like an elephant, but,” he added, “you can fly.” And he flew away with thousands of other magnificent birds just like him. I can fly. Hmmmmm …. interesting analogy.

“You Already Have the Key,” She Said.

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I started applying for some jobs online the last few days. The only thing I hate more than this is online dating. In fact, in many ways they are the same. Job descriptions and online profiles rarely paint an accurate picture of what you’re getting. Both are usually a vague and boldly optimistic fantasy of what the job/man would be like if we were in a perfect world where people were not involved. And in both cases, the resumes/emails are sent blindly across the airwaves into a technological garbage dump never to be seen by human eyes because they are really not looking or you are not using the right key words. The applicant (in both cases) is left with this horrible sensation that they are invisible, and there is no way to grab the attention of the would-be suitor. It’s horribly depressing.

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I just had to be in the energy of all of that rejection for a few days before it got the best of me. I had my first job search meltdown yesterday morning. I let it happen, and my friend Lexlee happened to call me in the middle of it. I chatted with her a little about the root of my distress. It’s not really the fact that I lost my job that is so emotional although that’s a really big deal. I just hate the whole job search process. I am a sensitive person, and it’s so hard for me to navigate the inevitable rejection inherent in the process.

I have a few core patterns that really push my buttons. One of my biggest triggers is a scenario where I’m trying to get someone’s attention or am wanting to be accepted by someone and I’m not for some reason or another. A traditional job search is definitely that scenario. For me, it’s like walking into a fire and trying not to get burned. Lexlee offered to do some energy work with me today, and I eagerly agreed.

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During the session, she asked me to think about an event in my life where I’m on the outside trying to get in. I meditated for a bit, and a couple of scenarios came up. In both of these scenarios, I could see myself outside a room or a wall banging desperately to be let in. The people inside could or would not hear me, and I was left begging and crying on the outside, isolated and alone. When we debriefed later, this is exactly the scenario that she sensed, and we got to work on how to best shift that energy to something else that is better for my well-being.

Since this is an old, powerful trigger for me, it rocks me to my core. That feeling of being on the outside looking in is so “comfortable” for me that I often overlay it onto situations that are not like that at all. People could be busy doing something else, and they aren’t even aware that I’m trying to be a part of their circle. Their lack of attention could be a hundred different things that don’t have anything to do with me, but my trigger gets tripped and the same old story gets told. When I’m in that “energy”,  I get desperate and needy and afraid. Luckily, I know how to recognize it now, but for a very long time, I had no idea it was a trigger. I thought it was reality.

During our work today, Lexlee asked her guides to help us with transmuting this energy. She saw me banging on the door trying to get in. Finally, I simply looked down and pulled the key out of my pocket. “You already have the key,” she said. We laughed about that. All of that angst and fear for years and years, and I have the key right there on my person.

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When I got home, I let myself sit in the “energy” of possessing the key to the door. It shifted everything. If I have the key, there is no urgency. I don’t need to depend on anyone else to let me in. And it also struck me that if I have the key, I can choose whether to open that door or not. What freedom there is in that! I have had to learn that in romantic relationships and jobs and friendships. Just because someone is interested in me, it doesn’t mean I want to date them. Just because I’m offered a job, it doesn’t mean it’s the right one for me. Having the key changes everything.

People often ask me what I mean when I say I’m getting “energy work”. Today is a great example of why it’s important. I see the world totally different and can make different decisions when I’m in the energy of choice rather than the energy of desperation. I decided that I’m going to apply only for jobs (unless I change my mind) where I have networking opportunities that will lessen the risk of my resume going into a black hole. The experts say to do that anyway. Being in the energy of “choice” allowed me to decide to try a saner, more enjoyable approach. I may not apply for as many jobs, but I’ll have more personal connections and a better chance with the options I choose. I’m sure my strategy will evolve as I learn more, but that’s my lesson today. I already have the key. I can relax while I hunt for the right door.

Sunday Night Check-In: A Different Rhythm

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“It’s Friday!!” a friend of mine posted on Twitter on Friday. Hmmmm … everyday is Saturday at the moment. When I started doing Sunday Night Check-Ins, it was a blog to mark the end of the weekend and the final countdown to the work week. But since tomorrow will have the same rhythm as today, yesterday and even last Thursday, my check-in – and the weekend or weekday – doesn’t really mean much.

I am struggling to get into a routine. You’d think with an entire day of free time, I’d find it easier to go workout, practice yoga and cook. But, I’m finding that none of that gets done because I keep thinking I’ll do it later in the day and “later in the day” never happens. Tomorrow I plan to go to my regular workout class at the YMCA at 5:45 AM. I know it’s early, but I’ve got to get back to some normalcy in my day.

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I spent lots of time with family and friends this weekend. It rained most of the weekend, so there wasn’t much great weather for long walks or hiking. I met my parents at the Farmer’s Market and bought my weekly veggies and probably the last of the season’s local strawberries. I attended a resume writing workshop at the library where I met some other people who are looking for work. The rest of my time yesterday was spent researching the lifestyle of the digital nomad, updating my LinkedIn profile and making connections with others that I know are in the job market.

I am so extroverted that my first order of business when change is in the air is to build community with like-minded souls. Helping each other is so much easier than doing everything on my own, and I almost always make great connections that way. Awhile back, one of my blog readers reached out to me to tell me how she became a full-time RV’er, and I had the opportunity to meet her when she came through Baton Rouge. Since then, Karen and I have chatted back and forth, and she’s encouraging me to think about that lifestyle. I’m not sure if I want to do that, but I’m certainly open to exploring it. I like to try things on because sometimes things feel better when I get a taste of them than I imagine they would…. and vice versa.

Karen travels with her little dog Tippy and finds jobs around the country designed for people who live that lifestyle. She is currently headed out to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument where she will be a guide. She’s also worked at Amazon at Christmastime in one of their shipping centers. Lots of businesses have designed jobs for these “nomads”, and Amazon has set up several locations where people can camp for free and work for 6-8 weeks out of the year. Last month she was looking for diamonds as her full-time job. This morning I read a bunch of other blogs about others who are digital nomads. I’m curious about how this works at the very least.

Today I spent the day at JoAnn and Robbie’s house watching movies. We watched “A Walk in the Woods”, “Inside Out” and “Up”. It was a nice day complete with some delicious red beans and rice, lots of fur babies and the support of good friends – as comfortable as an old pair of slippers. I came home and called one of the faculty members who used to work with me as we are both job-hunting. She’s in California, and I’m here, but we re-connected on LinkedIn recently and have been sharing referral letters and tips.

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It feels weird tonight. All of my friends will be off to work in the morning, catching up and having a typical Monday free-for-all. I’ll go work out at the gym, have my green tea and begin making calls. I have appointments with a recruiter in North Carolina and a potential local writing client. I heard about a job opportunity in Memphis through one of my friends that will require follow-up, and I’ve got a couple other potential contract jobs brewing. I’ve even got plans to check out campers this week to see what that’s all about.

There’s a new rhythm to my day, and it’s actually not too bad. I also love meeting new people and learning new things, so I have things to be happy about. I have to set up an office as sitting cross-legged on my chaise lounge all day is not working for me. But I do have to say it’s kind of fun to be embarking on a new journey. It never hurts to change things up a bit.

Shattered

 

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My Favorite Earrings … Shattered

Last Thursday I went into Asheville to visit my friend Lynn. She cut my hair, and we had planned to go out to dinner. We had a blast. It was a great day, and we both taught each other things about styling curly hair. She wanted to take some after pics for her Instagram account, and I started to put on my favorite turquoise earrings. I bought them many years ago at a Christmas bazaar with my friend Sarah. She talked me into getting them, but I didn’t fall in love with them until several years later. I picked up the first one and it fell from my hands and smashed on the floor. That beautiful tile floor was just the right hardness to crack my beautiful earring into 4 pieces. I looked at it shattered on the floor and wished I could take that moment back. If I could just be a little more careful, I would still have my precious earrings. But, there is no taking back time. Rewind is not an option.

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My Beautiful Coffee Mug … Shattered

I was actually really happy to go back to work after this past vacation. I have some awesome projects in full stride, and I was anxious to get back. I spent a happy day in the office catching up, meeting with my team and being productive. I checked my mail when I got out of the car at home, and as soon as I tucked the mail in my arms, my favorite “barista art” coffee mug fell – just like my earring – and shattered on the rocks in my driveway. I looked down at it, kicking myself for dropping it… wishing I could find that damn rewind button. How could I be so clumsy that I shattered two of my favorite things in one week?

The next morning I got up and opened the box that held a bottle of expensive vitamin C serum. I grabbed the bottle to pull it out, and it fell on my tile floor, shattering into 20 pieces. The golden serum was all over my floor, and my $70 was thrown right into the trash. This wasn’t one of my favorite things, but I surely didn’t want to buy another bottle of that stuff. I thought about rewinding it for a second, but by the third time I’d shattered something valuable I was starting to think the Universe was trying to tell me something. I started to worry that something bad was about to happen. Or had I already shattered something valuable in my life, and I wasn’t paying attention? What was the message? I was sure there had to be one, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out.

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My Beautiful Office… Shattered

At the end of the day Tuesday, I was informed that my position at work had been eliminated. It wasn’t a surprise. The budget situation in Louisiana is perilous, and I knew that my role wasn’t considered essential to the operation. I’ve been in enough corporate environments to know who might go and who might stay. I knew I was probably on the short list, and the day came sooner than I imagined. I wanted to push the rewind button. Why did I ever take this job in the first place? All of those years of surviving massive corporate downsizings, and I had to get my first layoff at home. Where is that rewind button when you need it?

I’ve thought about the things that were shattered in my life this week. What did it mean? Was it just a foreboding that my livelihood was about to be shattered? Or did it mean something else? I thought about my earrings. I loved those, and I could probably have glued it back together, but I really felt they were shattered. Lynn talked me into wearing one for the pictures, but I’m not an asymmetrical earring sort of gal. I thought about my beautiful coffee mug. I could buy another one at Starbucks. But, I felt like it had a short lifespan for a reason. I’m still on the fence about replacing it. I thought about my Vitamin C. I already ordered some more of that. That’s an important part of my routine. I wasn’t emotionally attached to it, but I need it, and I’m not giving it up yet.

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The fourth shattering was obviously the most significant. It hit me this afternoon what the Universe was trying to tell me in my dress rehearsals for my job loss. Shatterings are sudden, disappointing and definitely a loss. In each, I had a small sense of guilt for letting it happen. But, I knew that accidents happen. I could blame myself, but what would be the point? It happened, and I had to let them go. The message I received was that shatterings happen suddenly and for no particular reason. Sometimes valuable things that we love are shattered. Other times I shatter useful items that help me maintain my lifestyle. While they were all important things to me, life goes on. Things can be replaced in time – or not. But every shattering creates a space for something new. It’s a letting go of sorts.

 

The shattered pieces on the ground are burned into my memory. They lay there silently, begging me to hit the rewind button. “Turn back time,” they urge with their rough edges and solid breaks. “Hit rewind.” The sharp pain of loss hits me in the gut as I realize that there is no turning back. The pieces will be swept away. The item will be replaced by something better or forgotten. The shattering is the catalyst for a new future. Acceptance dances on the heart of loss until the world is new again.

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Sharon Moves Into Her Office

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A few months ago I got really clear about what I wanted in my professional life. Integration was my goal. I no longer wanted to compartmentalize my personal and professional lives. My mantra evolved into “My personal and professional selves are integrated.”

As I look back now, this desire has been percolating for a long time and has been in evolution. About 5 years ago I really let go of the need for approval at work. I began the extremely difficult process of pushing back, speaking up and setting boundaries with work. It was really hard work but, thankfully, God put some pretty amazing people in my life who supported my efforts to be authentic at work. My move into higher education was part of that evolution. I wanted to be in an environment where people were learning and creativity was an expected trait.

Something inside me knew that I was trying to become more authentic at work, but I really wasn’t consciously aware of it. I was just dealing with things as I felt they were important. But I’m really clear about it now. As I’ve begun to write and understand how creative and colorful I really am, it’s becoming harder and harder to sit in a gray cubicle and work. In fact, it’s become excruciating.

I went to a meditation at the Indigo Spiritual Center this week. Lexlee led us through a meditation where we chatted with a power animal that is walking with us right now. Animals have specific energies that we need. If you’ve ever read any of my Medicine Cards blogs, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. The essence of an animal’s energy is considered to be “medicine” in many cultures. And they help us with whatever we need as we move through challenging life events. We were instructed to ask the animal that appeared to us what we needed from them right now.

A scarlet macaw appeared to me. He was beautiful with his colorful feathers. I was a birdkeeper at one time, so I know macaws. They are intense, powerful and really comical. They can speak our language if we work with them. They are amazing and powerful birds. One’s powerful beak bit right through a huge falconer’s glove when I was working with him at the zoo. My macaw lighted on my left forearm and allowed me to pet him.His name is Caw. He strutted around and showed me how beautiful his feathers were. “You think you are heavy like an elephant,” he told me. “But you are light and colorful. And…. you can fly.” He lifted into flight. Caw soared around and showed me how fun flying can be. “You are not alone either,” he added. He flew over a forest and I could see the trees full of colorful birds. They lifted into flight, and the sky was filled with thousands of birds. “There are many just like you,” he concluded before flying away.

Peru --- Scarlet Macaw in Flight --- Image by © Theo Allofs/CORBIS

Peru — Scarlet Macaw in Flight — Image by © Theo Allofs/CORBIS

I woke up the next morning, and I was compelled to do something with my gray cubicle at the office. Just Thursday I asked my manager to have someone move the big 4-drawer filing cabinet out of my cubicle. It’s been sitting there for two years empty, but all of a sudden I couldn’t stand having it in there. Now I have space. Caw’s words rang in my ears, and I knew that I had to bring color into my workspace. I searched on Pinterest for cubicle decor, and, to my surprise, there are thousands of ways to decorate your cubicle.

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I got busy looking for things at home and went shopping at lunch after my coworkers Jennifer and Tiffany weighed in with some decorating ideas. It didn’t take long, and it didn’t take much money, but my workspace is much more like me now. A purple sarong hangs in the corner behind my computer. Seeing the purple surrounding my monitor gave me a jolt of energy when I returned to work. I couldn’t believe how much it changed the way I felt. I plan to do more. I’d like to get a little tray with a french press to set up a coffee station the way I like it, and I bought some colorful tassels to drape across doors on my bookshelves to break up the gray. I’d love to get a little stuffed cat to keep me company during the day. I can dress her up whimsically with sunglasses or scarves.

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A long time ago my sister came to work to see my office at Whirlpool in Michigan. She walked in and looked at me quizzically. “Sharon, there’s nothing in here that says you at all,” she said. I was confused. At the time I had no idea what I even liked or how I would decorate at work to reflect my own energy. It’s taken a long time to get there, but I took a big step yesterday to bring myself to work. Oddly enough, I’m sort of looking forward to going to work on Monday! Maybe … just maybe … I need to get a beautiful macaw to remind me that I’m not only light and colorful, but I can FLY!!!

  

Oh yeah, and I even discovered a website (calmsound.com) where I can stream nature sounds all day long … some complete with video!

Exploring the Future… Through the Lens of the Past

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I’ve started an exciting exploration this week. I’m going through a process to look at my career through the lens of my personality and my interests. It’s fun because I’m not necessarily doing anything right now. I’m just sticking my hand in the cookie jar and seeing what comes up. I knew that people with my personality type love teaching, counseling and being a minister. But, it turns out that there’s another factor to consider when considering a career. In fact, my guide says it’s even more important. It’s my interests.

So, I took an assessment to determine my interests. She then crossed my interests with my ENFP personality traits, and some interesting things came out of it. Apparently, I have a strong “enterprising” streak which skews me off the teacher roles, although in some situations, it would be a good fit. Marketing Manager, salesperson and operations manager were some that were interesting but didn’t surprise me much. But, there were a couple that really got me daydreaming about a different sort of life. Florist, bartender and chef were from left field but were good fits because I could run my own operation AND serve people. I found myself thinking about spending my days working odd hours and surrounded by wonderful smells in the kitchen or beautiful flowers. Mmmmmm …. how nice that might be. No more corporate baloney. No more 8 to 5. The new boss is the customer, and I can make my own decisions. I also accept my own risks. I must say I’m kind of excited about exploring something vastly different.

In the process, she had me name my role models when I was a kid and tell her what I daydreamed about. I daydreamed about singing in front of an adoring crowd. I sang out in the pasture in our backyard all the time. The crowd adored me. Applause roared, and the lights shone in my eyes … until my sister hit me over the head with a stick. But I never lost the dream. My role models were my high school English teacher Lady Lester and Mickey Mantle. She made me describe them, and she laughed. The first thing I said was Mickey Mantle was a wacky alcoholic, but I read every book I could find about him. And, Mrs. Lester? I just remembered that she was really cute, little and cool, and she cared about each of us in a way that was obvious one-on-one attention. She also taught me a process for writing that I still use to this day. She then broke the news to me that my role models as a child WERE me. So, I guess I”m some wacky mix-up of Mickey Mantle and Lady Lester. Odd, I guess, but it fits. And I forgot about Scarlet O’Hara. She was a favorite, and she couldn’t keep a husband either. We both have that same idea that men are somewhat utilitarian, and, if the need strikes us, we’ll get one. Otherwise, marriage just doesn’t seem like that much fun.

Another eye-opening revelation is that all of my favorite past jobs were those that I held at Whirlpool between 1993 – 2003. I was an Innovation Mentor and ran business experiments to see what new businesses we might create. I even managed a handyman business in Orlando called Rent-A-Husband right after 9/11. I worked with a trade school to start a program for female appliance technicians in Wisconsin. I was also on a demanding project team that wore my ass out with travel. I used all of my strengths in communication, training, helping others and managing an operation. It makes me wonder if I shouldn’t have stayed there and maybe tried field sales or training. Sometimes it is good to look back. You might find something interesting.

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One of my friends in St. Joseph MI – where I lived when I worked at Whirlpool Corporate – posted a picture of the Amtrak station today. I longed to bundle up and walk downtown to Cafe Tosi’s for a mocha in the slush and the snow. My ex-co-worker Ann told me it will be -11 tonight. She said it’s beautiful but really brutal. I remember those days. I loved to bundle up and go into someplace warm and cozy. It felt like a 5 year vacation in another land. I don’t know if I’d want to live there for all time, but I wouldn’t mind going back for a visit soon, and I actually wouldn’t mind if it was in winter. Everybody here is freaking out because it’s going to be in the 20s tonight for about 6 hours. It won’t get over 15 in St. Joe tomorrow. Brrrr…. but that’s what long johns and scarves are for. I can’t get there tonight, but I can show you the webcam.

Click here to see Silver Beach.

I”m loving this journey through my past and my interests. It’s making me think about a future that might be a bit different, and that’s exciting. Who knows what I’ll do. My current field is also on the list, but I have to have an environment where I have some autonomy. I apparently have some issues with authority and want to be in control of my own domain. I’ll accept that about myself. My guide has told me just to explore right now. I can’t make any decisions. So, I’m shopping a bit. Singing wasn’t on that list, but public speaking was. Maybe one day I’ll have that roaring audience that I always dreamed about.

Oh, yeah… my friend Ann is looking for a home for some kittens that were born in her new barn in Ohio. She works in Benton Harbor some weeks and lives permanently in Ohio. They are so adorable, I had to post them just to see if any of you might want one. We’ll get them to you if you want one …. or two!

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What’s the Matter with Young People?? Or What’s Wrong with Us Geezers?

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The other day at work, a couple of co-workers were having a discussion about young people these days. We are securing the licensing to use a gaming-type learning activity on managing a budget. It will be available free of charge to all community and technical college students in the state. It’s really cool. The player starts with a monthly budget, and they have just secured an apartment. There are regular expenses, unexpected expenses and social choices to make over money. In one unexpected expense, the player had a great party Saturday night, but in addition to the party expenses, the cops showed up, and they have additional costs associated with that to pay. Uh … oh …now the next few month’s budget is shot. I actually don’t enjoy playing it because it’s too much like real life, but I would have loved to have had it when I first got out of school.

One of my friends made the comment that kids these days know nothing about how much money it takes to live. Well hell, neither did I. We didn’t talk about money growing up. I had no idea how much my Dad made or how much anything cost. I knew how much groceries cost because I would shop with Momma. I knew that it was a lot by the look on her face every time the cash register spit out her receipt. And, I know how mad she got when my brothers would eat most of what she bought the same day she brought it home. I could tell money was something to fret about. I just didn’t what to do about it. When I got my first job after college, I took a reporting job at a newspaper in Harlingen TX for $225 a week. I absolutely had no clue if I could live on that. I was a college graduate, and I just assumed that surely this would be enough. I never even did the math. As soon as my car needed tires, my budget was screwed. And I had to leave during the day during the summer because I couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bill with the A/C running all day. I had no clue about money, either.

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As I trained managers over the past 10 years, the subject of today’s young people has come up over and over. Their tendency to change jobs frequently has boomer managers shaking their heads as the old theory of staying in a job for an extended length of time was some kind of proof of … of what … ??? I don’t know, but for some reason it was seen as desirable. And, I still hear it. They move around too much. They just quit if they don’t like the job. They leave if they can’t get promoted quickly. And, what is the problem with that exactly? I know this. In the past 25 years of my work life, employers had no issue letting people go if it didn’t suit their needs. When I first started working at Whirlpool, I was part of a class of 25 that started on the same day. It was a great job with a great company. We went through a 6 week new hire orientation, and two weeks after we got out, they laid off half the class. Now, most of these people quit other jobs for this two month stint for nothing. It wasn’t proof of anything bad about Whirlpool. It was business. Why would it be bad for an employee to leave a job that’s not a good fit for them? That’s business, too.  Why keep investing in something that is not working? I never had much empathy for these managers and their outdated ideas about these ‘young people.’ I basically told them that the boomers are retiring. If you need people in jobs, you are going to have to learn to adjust. If not, they don’t lose – we do.

I actually wish I was born in this generation. I never did fit the baby boomer mold of wanting to work all the time, forsaking my personal life. The same people complaining about young people are the same ones that raised them. When I bring that up, they say they didn’t raise theirs that way. Well, somebody did. Or, maybe nobody did – or maybe their ex did – and maybe that’s the problem. One of the things that boomers don’t like is that ‘kids these days don’t want to work’. Well, I’ll tell you I’ve seen them work their butt off but it’s a different mode of working than what I do. I was struggling to put together a guide when I was in FedEx. It wasn’t my strong suit, and I found the research laborious. We brought in this intern, and in literally a week, she had that thing done. They can tear up research and technology. They know how to navigate it in a way that I will probably never understand. And, who says that the number of hours somebody works makes them a better worker. How many of us boomers and Gen X-ers regret our long hours and intense focus on career-building to the detriment of relationships? These kids are the ones that were left at home. No wonder long hours are not attractive to them. They were the ones without Moms and Dads while the mighty dollar consumed their attention. To be fair, jobs were scarcer back then, and you had to do it to make it, but it was not preferable. I imagine we’re just jealous that we didn’t get to live our lives they way they will get to.

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I’ve also heard from several people about the number of questions they ask. When I went to work, I didn’t ask questions. I felt like if I asked questions, it showed I didn’t know how to do the job, and there was this unapproachable image about ‘authority’. It’s still there in most workplaces. Workers in our generation feel like when you’ve made it to a certain level you’ve paid your dues, and you are owed respect. No matter if you are an unbelievably incompetent asshole. It doesn’t matter. Because of your position, you are owed reverence. These kids don’t see that. They’ve been brought up in worlds where information is accessible. They either don’t have to ask anybody, or they see authority figures as resources. If they have a question, they ask. And they expect you, too. The passive-aggressive style of ‘testing’ people to see if they can figure it out doesn’t fly with them. If you want something, you ask. Otherwise, they will move along to a place where they are respected for their skills. I actually really like that approach. It just seems so much more human.

We have to remember that this generation has never and will never have job security. With the state of the economy, they will probably have a much lower standard of living than we do. My generation actually never had job security either, but we had the illusion that we should. This generation has no illusions about that. A job …. is a job … is a job… and there’s more where this one came from – or they’ll make their own. My friend Jessica doesn’t even think about getting an employer. She’s going to do her own thing in her own way. She’s often said she’s glad she doesn’t have to worry about putting up the workplace BS that I do. In my mind, I can’t imagine that, but I really wish I’d had that mindset … or could even find it now. In my field, we look at employment trends 10 years out so we can prepare the workplace. The boomers are moving on. And there were a lot of ’em. There will be vacancies and lost organizational knowledge everywhere. It’s just starting to happen, but we’re not anywhere near the bubble. We will need these young people desperately, and we will need them to have business knowledge to run our world. We have no choice but to work with them and deal with them on their level. Our arrogance will only hurt us and the economy, and that’s not a very good legacy.

I’m glad the world is changing. There were outdated dysfunctional beliefs in the workplace that crushed innovation, and in some instances killed companies. Know who should have been the Amazon of our time? Think about it. Who had regional centers all over the country? Who was able to sell products as diverse as pre-fabricated homes via the US Mail? Who had long-standing relationships with manufacturers with all kinds of goods? Who had that institutional knowledge of serving customers all over the country? Who had generational relationships with families in this country? What ever happened to Sears and Roebuck? That’s where my Grandfather bought all kinds of stuff. They knew how to do it. But, when the internet came out, their board was populated with people who were older and could not fathom the sustainability of technology, and they didn’t want to re-invent themselves. Too top-heavy with boomers and traditionalists, they watched the internet move onto to newer and younger people who had the courage to change the world. I feel really sad when I see Sears because they should have been great still. Arrogance kills so many of our great companies. I hope our youth with their new-fangled ideas will show us stuff we can’t even imagine, and I can’t wait to cheer them on.

Checking a Bad Day Attitude

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I’m not sure what makes for bad days, but sometimes they happen. Yesterday was one for me. It started out great, and I felt great. I had no idea what an awful turn the day would take. I did my usual breakfast, blogging and meditation and went to work feeling pretty good. I was a little sore from the workout the night before but, other than that, I was hopeful to get some things done. I’ve just started a cool project, and we had a very productive and fun meeting on Wednesday. Thursday the plan was to de-brief and put together a proposal of what we should do to increase the knowledge and productivity of this group of workers. That’s what I do for a living. I help workers streamline work, improve their skills and make managers aware of organizational barriers that impede performance. It’s my expertise.

After that morning meeting, things suddenly went downhill and somehow I ended the day cramming a brownie down my throat and wishing that I could walk out and never come back. All of those beautiful things that I’m supposed to do actually never do fully manifest as they should in a perfect world because it’s not a perfect world, but I never even got to “do” anything yesterday. I was ensnared in a mountain of meaningless approvals for minute amounts of money and caught on a merry-go-round of inane questions about some workshops I’m doing in June. I was snarling to my friends on the phone. I couldn’t do my run because all I could think of was yoga … yoga … yoga. I went to my yoga class, and I brought my snarly attitude to it. The regular teacher wasn’t there, and I couldn’t connect with the first part of the practice. I kept snarling in my head about the way she was teaching. About halfway through, my attitude shifted and, by the time I lay in Corpse pose, I actually fell asleep for a few seconds.

What is it about bad days? I remember when I worked in the call center at Whirlpool, and I’d have days when I had snarly customers one after another. One day I realized that when I had one I tended to take that attitude into the next call, and I think I helped create that next irritated interaction. I played with that theory for awhile, and I really believe the bad day snowballed at least in large part because of my own attitude. Even with that knowledge, it’s sometimes really hard to turn it around. I have to be aware of my own attitude and do something to change it. I wasn’t capable of doing it yesterday. I ended the day depressed, wanting to chuck this job and this place and move on to greener pastures. The problem is that I realize that nothing is really as green as it appears. So nothing looked like a viable solution except checking out and going to sleep.

I woke up at 4 AM full of energy. I had planned to skip my run again today because of how I felt when I went to bed, but when I woke up I wanted to run, and I wanted to run hard. So, I got up and did my 30/20/10 workout that Jessica had prescribed in her blog this week. It felt so good. Part of it was sprinting, and I felt like I was tearing away from all of the red tape and barriers that were holding me back. For awhile, I felt free and productive. It was so hot and humid, and I was sweating heavily, but it felt so good to be moving and pushing myself to be more than I am now. That’s all I want to do at work, and sometimes it seems so hard to do it. Workplaces just seem to be full of barriers to productivity, creativity and passion. I’ve often resolved just to compartmentalize those things and have them in my personal life, but I’d love to be one of those people who could do what they love to do and make money at it.

Jessica asked me what I would do if I didn’t have to worry about the money. I actually love doing what I do, but I seldom get to do it. I love to problem-solve with people. I love helping them pinpoint barriers to the things they want to happen in their lives. I love the analysis in discovering who they are, their current situation, their needs and desires and understanding the things that are holding them back. I love formulating a long-term plan with short-term deliverables. I love pinpointing some quick fixes that help them feel like they actually see progress. I love finding creative solutions that are efficient in delivering the results they need and that solve multiple problems at once. I love it when I show them the plan, and their eyes light up because they see there is a light at the end of the tunnel even if it’s going to take some work to get there. I love solving people problems. I also love writing. All of that energizes me. When I spend a day like yesterday where I’m buried in paperwork in a cubicle, and I can’t get to the gold, it’s so disheartening.

So, today, I ran. I did my morning meditation. I’m writing. I’ve hopefully checked my attitude. I think I’m going to put aside any paperwork today that can wait until Monday, and I’m going to do the things I wrote about above. It’s jeans day. I’m going to put on my Levi’s and a cute top that makes me feel good about my body, and I’m going to focus on what’s right about my job. After all, I work somewhere where I can actually make a difference in people’s lives. It’s frustrating when I can’t get there, but in two weeks I’ll be standing in the middle of my target audience physically making a difference. It’s a date set in stone on the calendar, and it will happen. Right now there are 5o teachers having their skills enhanced because of my ability to push through barriers and get them the training they need. It’s Friday, y’all. Focus on what’s important… even if it’s just getting to the weekend where you can do the things that energize you. Have a great weekend!