Dear God, please have someone show up, other than our moms.
That was my wish and my prayer the night before the Governor's Lean Transformation conference when I had visions of my friend and colleague Joe Vansykle and I presenting to a room, alone. Well, except for my mom. And Joe's mom.
Dear God, please don't have me cry before this thing even starts!
That was my wish and my prayer as I was talking to a friend before the presentation started. You know that feeling of holding your sh*t together and then you see someone that cares about you? I was doing just fine until I saw his familiar, friendly face. In that moment, I felt relaxed and safe and supported. He said, "I believe in you." And I believed him.
Dear God, please stop my knees from shaking or I am pretty sure I am going to fall down.
That was my wish and prayer as Joe opened the presentation (he was brilliant by the way!). I've done presentations before but I don't remember ever being this nervous. Or this excited. My knees were shaking so much I had to sit down. And even then I noticed the water was shaking so much in the bottle I was holding that I had to put that down too. A friend who was sitting next to me noticed and leaned over and said "Just breathe. You've got this."
Dear God, please let me say what needs to be said. Oh, and please don't let me vomit from nerves in front of all of these nice people.
That was my wish and prayer as I walked toward the stage and Joe handed me the microphone. We had spent hours pouring our hearts and souls into the workshop and wanted so badly for it to be value-added.
Dear God, thank you for that. Please give me a chance to do that again. And soon!
That was my wish and prayer as I left the conference having talked to dozens of people who were impacted by the workshop. To all of you who found me in the hallway, in the coffee line, and in the bathroom (a little awkward but totally fine!), please know that I heard you.
I heard your stories and I remember. I remember that you're in a leadership role and wish you weren't. I remember that your husband and daughter haven't talked for years. I remember that you cried when you read your 360 report from your team. I remember that you felt so depressed this morning you weren't going to come to this conference but your wife convinced you to go. I remember.
Thank you for sharing your stories with me and for letting me share my story with you.
When the leader said to me, "It's not my job to care about my team! I get paid to make sure the work gets done." I wasn't quite sure how to respond. As a coach it is my job to be curious not conclusive. The value in coaching comes from the client having a safe space to sort through their thoughts and feelings.
And so I got curious. I asked them to complete and repeat, "It's not my job to care about my team because...." Silence. More silence. And then tears. And then this:
"It's not my job to care about my team because they don't care about me."
What came next? More tears (them). More curiosity (me). We ended the coaching session as if often the case - with more questions than answers.
I wish I could say that I offered a silver bullet guaranteed to transform the team overnight. But I couldn't. There is no such thing (and for the love of everything holy if there is such a thing will you please text it to me immediately!?). Instead I offered kindness and support and recommendations for how the team could work better together.
I can't promise you an office full of rainbows and unicorns, but I can promise you this. Leaders who don't care (or pretend to not care) will never get the best from their team. And team members who don't care (or pretend to not care) will never get the best from their leader.
Caring can't be delegated to a select few on an org chart. It's up to all of us.
What an amazing honor.
I was asked to present on honesty. I was asked to talk about telling one's truth even when it's hard, especially when it's hard. And I did. I talked about telling the truth, my truth.
I talked about how I made so many mistakes when I was a new leader that years later, I called my former team to apologize.
I talked about my sister who is suffering and ill and refuses to speak to me and how that weighs on my heart every day. I talked about the irony and sadness of having one's profession devoted to helping people communicate and yet not being able to get the people you love the most to talk to you.
I shared the pain and the guilt and the gut-wrenching sadness I felt when I returned from maternity leave after our son was born. Every morning after dropping him off at daycare, I would cry. I would sit in my car and cry because I knew that just inside those daycare walls, Myles was crying too. We were crying because what we both wanted more than anything was to be together.
As the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, the crying got softer until it stopped altogether. But the pain and the guilt and the gut-wrenching sadness? They didn't have the decency to leave.
So there I was on stage, sharing truth after truth after truth. And then my time was up. I walked off the stage feeling a mixture of pride and absolute confusion - had I really gone off script that much and shared that much about my life?! Who am I right now?!
What an amazing failure
And then just like that, the pride went away. A young woman approached me in the hall after my presentation. I was expecting a conversation to ensue about work/life balance or leadership or career advice. Instead she asked a simple question. She asked a simple question and I lied.
"What's your favorite book?"
She asked, "What's your favorite book?" That's all. I've been asked this question before and had never answered honestly. I've answered with my second favorite, or third favorite, or whatever book I thought would make me seem smart or funny or both.
As a self-proclaimed nerd, I have read hundreds, if not thousands of books in my lifetime. But there is one that has stood out for me from all the rest. And yet that is never the book I give credit to being my favorite. Until now.
My favorite book? Bridges of Madison County. There. I did it. I spoke my truth in only four words. Brides. Of. Madison. County. I frickin' love that book. I love the love story - the love story that isn't a "and they lived happily ever after" kind of love story but the kind of love story that once I read it, it took up permanent residence in my soul. I must have read it a dozen times now and each time, I see it differently, and feel it differently.
But I didn't say any of those things and I wish that I had. And here's why. It's not about the book. It's about hiding our truth for fear that people will judge us, instead of loving us just the way we are.
So to the young woman in the hallway, I'm sorry. You asked a question and you deserved an honest answer. We all do.
The sneaky thing about choices rooted in fear are that they appear to be logical and practical and safe. My heart doesn't sing when I think of logical and practicality and safety. I spent years making level-headed decisions and patting myself on the back because of them, all the while my heart was getting quieter and quieter.
Today I had an incredible opportunity to present at the Inter-Agency of State Employed Women at their annual conference. If I were to make a list of all the things I was afraid of today, it would fill this blog!
Fear of not even finding the place? Check.
Fear of not finding my car after the event? Check.
Fear of falling off the stage? Check.
Fear that someone has video of me falling off the stage? Check.
Fear of bombing my presentation? Check.
Fear of looking foolish and incompetent? Check and Check.
So, you get the point. I won't bore you with the other 997 fears that rattled around in my head and in my body today. But today is a day to CELEBRATE because when the fears trickled in, I gently swept them away in a wave of faith.
As I was walking to my car after my final presentation, I took a moment and closed my eyes and said a silent prayer of gratitude. I was grateful that I got to spend an incredible day with incredible women. I was grateful that when my old friend FEAR tried to stop me from experiencing this day, I chose FAITH instead.
Those are the two words I tell myself when I’m not sure what else to do. When I’m not sure I am good enough, smart enough, strong enough. When I’m not sure I have what it takes to be the mom, wife, daughter, friend, woman I want to be. When the phone rings in the middle of the night and my mom tells me that he passed away in his sleep. When I fall to the ground after the ultrasound technician whispers that’s she’s sorry but there is no longer a heartbeat.
Life is hard. One moment you are moving through the world feeling like you have a special secret – you’re growing a baby! – and there is an app on your i-phone counting down the days until you’ll hold your son, Henry. And the next moment you’re on the floor in the doctor’s office wailing so loudly that other nurses flood the room.
Life is beautiful. One moment you are wondering how you are going to be able to live with this depth of grief, this kind of anxiety, this level of worry. And the next moment it is lifted, as if by magic, and you feel alive and free and happy.
A single breath separates those moments.
Those are the two words I am telling myself today – when I’m worried that I’ve made a huge mistake resigning from my job to follow my heart and start my own business. When I’m afraid because blue collar girls from the Midwest don’t leave good jobs with a nice salary, and a pension, and healthcare. When I’m terrified to post an article like this because what in the world will people possibly think of me?
And those are the two words I would tell my younger self. If I could meet my younger self, I would gently cup her face in my hands, look straight in her eyes and say “Darling, Just. Breathe.” And then I would wait. And we would breathe together – we would breathe together until her heart slowed down, no matter how long it took. And then I would tell her “You are enough. You always have been, and always will be, simply because you are you.” And then I would wait. I would wait for that to sink in, to the very core of her soul, no matter how long it took. And then I would kiss her forehead and send her on her way.
On her way to be the mom, wife, daughter, woman that only she can be. On her way to a life that will twist and turn and eventually find her resigning from a job to follow her heart.
What two words would you tell your younger self?