Another First Day

September 5, 2019

Today marks the last-first day of high school for my daughter as she is now a senior and the first day that she drove herself – and my son, a sophomore — to school. After the traditional (and typical) first day of school pics, my husband and I watched as they drove off. My thoughts wandered from the past to the future, and I reflected on what was and what will be. I ultimately landed with feelings of appreciation for the here-and-now.

Parenting is the most complex, challenging, and long-lasting job I have ever had. It is also rewarding, and a privilege to be an observer, mentor and cheerleader as my kids grow into their own. Each with their own personality, strengths, and challenges, I am committed to doing my best to not impede upon their growing independence. I want my children to be their own thinkers who make responsible choices, contribute to society and experience satisfaction in all that they do and yet I also want to share valuable life lessons that I have been directly and indirectly taught. I am trying to strike a balance between offering guidance and support and not leaving them with the perception that my words are mandates and expectations.

For the past few weeks, I have been trying (keyword: trying) to have conversations with my kids about the upcoming year. I was curious to know what they were thinking about and wanted to share a few recommendations. They weren’t having it and masterfully changed the subject, listened with disinterested facial expressions, and sometimes engaged with as minimal interaction as possible. I hope that with each effort, a little bit of what I said was absorbed. Had they not resisted; I would have discussed these six points with them. 

Manage your time: It’s all too easy these days to get sidetracked with things other than your primary responsibilities so be diligent and make smart choices about how you spend your days — make sure you allocate time to complete your homework, study for tests, and hand in assignments when they are due. It may be disappointing to delay watching another episode of The Office but face reality, your job is school. If you want to be successful, you will need to make responsible choices, even though they may not be desirable.   

Be kind: It is so cliché, but it is also true —  kindness breeds kindness. It’s ok (but not fun) to feel upset, cranky or tired but mixing that with unkind behavior is inexcusable. It’s hard to receive support from others when you are not treating them nicely. Remember, you are responsible for your conduct and know that when you treat others poorly, there is a good chance that they will react by mirroring your behavior by treating you the same way.

Set goals: I know you want to go to college so I recommend spending some time thinking about what it will take to be accepted (i.e., commitment to academic achievement, participating in extra-curricular activities). Do yourself a favor and figure out how your long term goals influence what you are doing now, which in turn, may guide you to thinking about the goals you want to set for yourself today.

Be wise, think ahead and be present: Your job is to go to school. It may not seem like fun, but please know that there may never be a time again in your life when you have this opportunity. Yes, this is an opportunity. Learning is the key that opens doors to endless possibilities — but you need to be wise today in how you show up in what you are doing. Be present and also know that today influences your tomorrow.

Bigger is not always better: Better is a subjective word that does not always reflect your wants, needs, and responsibilities. If you go along with this assumption, you might find yourself in situations that lead to dissatisfaction and disappointment. Be discerning, be wary of the word “always” and allow yourself time to decide what it is that you (not others) believe is “better.” 

Mindset: We have talked a lot about mindset, especially recently as you have been mourning the end of summer. I have continually reminded you that school is non-negotiable, but your mindset about it is. You can choose to walk through the school doors thinking the day will be bad and guess what, it probably will be. However, if you shift your negativity to a positive mindset, you might enjoy your day – even if you don’t love what you are doing. We all do things that we don’t want to do, but when we see the value, we choose to do it. By the way, it was this mindset that made changing your stinky diapers not such a bad experience.    

As with other first days of school, today I am feeling reflective. I remember watching both of my kids walk through the kindergarten doors, and this year, especially, I’m envisioning graduation day with the not-yet-known college name written on my daughter’s graduation cap. At the same time, I am continually reminding myself to be present and treat every day like it is another first day.


Are you busier than you need to be?

Busy. People are busy. Professionally overwhelmed and overworked. Personally, not meeting responsibilities. Self-care? What’s that? Stress, fatigue, and frustration kick into high gear and with no roadmap for change, busy people remain busy.

Take Avery for example, a senior level attorney at a large law firm. She worked 60+ hours a week, arrived home shortly before her toddlers’ bedtime and rushed through dinners with her partner before going back to work. Avery went to bed late, woke up early…repeat.  

Struggling to meet deadlines and wanting a better work-life balance, she recognized change was necessary. Avery and I began working together in a professional coaching relationship, and soon after she realized how her aversion to confrontation and automatic desire to be helpful contributed to these challenges. In lieu of sending incorrect and incomplete documents back to her associate attorneys, Avery spent hours of her own time doing the work herself. Avery also proudly made herself available to answer questions and talk through client challenges whenever colleagues were in need.

Realizing now how these behaviors were cyclical patterns that contributed to several hours of additional work each week, Avery was motivated to address her tendency to avoid anything she thought might be uncomfortable and considered alternate ways of being helpful. She overcame both by communicating clearly and respectfully what work needed to be completed or corrected and asked people to schedule meetings with her if they wanted more than just a few minutes of her time.

Avery’s efforts yielded many positive changes and she now has a better work-life balance. She no longer volunteers to do other people’s work and is relieved that her colleagues followed through with her meeting requests. She finishes far more of her work responsibilities while at work and is home at least two nights a week for family dinners. Avery is thrilled about having more quality time with her kids and no longer works at home every night. She attends weekly yoga classes, is reading more books, and relaxes in the evenings with her partner as they catch up on their favorite shows.   

Avery is still busy, yes, but with her new personal roadmap, she is no longer busier than she needs to be.  

Are you busier than you need to be? Doing other people’s work? Please share your thoughts.

Things To Never Say Or Do In A Meeting

As a rising junior in high school, my daughter is now at the point in her academic career when studying for the college entry exams is necessary. She took sample tests at a college prep program and we then met with Jim, a representative from the company, who was to review her scores and formulate a plan for helping my daughter be test-ready in a few months.

Well, that is not exactly what happened.

During the hour-long follow-up meeting, I was reminded of the many things that one should never do when trying to sell a service (or product). It doesn’t matter what setting you are in – business, academic or social – these are things you should never do:

1. Do not make comments that are sexual in nature or have a sexual undertone.

When the service being sold requires you to be sitting with a minor alone in a room – or with anyone and anywhere for that matter – you are to never talk like this.It is uncomfortable, inappropriate, wrong and in some instances, illegal.

Jim did not break any laws but when he shared his thoughts about each of our appearances, he was unquestionably inappropriate.So was him telling my daughter about colleges that have “hot guys” and other schools where she might find a husband – because certain schools have “good stock.”

2. Do not oversell yourself or brag about your accomplishments.

Find the right balance when letting potential clients know that you are skilled, experienced and can deliver value.Do not undersell yourself, but do not oversell either. Do not start a meeting by bragging about your many success stories, especially those that are unrelated to the meeting’s purpose.

Jim’s personal oversell was huge while the company’s services were completely undersold.I not only listened to him gloat about his past unrelated work experiences, he also let me know how many children he has, the town he lives in and that he can afford an expensive home and luxury car.The least he could have done was spend some time overselling the value my daughter would be getting if she worked with him and this company.Somehow he left that part out.      

3. Ask questions and listen to the answers.

If you want to get to know your potential client, it is a good idea to ask questions and listen to the responses.And by listen, I mean listen to the complete answer.Do not interrupt and bring the focus back to you by changing the topic away from the very subject you brought up with your question.

When asked about academic and career interests, my daughter partially answered.She stopped talking when Jim hijacked the conversation and shifted it back to himself and his many success stories.That was a great tactic…for getting a potential customer to tune you out and shut down.And that is just what my daughter did.

4. Know what you want from the meeting and don’t assume it will happen.

If the goal is to close the sale, I suggest that you focus on the pitch and do your best to make sure that the customer has everything he or she needs in order to make an informed decision.Be persuasive, sure, but don’t assume the deal will be closed at the end of the meeting.Listen, ask questions, give answers, provide valuable information and connect with the customer.Do that and you will likely be discussing next-steps, which, by the way, might include closing the deal.

In my situation, it seemed that Jim expected for us to walk out of the meeting with my credit card charged and test-prep sessions scheduled.He also assumed that it was OK to ask my daughter for her cell phone number.He was ready to enter it into his phone but stopped when I interjected and said that she would not be giving it to him.No cell numbers were exchanged, no credit cards were swiped and no sessions were scheduled.

5. Don’t judge and don’t assume.

Remember that appearances do not directly correlate with wealth (or lack thereof).And being wealthy does not mean that people will automatically spend their money with your business.Deliver a clear message about the value being offered and then, maybe then, people will choose to purchase the product or service being offered.

During this meeting, it was clear to me that Jim prejudged my financial situation and assumed how I would be willing to spend my money(this extended outside the parameters of the fees for test prep services).I quickly began questioning his authenticity for wanting to help my daughter and wondered if he was more motivated by the amount of money I would be spending if I agreed to the proposed plan.That leads me to the next point.

6. Don’t change the rules.

When discussing how your business works – what you offer and how the service or product will be delivered – it is frowned upon to change the procedure and methodology at the time that the service plan is being delivered.It is unprofessional and deceitful.

I initially spoke with a different representative from this company several times, therefore, I was aware of the fee structure and program procedures.Imagine my surprise when Jim changed everything around and tried to sell me a different and more expensive plan.I was confused and became further skeptical of his motives, also wondering if this was related to the assumptions and judgments (I thought) he had made about me.

Following the meeting, I called my initial contact person and shared with him each of these six points.He understood my upset and agreed with my complaints.He apologized several times and kindly asked if my daughter and I would be willing to meet with him for a “do-over” of the follow-up meeting.I agreed.He also offered a few hours of complimentary tutoring, an appreciated gesture that offered value beyond that of the monetary savings.

This call reminded me of the final point I want to make.

7. $*^% happens and sometimes a second chance is a worthwhile chance to give.

I believe that no person or business is perfect – it’s just not realistic to think that way.Each experience is unique and what you choose to do in any given situation should be decided on a case-by-case basis.Sometimes it will be better to walk away and not subject yourself to an encounter again.Other times the situation may warrant going back and checking it out for a second time.   

For me, I do not trust Jim and would never allow my daughter to be alone in a room with him so there is no reason to consider giving him a second chance. But as far as giving the college prep company a second chance, I am happy to do that.The meeting may be a bust, I know, but my hunch is that it will not be.Either way, I stand by my decision for giving this company a second chance.

I’m curious, what would you do if you were in my shoes?

May Their Memories Be For A Blessing

I did not know Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain but I respected them and happily welcomed them into my home. I still have the Kate Spade bag I received as a gift years ago – always wanting to keep it despite not using it anymore. Kitchen Confidential was a great read and I laughed and learned as Anthony Bourdain ate and talked his way around the world.

If I were one to make assumptions, I would easily believe that both should have been happy and living life to it’s fullest. I would think that they should have received the best mental health treatment possible and question what could have possibly not been right in their lives. But I know better, so I will not assume and I will not judge.

I have no idea if either Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain had been under the care of a doctor and/or therapist, if they were on medication or if they even sought mental health treatment at all. I don’t know and at this time, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they suffered illnesses that they did not heal from. And for that, they lost their lives.

Putting my sadness for their families and friends aside for a minute, I’m hoping that this news serves as a wake-up call to everyone. I hope that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide will be the catalyst for more significant conversations and proactive change in this growing healthcare crisis. May the legal system mandate stronger legislation that supports mental health treatment. May society stop stigmatizing those who are not well and start responding to them like they would had they been diagnosed with cancer.

Their deaths cannot and should not be in vain. Their loss must gift society with a long needed reality check that mental illness is real and – if left untreated or improperly treated – lethally dangerous. It sounds terrible to say, I know, but please let the pain of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s loved ones be the reminder to you, if you are the one suffering, that you are wanted and needed. And for the family members of someone with a mental illness, may you never be the young child burying your parent or the one saying a premature goodbye to your spouse or the parent doing the unthinkable, burying a child.

I am so appreciative that the announcement of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths included their cause of death. Thank you for sharing this sad news with the world honestly. Thank you for putting the kibosh on what could have been endless rumors and speculation. Thank you for saying loudly what so many say with only a whisper – that they died by suicide.

It was on my first date with my husband that he told me about his own experience with suicide. As a 17-year-old high-school senior, he was living with only his father when the police knocked on his door to inform him that his father had committed suicide earlier that day while he was at school. The memories immediately thereafter remain a blur to my husband, perhaps an emotional protection from the depths of his loss. The impact, however, has been lifelong.

When I listened to my husband tell me that night about his father’s suicide, I recall taking notice of the factual delivery of his words. It was as if he told me that his father died of a heart attack. No skirting around his words or lowering his voice when the word suicide was spoken. He explained that his father died by suicide – that he had depression and it led to his death. There was no anger and he never thought of his father as selfish. He simply shared with me the sad reality that his father had passed away.

I won’t pretend to understand what my husband went through, or what these families are experiencing now. I can’t imagine what my father-in-law, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain and so many others have endured – a pain so severe that they believed that death was necessary. I can only hope that one-day people who are living with mental illness will get the care they need and be able to live their lives with joy and happiness.

My deepest of condolences go out to the Spade and Bourdain families. May each of their memories be for a blessing.

Lessons Learned From Giving Up Coffee

It has been one month since I drank coffee.  And I do not miss it.  In mid-December when I decided to stop my 1-3 cup a day habit, I used the remaining days of the year to wean off my caffeine addiction.  By December 31, I was down to less than a quarter of a cup of my daily Joe and as of January 1, I have been coffee free.  I had a few very minor headaches but overall this was an easy and predominately pain free transition.  Since then, I have come to enjoy hot water and ginger, my new morning drink of choice.

To my surprise, I have no less energy.  In fact, I have more.  My concern for sluggish days and earlier to bed evenings was met with active and alert days, and more restful nights of sleep.  I have also noticed more consistency in my energy levels.  Gone are the days of peaks and valleys of energy spikes and fatigue lulls.

If I was drinking coffee as a tool for helping me stay awake and I am very much awake without it, what was the benefit of this daily drink?  I took this question a few steps further and asked myself what else I might be doing that I think is helping me, when in fact it just might not be.  Are there things that I could be doing differently and still have the same or better experience?

This question has challenged me to think about how I can show-up differently with my family.  What can I be doing to approach things with more responsibility and potentially less or different effort?  Can I be present yet uninvolved?  Can I be present and not the taskmaster?  Can I be present and watch my kids make their own academic decisions?

My coffee lessons have extended to the workplace too.  What are people doing that they believe is better for their business when the reality is that it might not be?  When colleagues take on projects that fall under the scope of someone else’s role, is this truly helping the company?  At a quick glance, maybe yes but from the broader scope, probably not.  What would it take for people to stop drinking the metaphorical cup of coffee and recognize that doing less can lead to more productivity; that the act of doing something might actually be an act of doing nothing; or that it’s ok to be uncomfortable about making changes when the changes are strategically aligned with the company’s vision.

I anticipate future temptations to have coffee again.  After all, I love the smell, enjoy the act of drinking it and like the taste.   Whether or not I have a cup or two is something to be determined at a later date.  For now I’m focusing on feeling grateful for the unanticipated lessons learned from not drinking coffee.


The Girl I Never Knew

Sitting at a café table, looking out the window at the gloomy, rainy weather and gray sky, one might consider the rain a metaphor for the tears my town is shedding for the passing of a teenager less than 72 hours ago.  In the blink of an eye Terry, a high school freshman, out with her Drama Club friends and participating in a scavenger hunt, was instantly killed when hit by a car.

I did not know Terry nor do I know her parents and younger sister.  I won’t pretend to know their pain. I won’t assume I understand what they are going through.  But as a mother of two, a mother of her classmate and an empathetic human being, my heart is heavy in a way that I have never before experienced.

It was Saturday night when the texts started coming in, both to my phone and my daughter’s phone.  We first learned that something tragic happened.  We learned it happened to a freshman.  We learned her name.  We learned that she had passed.

Our hearts sank and my daughter began to cry and shake.  She had many questions – about Terry, about how this could happen.  I had no answers. I still have no answers.  I don’t think I ever will.

How does one explain this tragedy?  How does one make sense of this?  Some find comfort in their faith, believing that she is in a better place.  Others sit with the pain of their loss, without any justification for this unfair and unexplainable tragedy.

There was a vigil at the high school 24 hours later.  Hundreds of silent mourners held candles and then broke out into song, including Amazing Grace and Seasons of Love – two songs that will forever remind me of Terry, the girl I never knew.

Death has never been an unspoken reality in my home. My kids know that both my husband and I have each endured our own sadness at the loss of a parent, both over twenty years ago. They know of friends who have lost parents, grandparents, and other relatives.  But this — the loss of a peer — they have never experienced. This sub-topic has not been part of our discussions, yet sadly now it is.

I have sat with people personally and professionally who have lost children, spouses, siblings, grandparents and friends.  I have heard some of their stories, cried along side them and have also witnessed their strength and desire to keep living life.  The pain does not end, I know, but at some point in time a new normal emerges and with that, it hopefully includes times of joy and happiness.

On Sunday night my daughter said that there would be no learning in school on Monday.  I disagreed and let her know that I thought she would be learning more than she could learn from any lesson, textbook, or computer program – she would be learning about life.  She would be learning what it’s like to enter a building of a grieving student body, sharing in the pain and tears that accompany this terrible sadness.  She would learn what it’s like to walk through the threshold of the three classes they were in together, presumably with her heart pounding and tears in her eyes.

Terry’s family, friends, and community will forever remember her.  And as far as myself, I will also always remember Terry too, despite her being the girl I never knew.


Leadership Mistake Number 1: Resolving Conflict by Providing the Solution

When your staff is venting to you about conflicts they are having with colleagues, what do you do? Intervene and defend the other person’s actions, offer suggestions for resolution or get involved and offer assistance? That is the role of a leader right; the problem solver? If so, how is that working for you? Not so good? That’s what I thought.

Strong leaders are clear about their role and do not insert themselves into other people’s relationship challenges. They do not provide solutions, which may seem counterintuitive, rather they remain neutral and ask who, what, when, where and how questions with the strategic intent of understanding the broader scope of the aforementioned conflict.

Leaders understand that challenges are made up of contributing factors and recognize how assigning blame closes the door to people examining how they too participate in the conflict, as well as efforts for resolution. The concept is to not solve the immediate issue but lead those involved to resolve the core of the conflicts themselves. Without this, the immediate problem may be solved by a dictated solution, but the issue will only fester again. The second approach allows employees to own their responsibility in the relationship conflict as well as their efforts of working at problem solving the solutions themselves. They then own the solution.

Leaders set the cultural tone of an organization, in part, by holding themselves and their staff, to high standards of accountability and maturity. They will therefore not resolve the relationship challenges of others rather they will coach their employees in the direction of gaining clarity about the issues and ways in which they can responsibly work towards resolution. This is a far more empowering approach. Leaders promote individuality and foster trusting collegial relationships while encouraging direct communication with one another, even when the subject matter is challenging. These efforts not only lay the groundwork for a healthy work environment, they also foster professional growth and development for all members of the organization.

Now reflect on your own leadership style and how you handle conflict. Are you a problem solver or do you encourage your team to solve the problem themselves? What tone you are you setting for your organization?

March Madness

March Madness is an exciting time in my house as my husband and kids enjoy following the 64 college basketball teams (now 16) play to stay alive for another round in the NCAA tournament.  As soon as the teams were announced on Selection Sunday, bracket analysis started and the process of predicting who would advance to the next round began.  The friendly competition among my family and their peers is now in full swing and will most certainly last until April 4th when the championship game is played.

For me, one of the coolest aspects of this has been watching my kids become increasingly interested in the games with every passing year.  I get a kick out of hearing the friendly banter with each other and their friends at school, as well as with the teachers who step away from their everyday lesson format so that they can incorporate hoops into their classroom learning.

This year was different in that my pre-teen decided to initiate a bracket with his friends, something he had never done before.  He texted a few dozen kids asking if they wanted to participate – most replied yes.  He navigated questions from those who had no clue what the NCAA tournament was, taught some how to sign up on-line via Face Time and navigated pushback from a few who wanted this to be an all-boys competition.  With little contemplation, my son explained that he invited his friends to join – including girls – and that he was not interested in disinviting them.

The unintentional reminder about the benefits of me stepping-back and allowing my son the chance to take on age-appropriate tasks that foster independence and personal growth has been a positive experience.  He also shared his happiness with my lack of involvement, beyond observing and providing support.  After initially thinking, “Ouch, that hurt,” I realized that this comment represented his budding independence and I felt better.

As the NCAA tournament heats up and the excitement builds, my focus has been sidetracked to this small group of pre-teens sharing in this friendly tournament competition.  I also appreciate the reminder about watching my son do things on his own while thoroughly enjoying the way in which he has been sharing some basketball fun with his friends during this year’s March Madness.

Making Changes

December 21, 2015

When deciding that a change in your life is necessary, how do you go about making it happen?  What is involved in the effort; is it a simple or complex, time consuming or a quick fix, impacting only you or others as well?  Is it prompted by personal desire or necessity based on circumstances?  Knowing what is not working, how you would like things to be and forecasting how your decisions may play out are all key components to achieving your goal of making successful changes.

Whether deciding to take charge of your health, end a rocky marriage or close the doors on a failing multi-generational business, thought and strategy is necessary.  This aspect of the change process will increase the probability of engaging in more thoughtful and deliberate manner, even when the emotions are running high. 

Many people wind up in situations that, down the road, resemble the very thing they previously changed.  This happens when the initial change does not include consideration of existing patterns.  When not examined, understood and addressed, these patterns lay dormant within yet eventually reappear.  The success of long-term change requires these efforts otherwise the pull of people’s past patterns will creep up and likely be repeated, despite previously attempts to change.   

Gifting yourself the time to examine what changes you want to make is highly recommended.  Typically people want the changes to happen overnight but the reality, as we all know, is that it’s not always possible.  So as the year comes to a close and society tells us that it’s time to make resolutions for the new year, please take some time to think about what you might want to change.  Think about a strategy and allow yourself the necessary time to effectively plan it out.  The deadline is not 12:01 am on January 1, 2016, despite what you might think.  The time is when you have done your homework and believe that you are ready to move forward with the effort of making changes.  

Best wishes for a very happy and healthy 2016!


How do you define helpful?

October 21, 2014

Some people graciously offer their time and energy to help those in need.  Others lend their support while some go into fix-it mode with the hopes of resolving the issue.  This gesture, as well intended as it might be, is not always helpful and can sometimes contribute to the perpetuation and longevity of the problem. 

When such situations occur, I become curious about the person in need and the related details.  Could this problem have been avoided?  Is it an isolated issue or part of an ongoing pattern?  Does the individual plan on addressing this challenge head on or by soliciting help from others?  Is the problem being ignored altogether with the hope or assumption that someone else will take the initiative of resolving the situation? 

I am also curious about the person offering the help.  Is he or she rescuing someone or simply lending support during a challenging time?  Is the willingness to help communicated or is it initiated without consultation?  Is help even wanted?  Would it be offered if the person in need had the capability of resolving this by him or herself? 

If the dynamic of someone being in a position of need and another being available to provide help repeats itself, it can evolve into a pattern where, over time, each person takes on the characteristics of these respective roles.  This can be observed in families, religious organizations, the workplace, etc.  Though the scenarios may be different, the pattern is the same.  

Take a father and son pattern, for example, where the father takes it upon himself to ensure that his teenage son’s homework is always completed while the son only does his work when reminded by his father.  Unless one or both decide to alter the way in which they participate in this pattern, it will continue.  Should the father no longer remind his son about his homework, the onus will shift to his son.  The son will then have a greater opportunity of independently managing his responsibilities while the father will have, in my opinion, helped his son more than if he continued to oversee his daily assignments. 

The question as I see it is, “What does it mean to be helpful?”  There are no right or wrong answers but perhaps some are better than others.  Deciding whether or not you want to help someone in need is a personal decision and one that is best made by thinking first rather than automatically responding.  When doing this, people are more likely to have a clearer understanding as to how it is that they can be most helpful in any situation.