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 While I think this is an outdated leadership model, it’s the norm none the less.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.

open book on a stack of books

Books – May 2023

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

This new book caught my attention due to a 60 Minutes piece on music producer Rick Rubin. Rick produced much of the soundtrack of my youthful adventures to include Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Jay Z, Metallica, Weezer, and The Chicks. I listened to this book, and his deep voice added a soothing meditative texture to the experience. I recommend you treat this book like a daily mindfulness practice. At first, I found the book odd as it didn’t follow the traditional model of ideas, stories, and data to explain and teach a concept. It’s more a series of mindful fortunes cookie one-liners. I stopped listening. I wasn’t ready for it. A week later I began again as I walked to Orange Theory Fitness at 5:45am in the cold dark. Quiet and open, I listened again. Oh, there it was – the space to hear. I wasn’t listening in the right way as this is written more like a daily meditation book than a self-help or educational book on creativity. Each “chapter” is 2- 10 minutes. You can listen to a few nuggets of mindful wisdom – from the source of creativity, nature as a teacher and self-doubt to rules, beginner’s mind, and momentum – then contemplate them quietly and start your day more centered and receptive to create. I found the book a calm reminder that we are each creative beings in our own way, and how simple it can be if we let it be.

The Burnout Challenge:  Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs by Christian Maslach and Michael Leiter

I picked this book up due to a recommendation by a friend and senior government official who posted it was something “every manger should read”… and I agree. The opening put a new perspective on burnout with a reference to the canary and the coal mine – do you blame the bird and keep getting new canary’s or do you fix the mine? To be honest, I had a hard time getting into the book and had to put it down. Not because it wasn’t good but because it pulled up past tension of being burnout from working in an unhealthy “mine” where I was also the wrong “canary.” It also caused me to reflect on a time when I became a frog in boiling water – I hadn’t known how much the “mine” had fallen into disrepair until I left. I found the book helpful because it offers a framework for how both the organization and the person can understand and address both sides of the burnout (system and individual):  workload, control, rewards, community, fairness, and values. The book also includes solutions and assessment tools. I found the book refreshing because it called out the blame and shame that exists around burnout – that organizations and their culture often make it about the person. That someone “can’t handle it” or roll out a free online yoga class, rather than taking a clear look at the work system (structure, processes, management, culture) and being accountable to the people who work there. The book also reaffirmed my belief that work is a collaboration or promise between the company and the person, and both need to show up equally… and a person always had a choice to leave. Staying an being a miserable martyr doesn’t help anyone.

Designing You New Work Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Since emerging from the COVID work disruption (uh, transformation), nearly every week I find myself in a conversation with someone who seeks to understand “what’s next” for them and their career. The discussions run from re-sparking their current job in a new structure or rethinking their current career trajectory to contemplating a major change. It seems many folks, myself included at times, have ended up “navigating with a compass that doesn’t actually belong to us” or “we love our work but don’t like our situation.” I mentioned these chats with Heather Jelks, a leadership coach, author, and neighbor, who recommended this book, so I picked it up. The book takes a design thinking approach to understand and create a job that is more meaningful. Each chapter starts with a “dysfunctional belief” and a “reframe” of it to open yourself to new thinking and possibilities. I think it could be a useful tool to help someone think about and breakdown their job into small pieces that are easier to address than the whole. I also like how the book is focused on action as “designers build their way forward.” As the authors wrote, “You need to know when to ask more questions and when to accept the data you’ve generated and commit to a path forward.” The authors give you information; provide tools to help you think and process it personally; and then share how to act on your findings. The book can help you understand what you’re looking for conceptually—as well as how to explore staying but in a new way, accepting “good enough for now,” leaving, or graduate school for a larger jump. I especially like their 3 daily questions to notice what is working at work:  What did I learn? What did I initiate? Who did I help?  Additionally, there is a section at the end that focuses on core things that changed in the workplace due to the pandemic and tips for being more successful in the new permanent remote/hybrid work environment.

Manifest Now by Idil Ahmed

Through my work with several coaches, I’ve begun to learn about and use manifestation. I quickly loaded this Audible-only book without reading much about it. While I was looking for more of a “what is manifestation and how does it work” book, this is more of “here is how to do it with lots of phrases you can use” book. I liked how the author wrote to aspects of your life (work, relationship, health, money) in each chapter and provided starter manifestation statements for that part of your life. While I liked listening to it – hearing her read a statement and say it back in my head – I got lost a bit in the endless options of phrases, one after another. Whereas with a paper book I could mark up a statement I like and go back to it or try one on and go back and choose another. So, all in all it’s a good book to help you get started and fill your head with lots of positive thoughts.  

Happy reading.

Tree bark with green moss

April 2023 Quote: “Tending to the Emerging Story of Your Life”

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 April 2023 the quote was, “How are You Tending to the Emerging Story of Your Life.”

I regularly have conversations with folks about careers. From new graduates with informative interviews and coworkers about their next move to Veterans starting over outside of the military. I love these chats because everyone has an interesting story. I feel honored when they share their journey and trust me with their career dream. Here are a few chats I had in the past two weeks:

  • I spoke to a recent college graduate who shared near the end of our all that two men she had informative interviews with told her to “shrink herself” to get into a company. I don’t remember which expletive I shouted before I caught my composure and explained the lasting damage I’d seen from others through that approach. Finally asking, “Do you want to spend your time a tiny version of yourself?”  
  • I listened to a friend talk through the choice of job security with a demotion or opportunity of a 12-week severance package as her division was eliminated as a result of a corporate powerplay. I loved how throughout the call she came back to her value, not letting the situation diminish her expertise, gifts, and track record. Following the call, I sent her a draft vision of what I heard her define as her career future which included, “I offer bold ideas, share my passion, and get results in creative ways that are respected and recognized.”
  • I was part of lively discussion with 5 corporate executives about the concept of “take your whole self to work.” For some a resounding no, and others cautious optimism that the future of work would be more inclusive and welcoming. I shared that I think of it like an internal stereo equalizer – sometimes my total volume is on high across the board and other times I dial a part of me back for a specific situation. Post call, I reflected on what and who helped me gain more security in how much of myself I reveal…and that I stand by my dislike of this phrase, and would prefer “be yourself at work.”

Quotes that Caught My Attention

  • Time is sacred
  • Shadows are mistaken for the truth
  • Happiness, love, and peace are in inside job
  • Conscious creator
  • Be somebody’s peace – mainly yours
  • It started in your head and came of your soul
  • Let go and allow
  • Be at ease
  • Trust love, that’s pretty much it – expect maybe each more chocolate
  • I am
  • Own your greatness
  • There is more to see that what you found
  • Follow your inner wisdom
  • The fertile betwixt and between
  • Our unlimited, all-powerful potential; The inexhaustible battery of joy and bliss each of us can tap through practice
  • Abandon all plans
  • Creativity is intelligence having fun
  • You are a powerful being
  • Move in the midst of fear
  • Run to the unknown
  • My attention is my power
  • Line up together people, all of us, seek knowledge and love others
  • All of us breathe more deeply out in the unknown; maybe because we have no other choice
  • Words are spells go weave magic
  • Faith is between the dots
  • Let go gracefully
  • Go do the damn thing

Your Story Line

But our story is more than work. Often to help groups get to know each other I have them do a timeline activity. On the left side of a horizontal line “start” and on the right, “now.” Above the line folks write meaningful moments in their personal life and below the line ones that are career related. Then we all share. Each person’s story seems to have love, loss, and triumph, plus a side of surprise.

Each time I do this, there are subtle tweaks but always a sense of “yep, that’s me” when I finish. Seeing my story in such a simple way helps me reconnect with the core of who I am – not the veneer easily adjusted for a group or situation. Seeing markers for each chapter of my story – the environment, emotions, people, crisis, impact, and accomplishments – grounds me. It also fills me with gratitude. I see a story bigger than today and that is both humbling and empowering.

What I plan to start adding to this activity is a dotted line from “now” to “next.” It’s important to realize that what is written is part of you, but not all of you. Perhaps the professional story is robust but personal is thin? What if you are missing some of your favorite “characters” in your story? Maybe the memorable moments were good, but you’ve outgrown them and want more or different? What if a moment changed you to the core?

That’s the magic of our story – it’s ours. Ours to enjoy. Ours to dream. Ours to write.

trees with yellow leaves by a creek


Brene Brown shared the concept to “paint done” as a manager or leader. This means not just saying make X by Y date, but rather paint a clear picture of what success looks like for the work and at a minimum what is required to be in the finished product. Another way of looking at this concept is her phrase, “clear is kind; unclear in unkind.”

Recently, I began to apply that concept to my life, and especially my career thanks to my work with Coach Maddie. She helped me understand and use the tool of manifestation. While I knew the term, I didn’t connect to it. It’s creating a clear picture of how you want things to be in your life. You can “paint done” for your life with a thoughtful written statement, through a vision board of pictures, or with a vivid mental picture. Being clear on what you want, how you’ll feel, what you leave behind shifts your brain – “painting done” for your life enables your brain to start to work on solving for it and helps you take action to get it. And yes, action is required.

Working with Maddie I created a future state – what I would see, have, experience next in my life. It was a simple paragraph comprised of short sentences a kindergartner would write. It mentioned work, relationships, and emotions – a 360 of me. I read it before and after bed, to end and start my day. Easy peasy. Then eerie, cool, and specific things took shape that clearly connected to my vision. So many in 10 days that I began to write them all down to help process it all. It was quickly clear to me that reality starts with intentions from your heart and ideas in your head. Thinking put energy into motion. Wild! 

To help me continue to paint done with my life, I pulled together questions from books, trainings, and conversations to help me build a robust image: 

  • What is your tennis ball? What do you repeatedly chase after with joy?
  • What would fully doing this look like?
  • What impact do you want to have in/on the world?
  • What do most people come to you for?
  • What would you like to stop doing?
  • When do you feel powerful?
  • How would you like to be seen or acknowledged?
  • Where do you feel passionate, free, or energized?
  • What do you want?
  • What are you ready / not ready to change?
  • Imagine your issue is resolved, how did you get there?
  • What’s the easy way forward from here?
  • What emotion do you want more of in your life?
  • When you look around who is with you?
  • What haven’t you admitted out loud yet?
  • Who do you have to be?
  • Imagine it’s already done, tell me about it?
  • What do you notice about your body?
  • I’m allowing myself _______________.
  • Describe a day of success.
  • What’s in my way?
  • How will others feel after they engage with you and your brand?
  • Who are your partners?
  • List 6 things that would be on your calendar in the future that would excite you?
  • If you don’t, what would be missing in the world?

What I find most exciting as I envision my future defined through carefully selected words, images, and desired emotions, is that I own it. And, because I created it, I can change it. I can try my vision on, see how it fits, identify what’s missing, and modify something. It can evolve as I do.

I look forward to seeing what you think of next.

People meeting around a table with computers

Better Meetings, Better Well-Being

I recently read the U.S. Surgeon General’s first-ever report on workplace well-being. The elegantly simple but thorough report gave context, human needs, and key components for five areas: protection from harm, connection and community, work-life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunity for growth. As I scrolled through the report, I saw several common issues that come up in my coaching and organizational culture work. What came to mind in every section was how meetings touch each of the five areas, for better or worse.

Meetings stay on my mind as I spend nearly 70% of every workday in them. Additionally, I’m a facilitator who works hard to deliver meaningful experiences and outcomes when groups come together to think about and work on complex problem and big goals.

I constantly struggle to find (make) time to dig in on an issue, have open time to creatively think, or just be able to process information from one meeting before I enter the next one. I try to be mindful of my calendar – time for emails, time for recurring work, time for lunch, time to reflect after facilitating. Yet, I cannot seem to work around the sheer volume of meetings.

I attribute the spike in meetings to three things: (1) poor leader/organization communications, (2) the need for many executives to “see” their staff because they didn’t change their management approach with a remote work model – which is connected to trust, (3) the misapplication of agile scrum techniques, from a focus on productivity and work realignment to manager oversight and accountability.

Meetings & Well-Being

What began as a response to the COVID pandemic and the overnight flip to a remote work force, is now a mindless habit of meetings and more meetings. It’s time to get intentional. I think a commitment to better meetings – more intentional meetings – can support each factor of workplace well-being called out by the Surgeon General. For example:

  • Protection from harm:  Do you have meeting norms in place (and enforce them) to support open dialogue and belonging, rather than the oldest, most senior, or loudest person dominate? Do you have meetings that support different adult learning styles and neurodivergent thinkers? Are you clear about on/off camera and why? (Note: one friend set a “faceless Friday” norm and some quite hours on Friday as a why to help folks close out the week and prepare for the following one)
  • Connection and community:  Do you have dedicated time within meetings to simply “be human” and talk about life… or simply have a meeting to foster connection? Do you offer walking meetings – either in person or virtual where employees can get outside to share updates?
  • Work-life harmony: Do you have meeting-free time within your week or month for the entire team? Do you or your company constantly hold meetings 11:30-1 which prevents time to separate from work and eat lunch or take a mindful moment to recharge? Do you have a common approach to meetings (see below)?
  • Mattering at work: Do you have a habit of recognition in your meetings… how do you give kudos or provide space for team members to give gratitude to another person?
  • Opportunity for growth: As a leader, are you being transparent with your work – and sharing teachable moments about what you’re handling, why, and how—and the lessons you learned? Do you let various members of the team design and lead a meeting, or rotate facilitation for a standing meeting? Do you set aside time for “learning meetings” when an employee can spotlight new findings, helpful habits, or an interesting article or podcast?

Improve Meetings

A good meeting requires time for the host (meeting organizer) to create. If you hold meetings where you just show up cold turkey as host, it’s time to rethink things because you’re probably wasting time, losing value, and alienating your team.

  • Review your organization’s or divisions meeting’s:  How many meetings are conducted a week and a month? How are standing meetings – and what is the % of the workforce’s day? What is the cost of each meeting (e.g., each person’s hourly rate x number of attendees… if you don’t know this just use $150 per person)? What is the value of each meeting – how can you show it was worth the cost in terms of what it generated (e.g., knowledge, quality, creativity, strategy, efficiency, innovation, community)? How satisfied are attendees with the meeting, or how beneficial do they rate them (e.g., ability to do job, increased productivity, connection)? How many attendees multi-task during the meeting?
  • Set meeting standards: To get the most of meetings, consider what is needed to help attendees generate and receive value. Did you put the purpose of the meeting in the invite, and clearly articulate what will be accomplished by the end of the call/session? Did you include pertinent background information in the meeting invite? Did you attach all essential information several days before the meeting, and did you also block attendee’s calendar to read the materials, so they come prepared to engage?  Did you set the right amount of time for the team’s work and provide a realistic timed agenda in the meeting invite (note: most folks misjudge time by a deficit of 25%)? Did you send out a summary that same day with actions for whom and by when, decisions made, core topics discussed, and next steps – that can be read in 5 minutes?
  • Teach meeting design and management:  It’s important for all employees to know how to create and run a meeting – it’s both a skill and an art. Make sure folks are clear on what type of meeting is needed for the issue at hand: plan (assign roles, “define done,” set deadlines); sync (coordinate across a team on where things are in a complex integrated initiative); collaborate (work on a specific issues as a team or cross train); strategy (explore future, brainstorm); out-brief (provide status to executive/project lead); or connection (time for team to celebrate, recognize outcomes, or get together a humans)—and label them as such in the invite. Help folks understand how to put together a timed agenda that builds connection, elevates all voices, and creates outcomes. Teach basic facilitation skills to help team members create a safe space for hard conversations, as well as fun. And don’t forget how to integrate technology into meetings – music, chat, collaboration tools.

Here’s to better meetings filled with engaged staff and meaningful conversations, as well as more white space on our calendars … I feel better just thinking about it.

Emily Oehler at 6


At the time, I wasn’t sure why I did it. The idea just popped in my head. A few clicks and it was done. I posted a new Facebook profile picture of me at about 6 years old. A classic school photo that somehow captured possibility.

Each time I opened the app, that possibility – my possibility – greeted me with a pure smile. It was like looking in a mirror seeing something I’d forgotten and wanted to know again. A mix of “bright-eyed and bushy tailed,” giddiness, and fierceness. A grounded purity fueled by boundless energy, love, and curiosity. There was a welcoming openness on my face that gave me peace and cause a smile.

It wasn’t until I chatted with friend and mindfulness mentor Cole Baker-Bagwell that I made the connection. I mentioned what I did – laughing at the silliness of it. Her response, “That’s it, that’s mindfulness!” felt like a gong going off in my soul. A long, “hmmmmmmm.”

She helped me understand the connection between a thought that emerged, my attention to it, and its impact on me. That by being in the moment I could embrace what I called out for at an emotional, intuitive level. That that space between quirky idea and action is the space of mindfulness, and as I think about it, magic. Though she’s quick to explain how it’s more biology than magic. That this is the result of neural pathways in action – the connection of science and soul.

When I put the photo up I set it for 2 weeks… I’m now back to my adult identity. I happy to share though that I feel like a lost piece of me is back. Being face to face with Emily version 1.0 was refreshing. Both grounding and empowering. While I reconnected to possibility, I also basked in my accomplishments, most of which would have been too big for that little girl to imagine. From where I started to where I am – I can now more clearly see my path of serendipity. A path lined with golden acorns… love, education, intuition, work, lessons learned, joy, missteps, friendship, trepidation, and faith.

Now, reconnected with my travel buddy, I’m eager for what lies ahead on my path and excited to live up to her boldness. Now, I have to rethink what’s possible.


Two rocking chairs on the roof at sunset

March 2023 Quote: “Astonished Tomorrow”

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 March 2023 the quote was, “I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow by I don’t know what.”

For many months now, I’ve felt like I’ve been on a precipice of something big. Like there is a massive shift or unfathomable opportunity just beyond my fingertips. It’s as if my being knows it’s there – senses it – but my body cannot see it. Something is patiently waiting for me. I am oddly calm about it. Steadying myself for its arrival. Here are quotes and phrases that that caught my attention as I pause in this liminal time:

  • In the universe there are things that are known and things that are unknown – and between them, there are doors
  • Your actions are your only true belongings
  • Build bridges
  • Unrelenting kindness
  • Coming into being and passing on
  • Laughter is carbonated holiness
  • The creator and the creation rely on each other to thrive
  • Soul erosion
  • Dying with our music still inside us
  • Sit in the mess
  • What could be
  • She wasn’t created to fit in
  • Doubt can only be removed by action
  • Purpose is a renewable resource
  • “But people are oceans,” she shrugged – “you cannot know them by their surface”
  • Be in a new frequency
  • Honor your feelings
  • Age in harmony
  • How ever you see yourself as an artist, the frame is to small
  • Do no harm, take no shit
  • Keep me where the light is
  • What’s done is done, what’s not is not, and let us be at peace with both
  • Access calm as much as fire

In my intimate conversations over the past few months, I’ve found that many I know are in this liminal time with me. As if we are on a scenic overlook of our life – surveying what has been before we move forward to what is next. For whatever reason, we are not in a hurry to move. The reflective view is satisfying. We can take in life’s pivotal moments with more objectivity, savoring the magic and balancing out the bad.

I think this liminal state gives me the opportunity to settle in… or rather, merge myself. Connect the bold fire of my younger years with the wisdom of a life well lived. It’s a time where I can set down what I’ve carried that I don’t need to anymore, and probably never did to begin with. Simply, time to get intentional on me and how I’ll walk the back half of my life.

I do worry that I’ll wait here to long. The rest is refreshing. The detachment is safe.

I do worry that I’ll remain a cooling ember. That I’ll be lulled by the stillness. That the reignition won’t come.

I do worry that I’ll hesitate. That “fine” will replace “astonishing.” That I’ll miss the jump.

But then I feel the pull. I hear the whisper. I sense the energy.

The next draws near.

I must go and welcome it.  

Emily in headband with stars

February Quote: “Beautiful Little Weirdo”

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 February 2023 the quote was, “Don’t make yourself small for anyone. Be the awkward, funny, intelligent, beautiful little weirdo that you are. Don’t hold back. Weird it out.”

Throughout the month of love, I took time to focus on the heart of me—literally and figuratively. I got baseline metrics on my heart with an echocardiogram and stress test. I joined a friend for a meditation with sound bowls. I celebrated loved-one’s birthdays from dad and Godson to more than 6 friends. I texted poetry to a friend on her first day of coaching certification class. I stood in snowflakes. I headed back to Orange Theory Fitness after graduating from 2 months of physical therapy. I fed roasted peanuts to the birds and squirrels from my desk outside. I danced in the kitchen while I grabbed a snack to recharge between meetings. I said prayers and meditated each night. I attended a class on my “money mindset.” I had a co-worker join me in an online class on how to get comfortable with mistakes and failures where we drew someone in the class without looking at our paper or picking the pen off the paper – and then others guessed who we drew. While it all felt like a normal month for me, I’ll admit as I write it down, it looks a bit weird. But then again, I’ve always felt a little weird and am OK with that.

Growing up I could hang with many groups, but I never felt 100% a part of one. I had friends in each type of The Breakfast Club in high school, and still do. The theater performer in a group of academics. The only college student in a group of convenient store co-workers. The only woman in a room of gray-haired executive men. The only civilian in a room of combat veterans. The only professional communicator on a committee of double-board certified physicians. The only Gen X-er on a work team of Gen Z’s. The only contractor who showed up at a government meeting last week wearing a headband that made me look like a unicorn to celebrate someone’s impact on the team. Uh, yeah, that’s weird!

In each space, however, I felt weirdly at home. What I’ve come to realize is that my weirdness was not my weakness but my strength. It’s what helped me contribute to make something different or better come about. It’s helped me put diverse teams together. It’s helped me surround myself with unique perspectives which helped me grow. It’s what puts me in amazing situations. It’s what enabled me to do something bold (and needed) in the moment based on what I felt rather than the norm. It’s helped me forge my own path as a leader. My weirdness makes me, well me… in the business world, it’s my competitive advantage.

So, as I fell in love with my weirdness again in February, here are quotes that caught my attention:

  • No one diary entry is your life’s story
  • Success occurs within the privacy of your soul
  • Grace like a river
  • Look at the different polarities and see how they effect the peace
  • A practice of paying attention … look for what you notice and no one else sees
  • An axe forgets but the tree remembers
  • I am not different from you; I am different like you
  • Exercise child-like habits
  • Take a stand in your life
  • Creativity is free play with no rules
  • Find ones way back into one’s own heart
  • It’s your choice
  • Play, explore, and test without the connection to the results
  • Create an open space to invite it in
  • Train yourself to see the awe behind the obvious
  • Release them with the faith that more will arrive
  • I can’t change back for you—I’m a mountain
  • Limiting yourself is a true disservice
  • Amplify the difference
  • Only if there are angels in your head will you ever, possibly, see one
  • The immediate influence of the divine
  • Soft is the new hard
  • An ear has no lid
  • Divinely guided
  • Your thought is the start of all creation
  • Talent is letting ideas manifest through you
  • The world is not waiting for more of the same
  • The true instrument is you

This month, I also learned that I am drawn to weird. I am more playful around it, and those who own it in themselves. I enjoy their uniqueness as it brings about a freshness to everything around them… it keeps life interesting. So, to paraphrase the city of Austin, Texas – “keep yourself weird.”

Emily at work desk

Give Mindful Feedback

I must start this piece with a moment of gratitude for Susan Stolov, my first boss out of college and a savvy businesswoman. I still rely on so many of her business tenants 20+ years later:  

  • There is always so much work you never need to talk bad about the competition, let your work quality speak for itself
  • It’s perfectly OK to fire a client
  • How you tell a story changes everything, and it’s the research that gets you to a compelling one
  • Creativity and data can gracefully co-exist, and should
  • Unwavering attention to the details builds results
  • You can have fun at work

While these and many other mentoring moments shaped how I approach work to this day, it was how she approach feedback for which I am most grateful. I’d had jobs in high school and college, but she was the first person to give me a formal end of year review. I am fortunate she set the standard for me.

First, she set the tone. She picked a fancy restaurant in Washington, DC indicating this was a special conversation that warranted a white table cloth. In this environment we were both relaxed and we were free of work distractions in a lovely venue.

Next, she came prepared. She had notes with specifics – examples of positive impact and areas that needed attention. We talked through the feedback in a conversation at the table which made it feel more collaborative. I always felt her feedback was ground in her desire to help me be successful, as well as her business.

Then, she was vulnerable. She revealed personal experiences in her career that helped me understand that we all learn and grow along the way … that no one starts out an award-winning TV producer, sought after expert, and business owner on day one. Her vulnerability made it easier to accept the feedback with a lens of growth rather than a sense of failure.  

She moved on to the businesses. Because of how I contributed to the company’s and client’s success – my raise would be X and my bonus (based on a pre-agreed to structure) would be Z. It was all broken out on paper along with my benefits for an itemized view and grand total. The connection to the bottom line was transparent.

Finally, she ended with encouragement. Each year it varied. From a trip to the New Orleans for a news producer’s conference for training to the incentive of a spa day if I could produce 1 video without a typo. Closing with her thanks for me and a toast to our future together.

She laid out a model of mindful feedback that helped me grow in my career, but also gave me a positive connection to feedback and annual reviews. A true gift.

A few months ago, I attended a Mindful Leader Summit. One session focused on “compassionate performance reviews” – how to be more mindful when you give feedback. The session brought back memories of my past reviews, those I received and those I gave. A few of the presenter’s tips stuck with me:

  • Check your own relationship with feedback before you give it – is your body tense just thinking about a review, and if so, take action to “unwind” or process the energy such as with a walk, meditation, several deep breaths, or listen/dance to a favorite song
  • Prepare yourself to give mindful feedback by examining your motivations, recognizing the other person’s humanity, assuming positive intent, and feeling compassion
  • Be mindful of when you give feedback, so you come prepared, aren’t rushed, and are fully present with the recipient
  • Choose a setting that gives you both balance, and move from behind the big desk to be more connected with the other person

Finally, remember to “gift the other person with your attention.”

Emily with friends around a table outside

Making Adult Friendships

I grew up in two “All American” TV sitcom kind of wonderful neighborhoods where kids rode bikes and roamed free delighting in imagination driven adventures in the days before cell phones. The connections were started by proximity and forged in laughter and skinned knees. College was much the same way but with more diverse options.

I treasure these friendships and hold them in a sacred place in my heart. However, time, miles, and maturity can stretch and strain these relationships. We grow as do they.

As we age, we build new friendships through work, partners, volunteering, hobbies, church, and kids. Again, proximity plays a role. So as friends move away and life remains hectic, the bond is there but the connection changes.

Over the past few years I’ve found that while I maintain a lot of friendships – we are no longer physically close which leaves a gap. Those who I most want to spend my time with are hours or several states away. And yes, there is Facetime and texts to keep the connection. And yes, there is space, a void, that technology cannot fill.

So, although I keep my friends, I find myself wanting – and needing – new ones… but well, it sure does feel awkward to make them as an adult. I’m here to share that the friends I most recently made during/post COVID have been soul-filling and worth the funky feeling first moments.

My newest friends know a more well-rounded version of me. The me of now, not of the version of me that was in such formative years. I also feel we value our relationship more because of life perspective, and we respect our time together through candor, quick laughter, and empowering support. The relationships also formed quickly as we know time is limited and precious. I also learned that you can have friends for different reasons. I’m not looking for a new “bestie” with which to run around town, but rather people I can truly connect with on various aspects of my life. More niche relationships rather than all-around buddy.

Here are a few ways I recently made some friends as an awkward 50 year old:

Accept the offer:  During COVID lockdown I began working with a new government client. In Zoom meetings I was drawn to her positive energy, quick wit, and creative thinking. At times she said what was in my mind which rarely happens. When the work ended, she politely said, “It was nice working with you we should stay in touch.” Hmmmm. I’d heard this before and I almost blew it off as professional politeness. But instead, I thought about for a bit. Did she mean it? How weird would I look reaching out without work to talk about? Would I look desperate, as if I had no friends? But I reflected on how I felt with her and thought, “What the hell. She offered. I’d accept.” It’s been over 2 years and we talk monthly and even met up to spend a day at the Virginia Fine Art Museum in her town; looking, eating, and dreaming together. I always leave our chats refreshed and recharged.

Make the offer:  I met a younger coworker who came to me for some coaching on an issue. I reflected after each call how much I learned from her in the process. So, I asked if she’d be my mentor. After a few chats we talked about our new friendship, and settled in for deeper discussions. We talk about religion, family traditions, and recipes. There is a casualness in our conversations. Authentic and no fancy airs. Just two women appreciating their personal journey, together.

Trust the vibe:  I completed my mindfulness facilitator certification in a global program, fully online. The work was vulnerable and a bit lonely done remotely, coupled with culture, time zone, and language differences. Via Zoom, I dropped into our pre-determined small workgroup and saw her smile. Warmth and comfort. When we needed to pair up and find a class “buddy,” I pounced on her solely due to how I felt in her presence. Over a year later we talk and text regularly, share tips, listen intently, laugh hard, and hold space for each other to express what’s in our heart – the joy and hurt. She then pulled me into her network which led to a global network of like-minded kind folks.

Share your network: As the cloud of COVID descended, I texted two friends together, made an introduction about how I thought they should know each other and what they had in common, and shared something I thought they’d both like. The conversation has never stopped … continued through hundreds of texts with lots of memes, photos, article links, celebrations, and prayer requests.

These new relationships taught me that when you sense a connection — explore it! Forget the inner anxious voice of your 13-year-old self. Ignore proximity as the folks you most need might not live on your street anymore. Be open to a new type of targeted connection rather than a single end-all-be-all friend.

And most of all, remember we all need friends… and someone is in need of you.