Books – September 2023

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, MD

I intentionally got this book for vacation thanks to the recommendation by Kristen Lisanti, a mindful coach and agent for change. As a certified workplace mindfulness facilitator, I know the benefit of mindfulness – “having good control over your attention” or put another way, “when your attention is steady, so is your mind.” This book offers simple content, scientific validation, and personal practices to change your brain because “what flows through your mind sculpts your brain.”

With the continued frenetic pace of corporate America, I think it’s important for leaders (anyone at any level) to understand the science of the brain and how you can work to adjust how it works in your favor. Basically, “attention is like a spotlight, and what it illuminates streams into your mind and shapes your brain.” Rick does a great job breaking down how the brain works at various levels to show just how much of our perception, thinking, and responses are literally hardwired through evolution and brain wiring. Our brains control us through:

  • Its built in “negativity bias” that primes you for avoidance
  • How it processes stress to set  you up for fear and anger
  • Its need to chase, understand, and control the past to avoid manage change in the future
  • Its preference to find, register, store, recall and react to unpleasant experiences, even if there are more positive ones

Thinking about Maya Angelou’s quote, “when you know better, you do better,” this book will help readers move from automation to intention through a few practices (all free!) that improves the function of our three pound brain muscle.

A jarring concept for me was “nothing left out” and how when we frame someone as “us” or “they” – our brain automatically devalues anyone who is not “us.” That it takes significant attention to focus on how we are alike to override the brain. Just think about this from the lens of organization culture, system development, DEIA initiatives, politics, religion, and community development.

The science in the book also showed how simple brain improvement can be. “Oxygen is to the nervous system what gasoline is to your car.” You see, while your brain is just 2% of your body weight, it uses roughly 20% of your oxygen. So, simply taking several deep breathes you increase oxygen in your blood which revs up your brain. So, with this in mind, take a deep breath and start working on your brain.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Everyone should read this book. Better yet, every family should read this book together and talk about it. As a preacher’s kid and preacher’s sister, I am keenly aware of death – anticipated and tragic. Add to that my experience of working with the Army’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs division with families of the fallen during the war in Iraq/Afghanistan. Death comes. This book – read wonderfully and personally by the author – is an intimate look at how medicine, doctors, retirement living, and hospice look at and address dying. This is not about the moment of death but the slow demise of our body and mind as we age, and ways to think about living in that state for a longer period of time as more folks live into and beyond 80. The author shares some compelling data but it’s largely a book of family stories through his work and research as a physician. Each story gives the reader an opportunity to reflect on what they might want for themselves (have you told your loved ones or put it in writing?) or how they might need to rethink their parent’s or loved one’s aging is being handled now. While any book on dying has hard moments, the book focuses on compassion and has hope… and offers empowering choices for a critical time in all of our lives.

Adversity for Sale (Ya Gotta Believe) by Jay “Jeezy” Jenkins

I love listening to people read their autobiography. Hearing their voice share their story adds a texture and connection — and makes it more personal. The gravel and grit in Jeezy‘s (Jay Jenkins) voice adds a whole other dimension as he told his story. I had no clue about Jeezy’s drug dealer days or music when I downloaded the book. He – and “trap music” – were a total unknown. Listening to the book opened up a whole other world, to say the least. In between movie like situations as a drug dealer in Atlanta spending $60,000 or more a night in cash at a favorite strip club with endless Cristal champagne, he shared great nuggets such as “my word is my bond,” following your own path, value of loyalty, stepping away to check in with yourself before you make a rash decision, the power of a network, and how personal health impacts your success. He shared a life of juxtaposition – from the hustle, guns, and “auntie moms” to the purpose we all share to “love and learn” and please to reach out for help to prevent suicide. What’s also impressive to think about, as he mentioned at the start, is he’s the third generation from slaves. Three generations from slavery to life in the “hood” to a net worth of $15M as a multi-platinum selling musician.

Shark Heart: A Love Story by Emly Habeck

This was a spontaneous grab at the local bookstore at Sunset Beach, NC, Pelican Books. It is a small but mighty bookstore with a little bit of everything. Everyone in my family can find something anytime we go. This book was showcased as an independent pick, and how can you not grab a love story to read on the beach about newlyweds… especially when the husband transforms into a great white shark? I wasn’t sure if this was a literal or figurative transformation which enticed me even more. It’s a creative book that drew me in and kept me captivated. I don’t want to talk too much about the plot or book structure so you can experience it as I did – diving in fresh. I will share it’s about transformation at every level… and the magnitude of it all kind of sneaks up on you at the end.

The Practice of Groundedness: A Transformative Practice to Success that Feeds – Not Crushes – Your Soul by Brad Stulberg

I listened to this book while walking on the beach. The sensation of sand between my toes and the powerful waves crashing nearby added to the concept of groundedness. Brad uses stories, data, and practices to offer ways to be more mindful about how you show up as a person and leader.

He covers the principles of groundedness and how to bring them to life:  accept where you are to get where you want to go; be present so you can own your attention and energy; be patient and you’ll get there faster; embrace vulnerability to develop genuine strength and confidence; build deep community; and move your body to ground your mind.

I found his principles – and how to embody them – practical. I’ll also add that practical is anything but simple as I’ve worked on many of these over the years. I do know, however, that trying and retrying each one is well worth the benefit.

A few phrases I took away from this book:

  • If you’re lonely at the top you’re doing it wrong
  • Separate signal from noise
  • The goal is to give an honest effort
  • Productive activity not productivity
  • Habit energy
  • You don’t become what you think, you become what you do
  • You’ll be pulling weeds and planting flowers in the garden of your mind
  • Sacred practices
  • Less candy; more nourishment
  • Touching bliss
  • Don’t just do something, stand there
  • Seeing and letting go

And, I leave you with this data point:  Research shows a 10% drop in IQ due to multitasking. So “quality of your attention” matters.

Happy reading.

sunrise at the beach on the water

August 2023 Quote: Refresh

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For July 2023 my quote was simply one word:  refresh.  

Typically, the quotes for each month find me. I see something, take a photo, and when the new month starts, I scroll through them, and one causes me to linger. That’s it. For August, I didn’t look for a quote but rather set an intention. I wanted refresh at the center of my month in every way. Here are the quotes, lyrics, and phrases that that caught my attention during the month:

  • Don’t just do something, stand there
  • Sacred practices
  • Worry was the mental echo of fear
  • With gratitude, optimism is sustainable
  • Seeing and letting go… seeing and letting be
  • Your absence has gone through me like thread through a needed – everything I do is stitched with it’s color
  • Life is now
  • Don’t just follow something, advance it
  • Touching bliss
  • Habit energy
  • Focus on what matters and motivates you
  • Don’t talk about it, be about it
  • Hyper distraction
  • Productive activity not productivity
  • Less candy, more nourishment
  • A created future holds more possibility than a default future
  • Faith lived in the darkest rooms
  • Run with a relaxed mind
  • Without great solitude, no serious work is possible
  • The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper

I spent three weeks of August at the beach in a cottage we’ve rented for 20 years for our family vacation. It feels like a second home with the bonus of a massive front porch with rocking chairs that face the sunset. Obviously, a great place to focus on refresh, along with the red beach umbrella where I observe, read, and nap for hours protected from the aggressive sun I crave but fries me to a pink crisp in just a few minutes.

I tried something new for vacation this year. Two weeks working half-days and one week off. This helped me ease into vacation, be present for my family, and be fully unplugged. When the sunny and sand-filled time was over, here are the nine things I learned:

1. Words matter … checking emails on vacation means you’re at work, not on vacation. Working part time (with a precise out of office message) set clear boundaries for team, clients, and myself. This model also helped me close out a few key things important to me and be fully present on vacation.

2. Being gone and offline is good for my team. It showed me where to stay out of their way when I returned cause things progressed fine in my absence and where to mentor staff a bit more.

3. A lot of meetings don’t matter because they are simply habitual exchanges of information without intention. Working 50% made me very intentional about what I attended and attended to. I got a lot done with 70% fewer meetings.

4. Quiet time (in large chunks) generates all kinds of fresh thoughts and ideas. A mindful walk on the beach. Sunrises and sunsets. Cloud gazing. Open time = open mind.

5. Reading books – any kind – on a porch should be required each day … and every office and school should have a reading room with rocking chairs.

6. A large puzzle is an intense mindfulness practice. It’s like yoga … I can’t focus on anything else when doing one.

7. Naps are delightful… as is daily ice cream.

8. Nature is a powerful muscle relaxer.

9. Doing nothing is everything.

I also realized how hard wired I was “to do.” Upon reflection there was a bit of “habit energy” detox that occurred as I stayed offline, didn’t do the “should a” things, and was just in the present moment. I think this extended separation in a relaxing place gave me time and space to reset. To find refresh in my sense of time (less frantic, more calm). To find refresh in my choices (less must do, more here and now). To find refresh in my body (less tense energy, more big easy breaths).

After coming back to reality and working for the last week of August in the city, I found this vacation model has the lasting benefit of what I call “beach brain.” Thinking that is more breezy. Laughter that sits at the surface. Worries that wash away more quickly. A calm I carry with me.

A calm put to the test the day after getting home with a water leak in the kitchen… which led to removal of everything under the sink… which led to five repairman visits… which led to no cooking for a week… which led to removing everything out of our refrigerator/freezer to move it… which led to me be more at ease with it, rather than against it in search of control.

Ahhhh yes…. lasting refreshment of my soul.

Book in my lap

Books – August 2023

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

I picked up this book thanks to a gift card to a local bookstore that my church gave me for serving on a committee for six years. A fitting book topic as Westminster Presbyterian Church has actively sought to better understand racism and racial constructs in community together over the past several years, and how we as individuals of faith must address it. While I saw the awards earned on the cover, it was an item on the back cover that confirmed this book selection. The author graduated from Davidson College, where my father, uncle, and cousin graduated—and another uncle graduated from and became Director Emeritus of the college library.  

This is a must read book along with Caste as I think they both help to educate white folks struggling to understand, process, and address the systemic nature of racism in the United States … and both do so gently with facts and stories that gracefully and at times shockingly reframe what we thought we knew. Clint’s book showed me just how much of our past is written, taught, and shared through gapped-filled nostalgia rather than facts. He also elevated the impact of unspoken truths: an unhealthy country.

His book is a tour of key historical locations and conversations he had there. Some places I’d visited and seen very differently years ago and others new to me which I questioned how the hell did I knot know about them – especially having grown up in the south near them. The memories his grandparents shared in the Epilogue put a much needed current face to the historic locations and stories he shared.

After visiting Blandford Cemetery, which I’d never heard of, he wrote, “I am left wondering if we are all just patchworks of the stories we’ve been told. What would it take – what does it take – for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life? Even if it means having to fundamentally re-examine who you are and who your family has been? Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to accept it. Just because someone tells you a story doesn’t make the story true.”

The book shows how vulnerable we are to gap-filled history, sentimentality, and untaught facts. “This history of slavery is the history of the United States. It was not peripheral to our founding; it was central to it. It is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it. This history is in our soil, it’s in our policies, and it must, too, be in our memories.”

One phrase, “there was history, but also silence,” stopped my reading. I think so many of us are silent due to fear, awkwardness, and ignorance. We need to have brave conversations. To seek to understand, listen to learn, and grow in awareness. Only then can our history be addressed together in community for healing and progress for all.

The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga      

While the title might make you bristle the content will help you truly connect. Connect to others through service. Connect to happiness through contribution. Connect to life through courage. The book, which lays out the concepts of Adlerian psychology, is a conversation between an old philosopher and a young man. Through their discussion real life examples bring simple yet complex concepts to life. There is a lot to absorb and process in the book as much of it feels counter to today’s live big, climb the ladder, influencer driven society. The concepts are so simple, bold, and comforting. Comforting in that they are doable and come from within—we decide, we take action. The book also reframed the perspective that life happens to us—this was my past, so I’m stuck with it. The power it instills in a person is refreshing. A few quotes that caught my attention:

  • We are not living our lives to satisfy others
  • Be in use to others
  • Happiness is the feeling of contribution  
  • The courage to be normal
  • Life is a series of moments, each called now
  • Live earnestly here and now
  • You are the only one who can assign meaning to your life
  • As long as you are dancing you will get somewhere

I recommend this book if you’re stuck in the past, feeling ground down by others, need a re-set, got lost along your journey, want to be more authentic in your life, or seek a better now. Why? Because, as the author wrote, “The life that lies ahead of you is a complete blank page and there are no tracks laid for you to follow—there is no story there.”

The Memo by Minda Harts

The Memo caught my eye on LinkedIn when I saw a photo of two older white men in a diner, each holding a copy of one of Mindy’s two books. The arrived with curiosity and left as allies, or as Mindy suggests (and I love), “success partners” for brown and black women in the workplace. Reading this book via Audible made it more personal. It wasn’t just an informative book, but a personal “here’s how you do it” exchange with data, revealing stories, and practical techniques. All brought to life with razer sharp song lyrics to sear in the knowledge and vibe. Candidly, I already knew, do, and share her tips about how to get in and then move to the table. But reading it, had me question, “how did I ‘automatically’ know these things (e.g., office politics, networking, “squad” of experts and allies, executive communications, negotiating)?” and “How can I be even more intentional to this with my work community?” Another poignant part of the book is the fragmentation of brown and black women from “women” in research, and especially the pay gap. I know words matter, and “women make X% less than male counterparts” is not a single data point. Minda brough home for me how we need to use the full spectrum of financial pay discrepancies and not the white female number. I encourage any young professional to read this book as it’s 100% on point—she lays out, in clear actionable ways, the steps to the unspoken corporate advancement playbook. To my white peers in management, please read this book to understand. Because as Maya Angelo said, “when you know better you can do better.”

Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud

I enjoyed listening to this book as Henry’s enthusiastic read was motivational, but I also wish I had a hard copy to mark up and reference. It will be a go-to recommendation for me when folks ask, “what books do you recommend.” The title to me is a bit misleading in the sense of how I’ve traditionally thought about boundaries… but the book offers a fresh, 360 degree look at boundaries. Boundaries on how you think, address issues, develop teams, stay focused, and more. The books laid out a easy to digest format:  here is something that greatly impacts a leader’s impact or outcomes, here is why it’s important to focus on, here are common pitfalls, and here is a way to do it better and set up a boundary to not fall into unproductive habits or common traps—plus a real life story to help anchor it. A core phrase I walk away with is, “you’re ridiculously in charge.” Something so simple and so powerful. I think we forget as individuals just how much control we have in a system and solving for an issue. A few other nuggets that I texted to myself while walking and listening are:

  • Concentrate on what you can control and watch out for yours and other’s pessimistic thinking – it’s all about optimism
  • Be more intentional about team meetings to get more strategic and bottom line value out of them – stop the rote round robin status meetings!
  • Culture is essential, especially one grounded in trust
  • Be clear on your focus areas and accountability
  • Attend to what is vital and conduct a “time audit” to see if you are in fact spending the most time that
  • Get real about how much you lead yourself or are led by others
  • Nothing can happen without a high-performing team
  • Lead in a way that creates greatness in others
  • You create what you allow.

Happy reading.

two flamingos

July 2023 Quote: Live Loud Enough in Your Heart

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For July 2023 my quote was “live loud enough in your heart and there is no need to speak.”  

I write this blog in my mother’s home sanctuary. I sit here in her backyard at 6am among the chatter of various birds, soft chilled air, and touch of emerging light. While the day comes alive, a stillness surrounds me. I am aware of a connection to more, to a whole of which I am one piece. I welcome the gentleness of the day’s start as I think about the quotes, lyrics, and phrases that that caught my attention during the month:

  • Opportunity did not knock until I built the door
  • Allow don’t push
  • Practice creates the person who owns the thing
  • This is it, dammit
  • Your mission is waiting on you
  • Time runs out
  • Laughter is the carbonated holiness
  • Do what is vital
  • Some people are soul medicine in the way they love you, support you, and believe in you always
  • Your future self is not someone you become – it’s someone you choose to be
  • Follow your soul, it knows the way
  • What is essential is invisible to the eye
  • The meaning of life is to give live meaning

I felt July. It was a lot to feel. The emotional pendulum swung big – from pure glee laughing uncontrollably as tears rolled down my face to the devastation of death as tears rolled down my face. Both a part of a life filled with dear friends.

In between these moments I had three poignant conversations that in hindsight were my own emotional fable like the Alchemist.

First, came preparation. A friend and mindfulness coach shared how she welcomes her emotions or rather gathers them together and talks to them. She brings them into the light to see what they are teaching her rather than keep them at bay wreaking havoc. Perhaps it’s because I’m in my mother’s space, that the analogy I give you for this comes from her days as an Executive Director of a child development center. Sing it with me now, “Where is thumpkin? Where is thumpkin?”  Call each emotion out, say hello, and put it away. My friend reminded me that emotions aren’t bad. They are information to listen to.

Then came reality. Another key conversation was with a friend who is training to be a death doula, someone who helps people prepare for and transition through death. In this call we dumped all the random things going on in life on the table so to speak. We gave our crazy stories to each other, the absurdity of them all, when combined together, led me to say, “Well, this is it. Dammit.” And she offered up it was a book title for both our lives at the moment. Life unvarnished. No filters. All in the open.

Finally, came acceptance. I closed the month with a role model—a spiritual, artistic, community leader. Our intimate conversation over breakfast was tender. From medical hardships of our loved ones to creative learning to our alma mater, we each shared and listened. There was no fixing or advice. Just space to simply be in life with another person. Together. I shared how the phrase “let it go” continues to show up in my life and she shared a phrase that helps her, “let it be.”

I am grateful for these conversations and these women both in moment and especially when I learned a long-time friend and Junior League of Northern Virginia volunteer died after a nearly two-year battle with stomach cancer. All the feels came when I learned her light was gone. It was too big for me to process. Like a short circuit of my system. Then I got to know my sadness and found out joy was there… joy of her smile, joy of her compassion, joy of her network, joy of her animal videos, joy of her faith, joy of her information, joy of her flamingos, joy of her being. As I struggled with the reality of her death, I discovered that her light was not in fact gone… that it was just disbursed into everyone who felt her joy. That we all carried her light forward, and this helped shift my sadness to possibility. How can I emanate more of JJ’s joy in the world?

Funny enough, as I come to the end of this piece, “Reveille” blarred full throttle from mega speakers at the nearby Air Force Base… time to live loud through our hearts!  

Black and white photo of a family

The Legacy of Your Origin Story

This week I spoke with a potential Board member for Living Vicky, of which I’m the Board of Director’s Chairperson. In our discussion, she asked, “What drew you to this mission (free career mentoring for women in the U.S.)?” It was the first time someone asked me that question in the two years I’ve been actively involved with the non-profit… and my answer rushed out of me like carbonated water after a bounce and the cap removed.

“I grew up hearing about the legacy of women in my family.”

I went on to explain how my parents and extended family shared wonderful stories of the impact the women in my family. From their careers and cooking to community service and church. They used their voice, their gifts, their pies, their stubbornness, their hearts, their business savvy, their network, and their faith to make the lives of those around them better.

Of my paternal grandmother, I love the story of how she strong-armed the local dentists to provide free services to children in her class at school who needed help but could not afford it. No, was not an answer she accepted. My maternal grandmother chose to be a youth advisor in the church as she aged to stay connected to the next generation. She also took homemade pies to anyone for any reason, good or bad. Then there were the memories of the 14 Reynolds sisters and their brother who vacationed at Myrtle Beach in a block of beach front houses that inspired my family’s annual beach vacation, or stories of their trips together around the world.

Core to every story was connection and community. Someone was always helping someone. They also didn’t wait for permission to act. Boldness, within a Southern exterior, ran through my female ancestor’s veins.

But these stories were not the singular cause of my call to mentor and advocate for women. They were compounded by the relentless support of my parents to claim and take my space in this world, however I was called to do so. I never felt the sentiment that I was a girl and had restrictions because of it. Rather it was the opposite… that I had female superpowers like my mom, grandmothers, aunts, and others in my family. I was destined to build on their legacy and tap into their essence that ran through my veins.

Compounding this were the tangential women in my life. Spunky female teachers (Ms. Moye, Mrs. Elder, Mrs. Foster Gearing, Mrs. Edwards), Sunday School teachers (Ms. Gentry, Ms. Smith, Ms. Welborn). Bosses (Ms. Stolov, COL Scotka). Volunteers (Ms. Adler, Ms. Berry, Ms. Leecy, Ms. Hashim). So many friends too. All of whom reinforced my legacy. From the standards they set, the conversation they shared, the wisdom they offered, the feedback they gave, the contacts they provided, and the encouragement they showered on me. The connection and community of boldness reinforced throughout my journey by so many women had to be paid back, or rather paid forward.

I lived into my legacy in a variety of ways. Some public and some personal. From the roles I took and the relationships I cultivated to the causes I supported and conversations I had – each time laying a brick for others to step on and upward from. Living into my legacy with intention includes:

The older I get the more grateful I am for what I now see as my origin story and the legacy I strive to live into and build upon. I also know how lucky I am to have a positive origin story as it’s easier for me to walk my path due to a foundation of empowerment.

I also appreciate that I know that it’s a story that I have the power to change at any time. The women in my legacy made it clear that there are many paths, and I am the only person who can set mine. It’s with this knowledge that I strive to help other women reclaim their origin story or redefine their legacy.

I encourage folks to understand your origin…. claim what you want…. discard what doesn’t serve you…. and define the legacy you want to leave on your own terms. What formed your core internal story? What plays in your head from your childhood or past that is no longer true? What is the origin story of the you that is now? What is your legacy? How will you live into it?

After all, it is your own story to tell.

Executive Presence is Being Present

When you look at my resume it appears as if I had a master plan. Each job logically building on the next. A natural progression of skill and opportunity. But of all the things I’ve planned in my life, my career has not been one of them. And it took me until this week to be able to articulate how it all came about and came together.

This past Thursday I spoke on executive presence to the Guidehouse Young Professionals Group. The presentation I reviewed with the group’s leaders on Tuesday was fine, they said so. It was a holistic look at executive presence because I wanted folks to understand that executive presence wasn’t the well-spoken, charismatic white male executive stereotype. Then, the week unfolded and I ended up modifying my presentation the morning of the event.

My first clue to adjust my presentation was the feedback from the event leaders. “Fine.” They said it made sense and they’d heard some of this before. “It would be good for the group.” OK, this moment spoke to my ego. Fine and good are not what I strive for, especially with public speaking. So, I sat with their feedback.

My next clue came the next day. A former teammate reached out and asked me to speak on a panel about “consulting mindset” to small business leaders. He shared some of their struggles and asked if I would share my experiences, techniques, and lessons learned. I thought about the times where consulting seemed easy for me, where I struggled, and my core truths that served me well time and time again. When the panel ended, I came back to “fine” and “good” and sat with it in context of how I felt after the panel a bit hopped up on happy work memories.

My final clue came through a friend’s LinkedIn post. I follow a few leadership coaches for their expertise, insights into my own coaching practice, and motivation, and K.C. is one of them. I met him over a year ago at the Mindful Leader Summit. He posted about the importance of being present as a leader and pointed out the obvious:  presence is in the phrase executive presence. After I read his brief post, I felt an inner oooooohh come over me, and I sat with it.

Each time I noticed, accepted and sat with a clue. I was present, open, and curious. I didn’t try to solve what I sensed, I just kinda swirled it around like wine in a glass. Observing. Savoring. Consuming.

The next day it was all there for me. The “fine” and “good” was gone. The inspiration appeared in its place. I spent about 30 minutes adjusting my presentation and then practiced it a few times. Yes! This was the vibe I wanted. This was the story I sought to share along with the tools to bring it to life so each person could create their own executive presence. And the chat comments, emojis, and post-session emails from the 260+ attendees confirmed the value and impact of my altered presentation.

I shared with the young professions that:

  • Executive presence is about bring present
  • To have presence you need to be clear on who you are and the value you bring… and most importantly what is missing if you’re not in the room
  • To be invited to the table (job, project, team, conversation) you need to articulate your innate talents and acquired skills, so folks know when to call you or how to advocate for you
  • You can define your brand (what you want to be known for) but those who experience your thinking, words, attitude, and work determine your brand, so show up consistently in all ways
  • Every meeting, email, product, or conversation is an opportunity to be present and practice
  • It’s important to be present in your own way, with the hair, attire, and words that gives you confidence … and always remember if you can share information in a way that your mom or grandmother understand, you nailed it
  • We’re all “young” each time we learn a new skill, accept a new opportunity, or work with a new client – the uncertainty is there, the eagerness is there, and the space to start anew and practice is there

I was AUDITORILY PRESENT when I interviewed senior executives and felt the tingle of “the” soundbite to use in national news story. I was CURIOUSLY PRESENT when I stood in an operating room as globally renowned international radiologists walked me through a live procedure answering my questions so that I could translate it all to help patients make more informed decisions. I was EMOTIONALLY PRESENT when I worked with families of the fallen and took in the stories of their loved ones. I was METICIOUSLY PRESENT when I proofread material going out by federal agencies to millions of Americans to connect them to much needed services and support. I was INTERPERSONALLY PRESENT when I got to know various military generals in order to ghost write for them in such a way an employee talked to me about how great a blogger one of them was, then shared my own words back to me written under another’s name.

As I sat with it all this week, I realized that my ability to be present in the moment – with people, with my skills, with confusion, with my gut, with excitement, with my apprehension – is what created the dynamic career I’m so proud of and awe of…. as I never could have envisioned it when I was 25.

This week reminded me that while setting goals is good, setting intention for how you show up is more powerful. Being present lets you notice more, think more, connect more, and do more. It puts all of you in the moment with others and that, that is true executive presence.

June 2023 Quote: All For The Love Of You

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For June 2023 my quote was “all for the love of you.”  

I began this month with an introspective vibe for this quote. All up in my head as we introverts can be. I am grateful that I ended the month with an interpersonal perspective of these words. Here are quotes, lyics, and phrases that that caught my attention during the month:

  • Our fear is only darkness, which is the perfect test, contrast, and venue for our light
  • If not now, when?
  • Non-thinking reptilian brain
  • The mind chases while the heart grounds
  • A feisty blessing
  • Act on the knowledge you have until you have better knowledge
  • Don’t ignore the warning signs
  • Be ready to own your choices
  • Fuck comfort
  • Walk long enough and we all trade places
  • Ambition verses intention
  • You create what you allow
  • Meet what is, rather than what could be
  • What’s possible through me?
  • Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public
  • You’re ridiculously in charge
  • Relax into who I’ve always been
  • You don’t grow a plant by dipping it into dirt once a year, it needs to stay and grow roots
  • Prioritize the uniqueness that makes you you, and the invisible magnet that draws in other like-minded souls to dance in your orbit
  • The power of God powerfully moves between us unseen, only visible in the brief moments we are lighted – in those enlivened moments we know as love

There is research that shows what you think about helps you move to it—or attract it to you; perhaps it’s a bit of both. Well, this month, I felt the love.

My month kicked off with Day Breakers which I’d waited to do since learning about it during the COVID lockdown. I met a friend at the Kennedy Center’s outdoor park next to the Potomac River.  There, we joined more than 200 others, each wearing one color head to toe. I blue, she pink. Together we all looked like specs of a rainbow that has been scattered after a storm, reuniting to take full form again. We enjoyed one hour of yoga and then two hours dancing to a DJ. The yoga had me a bit worried as I hadn’t done any in 15 years. The practice was a graceful one – accepting what your body can do now rather than an aggressive stance of “do better.” At one point we came off our mats onto the grass to do a challenging pose balanced on one leg. The each person directed to put an arm around another’s shoulder. There we were, ring upon ring of people – in various colors – connected together. Steady as a collective verse wobbly alone.

The next weekend had me on the hill of my alma matter, Mary Baldwin College, for my 30th reunion. At first, the thought of my 30th reunion made me feel old, but I since realized that each decade, year, and moment of growing deserved a celebration … 30 years of a life well lived deserved gratitude for a place that transformed me. Three days with three besties sharing and laughing reminded me:

  • To cling to folks who get you
  • That our imaginations are not big enough for our potential
  • Silliness is good for the soul
  • Everyone is an artist in their own way

The weekend caused me to reflect on who I was when I was there – bold, bright eyed, and bushy tailed … who I am now, and who I want to continue to evolve into. The weekend brought me back to my core where I re-connected with spunk, creativity, confidence, wonder, forgiveness, and joy. Not that these had gone away, and more of a reminder that they are always with me and how easy it is to tap into them. Life had lodged them a bit deeper and now they were polished and prominent.

As I savored the celebration of my journey as an adult, I moved to the next weekend to celebrate the journey to come for my nephew as he graduated from high school. The energy in the room palpable. Hope and anticipation swirled in the air from the graduates and loved ones alike. Many conversations centered on “What are you doing next?” A question, I am learning with age and experience, that is dangerous and detrimental. It robs the person of the now, of the magic of being, of the possibilities they can’t imagine, and of the tiny voice in their soul that has ideas different than the norm. Perhaps at these milestone moments, the question could be “How would you like to be now?,” “What do you want to make sure the world has more of?,” or “What do you hope is in your life?” And, in case you’re wondering how we celebrated my nephew going off into his “next”… a family meal, axe throwing, and ice cream! They seemed to set the tone for life’s pending adventures.

The last weekend of the month ended at lunch with friends of 20+ years. The conversation different from chats over chips and salsas of days gone by. Work responsibilities, memory care units, and health issues – tempered with memories and long-standing jokes. Our waiter (whom we’ve followed to three restaurants) shared news about his colon cancer and successful surgery. Hugs by all.

I closed out my month with a thank you note. On Father’s Day, I received a truly empathic text from a long-time friend. She articulated things I had not and could not. I felt understood in a way that took me by surprise. Her words not only comforted but buoyed me. She didn’t try to fix anything or offer false platitudes. She acknowledged me. She saw me. She loved me. Several weeks later, I mailed her an “LGBTQILOVEU” card to close out Pride month. I expressed gratitude for her as best I could in hopes that she felt my acceptance as I had felt hers.

The month reminded me of all the ways love appears. The love of you as a person. The love of you as family. The love of you as friend. The love of you within community.

All for the love of you.

4 women hold banner with 1993 on it

Reunion Reflections

I graduated from Mary Baldwin College, a small, liberal arts women’s college in the hilly Shenandoah Valley in Staunton, VA. That school, and the experiences, education, and friends that accompanied it, shaped me in every way – for which I’ll be eternally grateful. This past weekend, I once again stood on top of the hill. Looking out and within. Any time I’m on that hill, I feel grounded to the best version of me… my feet planted, connected to the roots of the legacy of women before and after me. There is a power current there that I immediately tap into.

The visit this weekend brought additional energy, that of my 30th class reunion. Here is what I took away from the weekend…

  • EMBRACE YOUR EXPERIENCES:  At first, my 30th reunion made me feel old, but I since realized that each decade, year, and moment of growth deserved a celebration … 30 years of a life well lived deserved gratitude for a place that transformed me
  • CLING TO FOLKS WHO “GET” YOU:  Friends who fully embrace you – your talents, your short comings, your fears, your goals, your quicks – are life altering magical unicorns you should spend as much time with as possible; the laugher alone is worth it
  • OUR IMAGINATIONS ARE NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR OUR POTENTIAL: My 21-year-old self could not envision all that lay ahead, it was too big for the container I put myself in … it’s important to get friendly with being uncomfortable in order to grow, and to surround yourself with folks who think big(ger) for you and with you
  • FUNCTIONAL FITNESS EQUALS FUN:  The Mary Baldwin University campus is on a massive hill that is literally covered with steps, and being able to easily go up/down multiple times a day made sure I didn’t miss any of the fun events or show up sweaty and panting
  • SILLINESS IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL: Just do the thing. Be present and give it all a try. You’ll laugh about it either way
  • EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST: This could be my liberal arts bias coming out, but 1.5 hours in a class painting resulted in 20 unique and equally fantastic paintings, and calmer people (pick up those crayons, your inner 5-year-old will thank you)
  • GIVE BACK: From mentoring, time, or money – everyone can give to help make their community better
  • VACATION MEANS TO NOT WORK: Take the time off to play, fully offline – it’s good for your soul

Finally, I reconfirmed my belief that WOMEN’S COLLEGE ALUMNEA ARE THE BEST. We are connected by a golden thread comprised of a passion for learning, thoughtful encouragement, passionate leadership, a collaborative spirit, and the ability to inject fun into anything. 

Go Fighting Squirrels!

May 2023 Quote: Meraki!

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For May 2023 it was a word, not a quote that caught my attention, meraki.

Meraki means “doing something with soul, creativity, or love – when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing.” Here are quotes, lyics, and phrases that that caught my attention during the month:

  • You are the only one who can assign meaning to your life
  • Happiness is the feeling of contribution
  • Life is a series of moments, each called now
  • Allow the road ahead of you to speak louder than the one behind you
  • It was a real God-wink
  • A storm in a teacup
  • Unpack your backage and hide it in the attic
  • Lets dance in earnest in the moments of the here and now
  • We pray, practice, and invite in all the transformation we’ve been craving
  • Get out of your head
  • What does this situation call for?
  • I believe in kindness; also in mischief; also in singing—especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed
  • Don’t fight back, fight forward
  • We are not living our lives to satisfy others
  • We are all different and all equal
  • They need to get unstuck
  • Be in use to others
  • The courage to be normal
  • Your dreams have plans for you
  • Stand in your light
  • Collude for good
  • A little nonsense now and then is enjoyed by the wisest men
  • Patience is a form of faith
  • The life ahead of you is a blank page – and there are no tracks that have been laid for you to follow—there is no story there
  • As long as you are dancing, you will get somewhere
  • I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me and not terrify me

More and more, I feel so much around me is increasingly serious, to the point of overwhelming paralysis. Friends face severe, complex, life-threatening illnesses. The loss of women’s health rights and targeted aggressions against various minority groups. Gun violence now so normalized that the death of school children is not the lead news story. National elected officials more focused on working against something or someone than working for the country, gone is common sense and collaboration. War around the word.

As more darkness seems to take hold, I feel the call to bring more light into any corner I can. More soul. More creativity. More love. More meraki.

My hope is that with more meraki I can shore up those in need, make dents in large bureaucratic issues, and help improve the community closest to me. Perhaps my meraki will spark meraki in others, creating a wave of connection built through laughter, meals, hugs, cards, art, kindness, conversation, and compassion.

As I snuck in meraki, it’s been fun to see it reverberate. Positive begets positivity. Meraki showed up when a teammate said, “I’m grateful because no one’s invested in my leadership before.” Meraki generated an invitation to join an upcoming Eid celebration. Meraki caused women to share their appreciation for a leader, earning her a significant award. Merekai brought connection during a 10 minute call to a college friend struggling. Meraki resulted in leaders tossing around a fluffy, stuffed acorn in laughter at a planning session. Meraki inspired me to paint my parent’s laundry room after 40 years. Meraki broke down the stigma of a layoff when executive women spoke candidly to a small group of peers. Meraki led to prayers said and cards sent to those I know and don’t suffering from loss and heartbreak. Meraki led me to donate to a black, female candidate. Meraki caused a discussion on shoes at work leading me to bust out my glittery Converse high tops for the offsite. Meraki showed up as enthusiastic emails from my high school English teacher.

More meraki!

statue of stone face on the ground in grass

I Nearly Broke My Introvert

Whenever I share that I’m an introvert people are shocked. “But you easily talk in meetings.” “But you have such a great network.” “But you facilitate huge offsites.” I typically respond with a smile and share, “I’m an introvert raised by a flaming extroverted mother, so I know how to fake it.”

Many confuse introvert and shy… and I am anything but shy. A common definition of introvert is “a person who prefers calm environments, limits social engagements, or embraces greater than average preference for solitude.” I prefer a comparison definition that an introvert thinks in their head and loses energy in large groups; whereas extroverts think with their mouth and get charged up with each interpersonal interaction.

I can remember growing up and watching my parents after a big church function or wedding reception. Dad would go sit quietly to watch TV or read and might recall a deep conversation with 1-2 people at the event. Mom on the other hand was like Tigger, vibrant and vibrating, recounting chat after chat after chat she had with an endless number of people. Introvert. Extrovert.

I am grateful that in my first managerial role, members of my team took me aside and gave me feedback. They shared they were lost in meetings and couldn’t understand where my answers to the client came from. I was surprised as I thought they were all obvious answers. I explained how I collected things – nuggets of information, ideas, images – and constantly processed them in my head. What I realized from the discussion is that others didn’t do this, they needed to talk it out.

Introverted Leadership

As I moved up the corporate ladder, I also noticed what leader-type got recognized and rewarded: the verbal one. While I think this is an outdated leadership model, it’s the norm none the less. Through experience, I came to believe that if you’re at the table, you better be heard so you’re invited back… verbal participation = engaged participant.

But I’ve learned that working in an extroverted style for sustained periods of time has two big side effects. First, my extroverting and others, pushes out the space for introverts’ ideas that typically require more processing time. Second, I cannot sustain the cultural expectation of the extroverted, gregarious leader without significant recharge time which is nearly impossible with the increased number of online meetings through the pandemic and into a long-term hybrid work model.

Reset Tips

To help re-balance I:

  • Block time after complex meetings and facilitation to quietly process
  • Check with teammates to see if canceling a meeting would help them or share I need some down time
  • Include quite time in strategy or planning sessions to help introverts (and myself) catch our breath and formulate our thoughts
  • Have standing one-on-one meetings with other introverts with whom I have a deep connection and can simply be with, rather than host for
  • Do body scan meditation before a “big” meeting to see what I’m carrying in with me, how tense I am, or how frantic I feel and settle in to a calmer state
  • Seek opportunities for mindfulness such as offer for folks to take a few breaths before a meeting starts or share a joy from the week… or take a mindful walk after a complex week or have a Saturday of silence

So, to all my peer introverts, I feel you.

So, to all my extroverted peers – I feel you.

Here’s to being together in more solitude.