21 days (plus 344 more)

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If you read my last post, you might think I'm an avid runner. (But now you're questioning it because there is a cake as the lead photo so who knows....) You might even scoff because don't we all love those posts that show up in our social media feed-- 

Just ran 10 miles today. #startsmall

Or

Just finished a small jog today in this beautiful spring weather. #15milesofblessings

#kickme (and a handful of you might laugh at this inside joke quote)

Ok, I get it. So let me go back about a year ago when I first started running again.

I had always heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit and that if you evaluate your life and see an area that needs improvement, give it 21 days of solid commitment and it becomes a habit. 

I literally must be much slower than everyone else in life because when it came to running, that 21 day rule didn't apply-- I didn't want to keep running. Running had always been something I would do routinely.... for a few months and then, nothing. It was either too hot or too cold. How about 6 months later? Still didn't want to run. Too hot or too early in the morning or too late in the evening. This is not enjoyable-- let's go do something to intentionally wind myself and pant like a dog?! 

But then one year later of disciplined/forced habit formation-- Ahhhh. Hey, maybe this is enjoyable. Look at my recovery time, much better. One year later, and running is now a part of my weekly schedule. I look forward to my jogs and spend much of that time thinking (when the neighborhood dogs aren't chasing me during such time I am looking like a goof sweet talking 15 pound jaws of death). Running isn't just a habit-- it's a vital part of my week. 

During one such a run, I started thinking about this one year concept-- and started asking myself what were some things that were hard, I did them for a year, and they were either habits or truly worth every second in the end. I'm nearing one year of writing down 3 points of gratitude each day-- now a habit and now something I crave to start my day with. I truly have a foggy, ungrateful mindset when I don't. One year of doing a Jen Wilkin Bible study. She requires you to do a lot of homework, thinking, and question asking. It's hard work to fit it in each day. Totally worth it-- I think I've learned more in a year about the Bible by studying this way. And sad to say, these were pain points in my day at first-- an extra thing to do. It took a year-- a year of complaining internally, a year of learning how to fit things in the day. But now they are habits and I notice a difference when I do not have these moments built into my day. 

So I'm starting to think about habits in yearly terms. I wonder if this might be a more helpful approach as young professionals as we focus on habit creation in our lives? Listen, you're probably much quicker in life than I am so maybe it's a 6 month criteria. Because sometimes we need some time to struggle, force the habit, still hate it, force it again, and then eventually, maybe after months down the road, see the fruit of the effort. 

What is a habit you are working on forming? Can you commit a year to this? 

Heads Up (but not always)

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I went on a run this morning, an April morning in Kentucky. If you don't live here, you might imagine a chilly spring morning, birds chirping, and the sun peaking through the sky, about to warm up the day of blossoms and green grass. 

It was 34 degrees and snowing, wind blowing flurries all around. Not your ideal Kentucky spring morning. 

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As I first started running, the bitter cold smacked me in the face along with the snow. I then tucked my face down to avoid that cold wintery feeling but then shortly started to see light reflections around me as folks were leaving in their vehicles. It was then that I realized I needed to look back up to avoid getting hit by a car. But as soon as I did that, those little snow flakes started smacking me in the face again. As the run continued, I realized it was going to have to be a balance of both, getting hit in the face by the wintery mix while looking up for the big stuff-- cars in and out-- while also tucking back down to stay focused and steady on my run.

It made me think how this was very much the nature of a work day for young professionals. The combination of keeping our heads up to see the big stuff coming that we aren't prepared for while also keeping our heads down to do the work and staying focused. 

I've had a few mentors ask questions along the line of thinking before-- what are you doing to accomplish your work right here and now? And at the same time, what are you doing to develop your future plans, take a look at the big things headed your way?

And so today, after my wintery April run, I hope this can remind us all to consider these questions. Maybe just imagine yourself on a run in Kentucky in April when it's snowing to illustrate the scenario. (Insert palm-to-face emoji) 

Realists and Idealists and Painters

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We love the good ol'-- is the glass half empty or half full. By one's choice, we can determine if he/she is an optimist or pessimist. And then those people get labeled "idealists" and "realists". And the idealists live in utopia, out of touch with the hard realities of life while the realists get the core of what's going on and remind us all to forget change and relish in negativity. I've seen where these labels, in the workplace and beyond, can create a false illustration of the mindset of people, especially those who get labeled as idealists. (Shameless self identification here.) 

Positivity in the workplace is often dubbed as an ideally-minded person, someone who smiles a lot and keep the mood up in the room, and always points out the positive side of the scenario. And the realists often are dubbed as the skeptics in the back of the room ready to raise a hand to forecast all of the missing links, all that can go wrong. 

And while some of these attributes may be true, for better or for worst, this idealist vs. realist mindset, that you are one or the other, is not very helpful. What is also not helpful for young professionals is to think we then have to take on this character in the workplace (and beyond) based on what group we identify with.

I've seen some leaders model great examples of being visionary BECAUSE of being in touch with the reality of circumstances AND painting a picture or getting us all to paint a picture of "what if". They paint the core of what's going on, describing it in a way that you know-- they know what's up here. And then they lead us to re-create and re-paint the situation at hand. Sometimes not smiling and sometimes at the risk of the mood in the room. 

What if young professionals started to appreciate these painters for the display of both idealism and realism? To want to become like these great leaders? As people who find our place in the middle of these two-- who don't dub the idealists as out of touch or the realist as downers. 

This is also what I've seen from these leaders:

1. It takes discipline: to think and to feel and see. Instead of engulfing in emotions that sway us in extremes, these people are disciplined to think AND feel, followed by painting the picture of "what if". It's easier to spiral in various directions; it takes discipline to keep steady. 

2. They live lives in touch with the core of the work: No wonder the picture can be painted so well, it's because they are living it. Let's give some love to our skeptics-- no wonder that is the sentiment because we often have people in positions of power or authority who make no effort to understand the core of what they are doing. 

3. Authenticity: This one is oh-so key. The words they use, the tone they speak with, the attitude... it all bears weight in carrying this painters message. 

 

Girl, get your work clothes on.

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There is a book out now called "Girl, wash your face". Honestly, I have no clue what it's about except for that fact that everyone in my Instagram is posting about it. Every time I see a post, I actually think of a totally unrelated statement from my parents... (and can hear them saying this in my head_

Girl, get your work clothes on.

Waking up the morning, getting home from school, right after church, you name it-- It was time for our work clothes. For farm families, there is always an animal or plant to care for, it seems. We had show animals like pigs, goats, and sheep so there was ALWAYS a little diva of an animal named Fluffy or Rosie that needed a bath, special skin oil, or a portion of their curated meal provided. Seriously. See why I said divas? But sometimes the agenda included a calf needing to be pulled, a neighbors driveway needing to be cleared of the snow, or hay to be hauled in the hot sun.

When we put on our boots and work clothes, we were not only prepared for the day ahead practically but our minds were, as well. I knew my life was not about sitting around waiting for someone else to do the job. My Dad told me so a couple of times, too. (Ha-- see also Farmer Joe's form of grounding children. Brillant.)

Many of us don't wear boots, jeans, and t-shirts with pockets to work. And many of us do. No matter what we wear to work, young professionals can visualize the clothing and footwear as all work clothes. And I mean REAL work clothes. Let's not be afraid to literally get our hands dirty. Getting dressed in the morning, do we put on clothes with full intent to do some work? I wonder what my Dad would define as work and should probably ask him but I imagine it would go something like...

When you might not want to do something and you do it any way. And you might sweat or get dirty doing it. 

I once heard a Chick Fil A Executive speak at an event and share that when doing visits at their stores, the first thing the E-Suite team does when arriving in the parking lot is get out and pick up trash. I imagine they are all professionally dressed. But these folks view their clothing as true work attire. 

I often heard this growing up- "When you do a job you love, you never work a day in your life." The intent is good but the phrase in and of itself can leave  many young professionals questioning if their jobs are worth it because sometimes they do have to umm... work. I'm assuming the Exec. team of Chick Fil A wouldn't say that picking up trash at locations is the most exciting, life-giving part of their days. And sometimes, some knucklehead leaves chewing gum on the ground that he/she just picked up. Not glamorous. But it needs to be done and it is our job to do so. 

I think there is an element of work as young professionals where we must learn to delegate and ask that question of-- should I be the one doing this? But our generation in the marketplace has been fed an incorrect version of this. We can love our jobs and it can feel like work-- both of those at the same time. Putting on the proper work clothes can help us frame this up better each day. 

When we show up with literal and figurative work boots and work clothes, it's our job. And we're ready to do it. 

Water bottles and the 'Do you know who I am?' syndrome

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I recently had a plane ride in which a 7th grade science test question played out. The gal on the end of my row had a water bottle, went to open her water bottle in the air that had a straw opening, and kapoosh-- the water went right up in the air and landed on the head of the gentleman in front of us. 

The test question would have read something like:

Upon reaching full altitude during a plane ride, a water bottle with trapped water in a straw, trapped at ground level, will do the following once opened:

A) remain in the straw

B) dribble out of the straw

C) fly through the air and land on the head of a business man who can't laugh to save his life

Ok.... So hint, hint.... the answer was C. The gal next to me apologized to the man as soon as it happened, asked the flight attendant for some napkins, offered those napkins to him, and apologized yet again. This man couldn't let it go. "Do you know who I am?" radiated all around or maybe it was the water glistening off his hair with those airplane lights shining above. He was angry and there was nothing that could change that for this malicious person behind him DARE engage in such hooligan behavior. 

Sometimes we need to laugh. And get over ourselves. At the least, let someone off the hook for a complete and total accident that really did no harm. (Maybe he felt his hair was on point that day and was upset about it?)

Let us not be young professionals without a sense of humor, an ability to let people off the hook, and any sense of the what I like to call the "do you know who I am?" syndrome. Because no, no one really does most times nor do they care. Also, let us be young professionals with strawless water bottles on airplane rides. Except maybe not, because this one provided a good laugh for everyone in our section except that poor victim. 

Together

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Last week, I was able to be a part of a service project at my company's HQ. We partnered with Cheerodicals to pack delightful green boxes of fun and learning for children who are undergoing treatment at a children's hospital in St. Louis, MO. 

Prior to this service project, we had several wonderful sessions-- guest speakers, panel discussions, forward-looking presentations. We had intentional networking time to kick off the day. It was a well-planned agenda to a T.

What was unique about this gathering was that it was for the women in our company. Actually, the first time we had held a summit like this and the time frame was a couple of days. When it came time for the to wrap up the first day, a woman took the stage to share a story about her own son had been in a children's hospital for an accident. And how we all had the great privilege to pack a small box of fun for children who are facing battles in life at a nearby children's hospital. Immediately I saw women bounce out of their seats, cheerfully on to the next segment of the afternoon, all-in. Those boxes were packed with joy and speed, as we knew that leadership meant squat if we don't have our why behind what we do-- serving others for the betterment of lives. And in a small way, this project allowed us to package a small bit of betterment into the lives of families just a few miles away facing trials in their lives. 

Service projects are not for photo shoot opportunities. They are not meant for just those warm and fuzzy sentiments. This was about doing something real, tangible that meant something really significant for the people in the room. There was synergy, and relationships blossomed before our eyes. Gather people together for a meaningful project and they come alive.

I stepped away to go live on Instagram for this project and it was quite amazing. Strangers talking to strangers for the first time that day and women from all across North America finding commonality in something that made our hearts beat.

For young professionals leading in the marketplace and beyond, consider implementing something like this for your next team meeting or staff gathering. I would dare say that in 25 years when everyone has long forgotten about any workshop or panel session, we will all remember preparing those boxes of cheer for the hospital. What a meaningful project to be a part of. 

De{serve}

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I often fall into the trap of use of the word "deserve". Maybe more so mentally using the word in my thoughts but don't we love that word? We love to use phrases like...

I deserve better. I worked hard for this, I deserve it. You deserve someone who appreciates you.

Maybe it's something I'd like to have or be a part of or maybe it's something I currently do have. So spoken more for a protective sense of the word. But anytime I catch myself using the word deserve, I then try to mentally remind myself to go back to my 5th grade English class. We would often dissect sentences to show where the noun, adjectives, etc. were located to better understand the use of each individual word. And the goal was to also understand the true meaning of words or correct mistakes we made in using certain words in a sentence. 

So using that apparently old-school learning technique, I remind myself that I need to do a little word revision. By taking off the "de", I can quickly remind myself of the true goal-- to serve and not be served. Think I deserve more recognition for doing something? Serve, not deserve. Think I deserve some time away to relax? Serve, not deserve. 

As young professionals, a serving, not deserving, mindset will move our companies, organizations, and communities toward progress, get the attention off ourselves, and create an environment in which the concern for the "credit" is of less focus than the meaningful work being done. This is not to say that company culture that rewards and appreciates quality performance is not important. It is to say that in our circle of influence each and every day, a quick word dissection and revision can make a big impact on our outlooks. 

True Influence and the Follower Factory

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A recent article by the New York Times, The Follower Factory, exposes what is going on in the world of social media. In short, people can buy followers for nearly a penny per account to portray that they have more influence. I encourage you to read the article here. 

The details will make you cringe. It did for me. And also quite thankful the extent in which the NYT explained what's going on in the virtual world. 

Some key messages to encourage you in your week:

1. Followers

Every account is known as a follower and in this case, not even REAL accounts of REAL people that truly believe in your platform or care to know you more. My tiff is in the use of the word follower over and over. People and their social media accounts are not yours or mine or anyone's possession and more so, one we can buy to portray a certain image. Yuck. True influence has nothing to do with designated followers. True influence is synergy and humility and it's all done with conviction. No wonder it is all fake-- this model doesn't work. 

2. Pennies

For the "cost of a penny per follower".... we hear this throughout the article. Investing into people to have influence in culture and society costs-- it certainly costs more than a penny per person. To influence means sacrificing time and money and sleep and self-interest for the sake of others-- and to do so for a far greater benefit than self. People are not followers that can be bought, especially by a penny per person. I'll use it again- yuck. 

3. ROI

The more followers they have, the more money they make. To purchase followers for a penny per person and then to make loads of money off of them-- yuck. The challenge here is that many of us will never "buy" followers on social media but do we become something else or drop a conviction to get the ROI? It is so tempting to view social media in this way. 

This article gives us a glimpse into true influence while exposing the flaws of this model. Influence is not about mass, fake followers purchased with a penny to create magnified ROI for on person. True influence looks like:

- A manager who worked a weekend event so his/her employees could be at home with their children

- A parent in the middle of the night who loses sleep so a sick toddler can rest

- A pastor who sacrifices time away from family to be with a family in need 

Influence invests, costs, and is real. 

Agape

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I like to make it a habit to write on Monday mornings for this blog. It's really more for the discipline of sitting down to write what I'm learning and what someone else may find value in. I try to jot down topics and ideas throughout the week, schedule it as a task on Things for Mondays mornings while enjoying that cup of coffee early in the morning to kick off the day and week.

I skipped out last week. I had jotted down that "agape love" was to be the topic, the Monday before Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday. What better week to highlight that love is enduring, unconditional, persists through suffering, and doesn't seek selfishness. I had considered practical applications for young professionals like myself regarding agape love-- selfless work ethic, lack of concern for the "credit", and fostering unity in the workplace. 

Sunday evening, Feb. 13th, my aunt passed away after over two years of a battle with cancer. My uncle had passed away only months before from over a year battle with cancer, as well. My Dad is one of fourteen children and most would assume that a family this size has grown not only in numbers but also in distance and therefore distant in connectivity. Quite the contrary. This family is a through thick and thin type group. You might be ticked off at the other but someone calls at 2 am with a flat tire. No hesitation, you leave to help. So when two of the siblings went to battle with cancer, they all went to battle with cancer. 

What I was going to write about on Monday morning just didn't happen. Not only is a blog not the priority after losing a loved one-- I didn't need to write it down to actualize it. I saw faithfulness in the form of day by day by day commitment to another, meals prepared, tears cried, miles driven to and from appointments. I saw love amidst suffering and pain. 

The beauty of Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday landing on the same day was a demonstration that love and suffering are a pair. Love is not an emotion or a whim or anything along the line of the modern day thinking of "all about me and my feelings." 

Agape love-- unconditional love of the Father displayed by Christ on a cross. What a radical juxtaposition. Ultimate sacrifice; life-giving. Love and truth; Mercy and grace; suffering and hope. When you're in the presence of this love, it is hard to even write on it. 

So no practical application here. Some days it's good to sit on something. 

The reality is...

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I was wide-eyed awake at 1:30 am this morning. I had a dream that our girls were trying to 'skydive' from the balcony of our house and I was trying to run, in the middle of the night, to catch them. Naturally, after waking up to this odd dream (100% random) I couldn't go back to sleep. My dream felt so real, even though I knew both of my girls were sleeping upstairs (and yes, I checked their monitors to be certain).

Perception and Reality-- it's interesting how the first impacts the latter so often. Take this dream for instance-- not real, not remotely real, yet it felt that way for a few hours. This got me thinking-- what if I started acting on those feelings from that dream? What if I started viewing the girls in light of that dream, wrapping them up in bubble wrap because they can't be trusted in the middle of the night from shenanigans? Forcing them to sleep within eyeshot just in case? And then take it a step farther- what if I viewed them and treated them accordingly for the rest of their lives, all because of one perception of their judgement? 

How often do we let our feelings and ideas and mischaracterizations guide us in operating as if it is the truth, most especially about people? I know I'm guilty.

Perceiving someone as rude and therefore he/she is rude. Perceiving someone as cold or harsh therefore he/she is cold and harsh. We stamp people with labels and then hold fast to that label for a lifetime, sometimes. 

Some people would argue-- 'But this is intuition, I'm a great judge of people'. Or-- 'I had a gut feeling so I acted on it.' I think there are times when intuition is in play-- especially as a parent, I see this. Often, when we advocate for others and their needs, we do have an intuitive ability to read the situation especially for someone in the midst of struggle. 

But oh-so-often, this becomes a statement to justify our feelings that are dwelled on or acted upon, turning perception, warped or maybe justifiably, into an operating truth. 

While we shouldn't operate as nieve, foolish individuals who can't see a pattern that negatively impacts people, we should filter thoughts, ideas, and feelings through lenses of empathy, asking ourselves 1) where our perceptions might be incorrect or not real 2) what world is this person coming from. Not a literal part of the world, although this might be true, what is this person's framework for life? For today? 

"That is, when we judge the actions of others, we should put ourselves in their place, trying to understand how they see themselves and their world. And when we judge ourselves, we should see ourselves as others see us, overcoming the ease with which we find extenuating circumstances for ourselves." -Riso/Hudson (Personality Types) 

What I appreciate about this statement is that it brings into reality that we are constantly judging or determining more about those around us. (Don't view "judging" in the same way we use this word in society.) When we start to operate in this manner-- a manner of grace and a filter for feelings-- I have found, that relationships flourish tenfold, that we let people off the hook, our own hooks of perception. (Also the direction of this post was less self-reflective but that last line-- 'overcoming the ease with which we find extenuating circumstances for ourselves. Put a pin in that.)

For young professionals, this could be a game changer in the workplace, allowing for both empathy and accountability. A balancing act, not something that naturally happens, but with intentionality, we can choose to filter our perceptions. 

Also, side note: We will continue to study this idea-- the Enneagram-- on the Sharpen podcast in the coming months. Stay tuned! 

Pick up rocks

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As a child, I would hear other kids at school talk about getting grounded as a form of discipline from their parents. Grounded? I wondered what this meant and entailed. So I asked one day.

You know, when your parents make you come home after school and sit in your room without getting to watch tv and maybe do chores and stuff.

What a dream! You see, this farmer's daughter has never been grounded before. Now, don't interpret as never needing discipline. For me, my Dad would give me a 5 gallon bucket and send me out to the farm, walking the fields to pick up rocks-- Big or small, put them in the bucket, take the bucket to a ditch, pour the rocks out there, and start all over. Actually, now that I think of it, picking up rocks is the most natural form of getting grounded... literally. So yes, he grounded me with this practice. 

It was an easy concept that would make a teenager do anything but get in trouble (and also ticked off to no end because who in the world gets told to pick up rocks that are in a field?!? Walk in a field and you'll see what I mean.). Now I can admit: It was character building, for sure, and it also showed me the need for those rocks to keep the ditch from washing out. I hated it and I learned a lot from picking up rocks. He also had a few other tricks up his sleeve like this for kiddos that didn't want to listen to a parent. #bestalternativestogrounding would have been his hashtag for my brother and I. Also: #isyourbuckethalffullorhalfempty #allnaturalgrounding (Ok, I'll stop humoring myself.)

Fast forward 20 years later and I find myself picking up rocks still. Literally, when I plant test plots with farmers, I try to pick up rocks in their tilled fields to keep them from messing up equipment. I do get looks but I think they appreciate it-- and now they know why. Ha! But I also view the small things in our work, the small things we sometimes don't want to do as 'picking up rocks'. It is important to our work, serving those in our workplace, and making progress to keep things from coming washing out below our feet, just like a ditch with no rocks to keep its banks stable. 

I see so many bloggers and writers talk about outsourcing the work you don't like to do-- you know, do the 'important work'. I do agree you can get caught up in things that do deter from your role and work at hand and there are some things to outsource or delegate. I also agree that as someone changes in roles of leadership and as life changes as a whole, you begin to see tasks that need to be transitioned to someone else to do the new work at hand. 

With that said, I think the message young professionals need to hear is to pick up the rocks. To do the small and maybe sometimes not so glamorous work at hand. And unlike the younger version of myself, to do so with joy and gratitude, as this is the work that is important. It is. And it matters to people. Keep the banks stable, do the work we've been given with diligence. 

Stairs in the City

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I recently heard an analogy around obstacles in the workplace-- likened to stairs in the city when you are on crutches. You all of a sudden notice all of the stairs-- a couple to get into the front door, a bunch to get to the second floor, and even breaks in pavement that are now more difficult in your walk. If you aren't on crutches, you don't notice or think about these stairs unless you're winded from tackling several to get on your way. Think about a large city, too-- all of the stairs that folks go up and down all day long without thought-- while someone on crutches must plan and calculate every move, while also facing the surprise of stairs that they couldn't possibly have planned for in advance. 

I hesitated to write a post on momhood, seeing that I'm only 4 years into it. But the thing about challenges and obstacles is that we sometimes forget what it felt like or what we had to think about so often.... or we even harden our minds and hearts to develop somewhat of a "martyr" mentality-- as in, "I made it through that and it only made me stronger, so can you." I've found that mindset in the workplace and beyond does no one any good, and forgetting the past is a blessing and curse for me, so I write. And also as I write, I know that I write from a standpoint of privilege on this subject. 

Almost 4 years ago, my husband and I found out we were expecting our first. Excited as we were, there was also uncertainty as all parents feel (and still do feel). Focusing this experience specifically on the workplace, I could all of a sudden 'see the stairs in the city'. You hear other women talk about the challenges of morning sickness while also trying to lead a meeting; the literally dragging of your body to get out of bed to go to work 6 six weeks after giving birth; the year of stress, planning, humiliation, and pride of breastfeeding and pumping; And amidst all of this, you hear about women who are navigating this as single parents or in a far more challenging and difficult situations than your own. 

You hear all about it but now it's real life. And it means something for you. And while some of this is the beauty of motherhood and the challenges one faces, there are some things you want to see changed. 

I work in a male-dominated industry, most especially when it comes to the leadership of companies and organizations. What is encouraging to me is that our industry sees the impact women have upon the progress of agriculture and therefore recruit, develop, and retain women in traditionally male roles. When we aren't recruiting, developing, and retaining 50% of our population's gifts, we are losing as an industry. 

Where I see progress to be made is that crucial stage of motherhood-- the first few years when a mom returns to work and is navigating a whole new area of life. I could list article and link and post after another on this; the data is there and worth your time to review. Essentially, 43% of women with children leave the workplace. Many women want to leave and work from home full time. For women that want to stay in the workplace, how can we retain them and to do so well? In a way that says we not only have company values but we live them out down to the granular detail of our conversations and efforts for mothers returning to work?

 This is somewhat of a buzz topic right now, so I don't attempt to delve in as a expert but more so, recalling the past 4 years as a woman in the first few years of her career with two little children reflecting on what went well and what can go better in the future. I also recently heard a comment around "accessing the halls that only we walk to represent those that might never walk down our halls." May it be the agricultural community or a young professional or whomever might read this post, my hope it that this message gets into the halls of some places to start a conversation around improvement and engagement. Be the carrier into your sphere of influence, even if this season of life and the experiences that are mentioned are ones you might never personally experience or haven't to date. 

1. Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Friends and family members say one of the most difficult things about grieving the loss of a loved one is when people won't talk about them, even hesitant to use their names or talk about their qualities. It was always strange to me that the workplace environment operated this way with mothers of newborns: don't ask, don't tell. This also leads you to not feel open to bringing up your child in any capacity on your own accord. Going back to work after maternity leave does involve grief-- grieving that time away from your newborn baby that feels like a part of your body is elsewhere. By asking and telling, we open the conversation up to more than just "oh yes, she is doing great with her bottles this week" (while that's also pretty significant!). We open our employees and co-workers up to sharing the challenges and new perspective she has in a way that doesn't tell her that part of her life is non-existent. 

Practically speaking, it could look like:

- Hey, how you are doing with the transition back to work? Anything I could help with to make your transition go smoother? 

- Now, tell me about that little one-- what is he/she discovering or doing right now? Remind me of his/her name again.

- It's an exciting and tiring season of life. Please share any opportunity that we can do to make your transition go well and please share your pictures of (insert name of baby) as often as you take them.

2. Breastfeeding 

Oh man, some people are squirming in their seats. And that's quite unfortunate seeing that it is the 21st Century. (Ok no more sarcastic remarks.) This is not a breastfeeding vs formula conversation-- a "this or that" thing. It is merely a "this" thing. So when we have women in the workplace that are breastfeeding and pumping, how can we act like we've never heard of, thought of, or processed that this is an actual thing. (Ok, I lied about the sarcastic remarks.) Companies and organizations and churches and any place of public that say their women are important to the progress of the work being done must think through this one. Just like stairs in the city, gather your female influence and ask them if conferences, daily workplace environments, and other aspects of the role and work accommodate. She is seeing the stairs in the city and planning around them approx. every 3 hours, so odds are she can give you a hour by hour overview of your accommodations and systems in a snap. 

Practically speaking, it could look like:

- We want to support you during your time pumping in the workplace (or insert affiliation). Can you see any challenges now to accommodate this?

- This can be uncomfortable at times to navigate so if you ever experience any issues or a lack of support, please reach out and offer your feedback and ideas. 

- (Seriously men: if your face turns red at this subject and you manage or lead women, I would ask a close friend or your spouse to have a conversation about breastfeeding out loud. This is not shared to belittle anyone-- practice it outloud so that if you have a female employee that shares she is now breastfeeding after having a baby or brings up ideas to improve the current accommodations, your face doesn't turn bright red. It happens oh-so often and it communicates that as a people leader, you are not able to have this conversation because you are embarrassed which communicates to the female that you think she should also be embarrassed.) 

3. Feedback

Now, more than ever, your team mates and employees need your feedback. I'm not going to say that only the positive feedback is needed-- it is all needed. I always felt like the 'room to improve' felt better than the positive feedback only because it showed I could still do it and my work was valued. Managers, co-workers, etc. etc. please keep this in mind: use of the "before or after you had a baby" to frame up feedback is most likely not helpful. Not always, but most likely there are far better conversation openers. I've heard it all personally and from friends in the workplace post-baby-- before you had a baby, you did a better job with this; before you had a baby, we saw you more often to just drop by or drop in; after you had your baby, you seem laser focused and so serious. While I think feedback needs to be honest and helpful, framing this up for a woman who has experienced birth, recovery, and is now assimilating back into the workplace is worth thinking through vs. chin wagging. (Shout out to you, Ian, for this phrase.)

Practically speaking, it could look like:

- I just wanted to take a minute here to affirm your work and the (fill in the blank) that you've been bringing to the table this week. Where do you think the gaps are in that project you're working on and how can I help? 

- One thing that I think could be helpful to you is thinking through (insert area for improvement). Your ability to (insert area of strength) is so strong, you have such an ability to accomplish phenomenal work. How can I help?

Want brownie points and to communicate that you care about your mothers returning to work?

- You've been back to work for about 6 months now. Can you offer us feedback on what we did well to support you during your transition? How could we have done a better job? We certainly want to be doing the things that help support our mothers returning to work like yourself because you are such a valuable team member here. 

I recently heard a comment that we need more politicians and policy makers that know the price of a gallon of milk. I'm not pigeon holing mothers into doing the grocery shopping for their families solo but I also recognize that moms of little ones are in the know-- in the know of social injustices, especially toward children and families; the cost of basic needs that it takes to provide for a family, and most often, they know the price of a gallon of milk. We can't lose mothers, especially during those crucial years after having children, because of our lack of engagement with them-- the conversations and improvements and progress to be made in our businesses, organizations, and communities. We need the gifts, talents, and influence of these women and as we think about the stairs in our cities, let's be mindful not only of the barriers to helping these women take the next steps but also making the changes that help them move ahead and make us all better as they do so. 

Signal

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One training I look forward to ever so often is a defensive driving course that our company has each employee attend every 3 or so years. Past trainers have worked with the NYPD to train them on high speed chases, so naturally I feel super legit going to this. 

We practice in the 'snow car' which resembles driving on ice and snow. We do a mock test where texting is involved to show the dangers. We practice backing into all parking spots and how to brake instantly. 

After all of the training and practice rounds, the trainer reminded us all that one of the most important things you can do to prevent an accident is use your blinkers to signal lane changes and transitions. Braking in advance would also be included. The defensive driving trainer of the NYPD would remind us all that one of the most effective practices you can take on in the vehicle is signaling your plan of action, a communication plan if you will.

I think he's on to something outside of the car, too.

Most 'disasters' in our work can most likely be by passed with an effective communication plan that gets to the people that it should. Most small 'accidents' usually won't happen when we create a habitual manner of communication on our priority areas and thus actions in life. 

One of my husband's pet peeves is when tail lights are out. He will offer to fix them on the spot for you because of the safely implications when those lights are out. For myself, I am trying to look at the broken pieces that prevent effective communication and fix them on the spot. 

A few learnings so far: 

Things 3: I've been using this app for a month now and it's a favorite. It's a great way to create small, actionable steps into each day. Take a large area of life or a project to be completed, break it down with the app, assign deadlines to each task, and bam. A solid communication plan mapped out day by day. The one feature I love is having an inbox-- this is where you pile up the random thoughts, ideas, things to be done. You have to discipline yourself to review this often and assign each task or idea to be actionable but it gives a lot of freedom to brain dump throughout the day, knowing that it will get done. Also, the 'Today' feature allows you to see just what you need to get done that day. I like having those and just those tasks in front of me. 

Death by Meeting: This is a great, quick read to frame up meetings-- when to have them, when not to have them, alternative ways to communicate with a group outside of the traditional 'meeting'. Take a few nuggets from the book and implement into your weekly, monthly, and yearly calendar. IE if you are married, a weekly 'family meeting' to review the week ahead; for the most significant aspects of your life, every quarter have a strategic meeting for that space. 

Lastly, Just Ask: Want to know if your communication is effective? Just ask those that it impacts the most. Plug in dates in the calendar to ask for feedback in this area. Some might find that a strange ask but it is far worth it to be strange than ignorant! 

Burn the Chair

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In Kentucky, we have Mamaws not necessarily instead of Grandmas, just more Mamaws where I grew up. 

My Mamaw is now in her 80’s, still sews for the community, and that lady can create a heck of a burn pile. A burn pile, you ask? A pile of things that can be safely (mostly) burned to get rid of instead of hauling to the local recycling drop-off or garbage collection. 

My Papaw (again lots of Papaws in Kentucky) had a chair that he didn’t necessarily love so it ended up in their attic, however he didn’t want to get rid of it. My Mamaw is the queen of getting rid of the excess. Everyone talks about their grandparents keeping everything— not my Mamaw. She once tried to throw away a beautiful crystal punch bowl set because she didn’t use it. I laughed about that one for days and still do. 

Back to the chair…

My Mamaw knew that she couldn’t take the entire chair out of the attic at once because he would see it and want to keep it. So in her free time, she would go up in the attic, yank off a piece of the chair, burn it along with the other items in the burn pile, and little by little, she got rid of that chair without any maritial disputes. After learning about her method once the last piece had been burned off to ashes, there were tears and laughter. 

Now the lesson here is not that you should burn your spouses items without telling them. Open and honest communication is always the best route. Also husbands— do not make your wives angry because they now have inspiration from my Mamaw. 

My Mamaw did reveal two important things to think about to an audience of young professionals: 

1. Little by little works

2. Eliminate the excess and unused

Slowly, she was able to chip away at a large project. We all have those messes in the home or office— a file cabinet crammed full of papers or a closet full of unused clothing. When we try to tackle the mess all at once, we usually burn out or overcommit and run out of town. So build it in— little by little— your plan to clean up the messes and clutter and excess in 2018.

So about that excess—

The funny part to the story was that my Papaw never knew the chair was missing. He never missed it because it served a function or brought him great joy. How many items in our office spaces or living spaces fall under this category? By now, you’ve seen a TON of blog posts and articles on cleaning out the junk at the start of the new year. Other than making a tackle list, tackling it little by little, and getting rid of the unused and excess, I have no more insight. It's just a 'do thing'.

A few items and spaces to consider as a young professional:

1. Excess binders from conferences and trainings: Using One Drive app, scan the key pages you want to keep and toss the rest! Take to recycling, better yet. 

2. Pens-- how do we end up with so many darn pens? Bag them up and find a better home or pitch them. Purchase only Sharpie pens or these Papermate Flair pens

3. Trinkets, may they be from conferences or just lovely branded merchandise, most often don't bring any joy or serve a function, especially in our work spaces. 

4. Maybe the most important-- email! Get it cleaned out and filed away. Create your system and keep with it-- using the book mentioned in bullet #1 to help guide. 

A few resources as you prepare to burn the chairs in your lives:

1. Read the book Getting Things Done. It's my all time favorite book for organization. 

2. Emily Ley has some great resources with her 'Simplified Life' message. 

3. Home Edit has some great inspiration for organizing. 

I mentioned that the chair ended up as ashes after making its way through Mamaw’s burn pile. Folks, all of the material possessions we *think* are so dear end up essentially as ashes, of course after moth and rust make their way to them. The best way to eliminate the excess is not obtaining it to begin with so let’s commit to that in the new year. 

That and burn the chair! (That felt like a really powerful yet awkward statement in my head!)

Yes And

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I've never been a part of stand-up comedy training but I'd love to one day. Not because I think I'm funny but because of the way in which comedians train, I think I'd take so much away. Same is true for an acting class. Any one want to join me? Now I'm all excited that you might raise your hand and come with me to one of these classes, and overnight we'll both be instantly funny!

One of the basic principles you might in either one of these classes is "Yes and...." This means that you respond to yourself or the people around you with a "yes and" mentality (and sometimes even those exact same words). You won't hear "no, the original plan was" or a "yes but we've already decided that you play this role and I'm this person." Creativity in stand-up comes most often with a "yes and" framing up the conversation or segment. 

Watch a comedian. He/she might notice that the crowd gives a big laugh after talking about the family cat. The story up next is about the comedian's neighborhood and according to the outline, it's time to move to that segment. Yet, instead he/she takes on "yes and" and mentions something else about the family cat which then leaves the crowd laughing even more. 

Unpredictable characters in a skit with crazy, unorthodox one liners. How shall I respond?

Yes and I will be flexible and imaginative and adventurous.

Hummm... sounds like something of interest for us non-comedians too, huh?

I witnessed this in a leadership course a few years back. A local guild of actors came in to train us on this mentality and even using this phrase in our daily life. We used this phrase "yes and" in several skits to break the ice. When you have us boring business folk, you have to lighten the mood and get everyone opened up to an ounce of foolishness. It was quite drastic how different a "yes and" sounded in every situation, for fun or real-world, most especially over a "yes but". 

Yes And....

Signifies a cooperative spirit

Leaves the table open for discussion thus creativity

Puts people over the process

Facilitates vs. Dictates

As we go into 2018, I believe that "yes and" might help us tremendously. Over the past two weeks, I've been working intentionally on crafting my 2018 goals, big and small. I'm excited for short term and long term goals to continue or begin for the first time. With that, I need remind myself of that training of being a "yes and" person as things don't always go as planned or when opportunities surface that I had never dreamed of in December 2017.

Yes the goal is this, I thought it would look like this, and now there is something totally different that has surfaced.

What this doesn't apply to is our core values- how we operate out of conviction. Let's be clear on that. 

I've learned this is most especially helpful with feedback, brainstorming, and meetings in general. Maybe you don't agree with someone's idea to the fullest. "Yes and" becomes a way of adding your idea without being that jerk that says "That's terrible and you should go home and/or find a new job." Don't mis-read this is a lack of honesty or being a "yes man" or "yes woman". This is an intentional use of words that continues the conversation beyond our self frameworks.

It's also a great way to give feedback. For example, someone checks out of a project or task because of believing a situation is out of his/her control. "Yes, I agree with your thought process of that being an external factor at work BUT I think we can also do something about that challenge. What are some ways we can bring it back into our court?" Now swap out "but" for "and". "Yes, I agree with your thought process of that being an external factor at work AND I think we can also do something about that challenge. What are some ways we can bring it back into our court?" It sounds and feels and acts different.

I could spend hours watching Jimmy Fallon episodes online (but thanks Lara Casey with Cultivate What Matters for keeping me on track by spending my time a bit more intentionally... Whoops, I should have said AND thanks Lara Casey....) My favorite parts of the entire show are when Jimmy Fallon and Higgins basically do their own impromptu comedy on the most random of things. Watch these guys-- they truly take on a "yes and" mentality. And the result is creativity. 

Yes, and a good deal of laughter. 

The small and the great

Two years ago this fall, I attended a one day leadership event in Indianapolis, IN. The keynote speaker of the day was an influential CEO. He spoke authentically, shared relevant stories, and inspired the group that sat in the audience.

That was all great but the best moment happened off stage—and actually when he wasn’t even around.

A friend of his was telling me how awesome his keynote would be today but more so, he is a person who does the important things in life. I was interested to hear all of the important things he was doing in life, anticipating global projects and large-scale foundation work in philanthropy but I found myself surprised that the first thing his friend commented was, “He was committed to teaching Sunday school every week at his church and loved doing that each week. He has done that for the past 30 years.” That was the first and last thing he said about his buddy and the important things in life.

And I loved that moment.

We frequently hear young professionals talk about how they want to do the important things in their lives, may it be in the professional work they do or on the personal side. That work tends to be associated with a large stage like that CEO stood on that day or a published book or a title with more than 5 words (because we all know the more words you add to your title, it sounds more intense-- Ha!).

Often folks will comment, “Do great with little.” as an encouragement to stick it out (with the little projects, smaller groups of people, smaller budgets) now in hopes that one day you hit the big stage or land the book deal or whatever the public display of success is—to do the great.

But what I loved about that CEO is he certainly did great with the little—as in he took great responsibility for his weekly Sunday school class and had done so for 30 years… but that also was his great. That smaller scale, routine interaction, without a stage discussion was the goal; it was ‘the great’.

What is your great? The great that you will commit 30 years toward the work? And had not his friend shared that with me, that work would never be known in a public way—what is the great?

The Capacity Card

I'm at my capacity.

 

I’ve reached my limit.

 

Both are common phrases we hear in the daily conversations, and often times, this can be true. But as I think about this as a young professional, I wonder if we haven’t simply adopted these into our vocabularies with a false sense of what is truly going on.

When I say, “I just don’t have the time for ________.”, I am reminded of the above phrases of being at capacity or at a certain limit. I think we would better serve ourselves and others by saying, “I choose ______ instead.”

Here are a few questions I am asking myself when I feel a “I’m at my capacity” statement coming on:

 

1.       Am I being stretched to grow in some area and uncomfortable with this?

2.       Am I not prioritizing and using my time in a way that allows me to do what needs to be done?

3.       Am I not resting well when it is time to do so, always being in “go mode” and therefore unable to properly reboot?

And most of all,

4.       Is God teaching me something now that I need to lean into, despite it not feeling great?

Let us not throw down the “capacity card” the next time we feel a bit pulled and ask the tougher questions. It may certainly be the case. But if not, it may be a unique opportunity to embrace something constructive and restoring in our lives. 

That one piece of paper

This time of year in agriculture, specifically row crop farming, is full of meetings and trainings as we prepare for harvest. Soon enough, combines will be running. It’s the most rewarding time of year.

As young professionals, we are all engaged in meetings in some fashion or form. Some of us have meetings all day, every day.

We all want to show up to a well-organized meeting with relevant content and a progressive nature. Sometimes we’re the ones behind that process, other times we are simply a meeting participant. 

Back in June, I traveled to my company’s national sales meeting which is full of sessions in which we listen with a goal of understanding the year in review and the plans for the year ahead.

In one of my break-outs, one of the presenters walked over and handed me this piece of paper:

He asked me to fill it out and provide feedback on the session. I agreed and for the remainder of that hour, I don’t think I stopped engaging in the meeting in its entirety.

(Not going to lie, a week of meetings can cause one to zone out here and there. What’s for lunch today? It is time to go pump again? Wonder what the kiddos are doing now? Wonder what the hubby is into now? Did he remember to pack fruit and not cookies for the car ride?)

Ok… you get it.

BUT with this one note, I engaged. Fully. I was jotting down feedback which led to other questions to ask during the session itself.

I share this with other young professionals as a very, very simple tool to keep when you feel like your engagement meter is off. Simply jot down these questions, write your feedback, and watch yourself engage better.

Also, lesson learned—what a growth mindset from this individual to walk into a room after doing this presentation no telling how many times and ask for continuous feedback.

When silence is golden

I had a conversation this week with a fascinating individual in the business world that shifted to discussion around families.

Twist my arm and I’ll tell you 100 things about my crew (and show you pictures if we’re together in person).

This person shared with me the journey of parenthood and how this has looked different and has been a huge part of the life story, in a unique way that has come with both challenges yet blessings. I was both honored and thankful to hear this individual walk me through some career wisdom using these experiences as a parent.

Shortly thereafter we discussed blogging and social media. In my millennial thinking—you know, the day after the life changing experience, you need to post about it with the aim of vulnerability, transparency, and authenticity—I asked if there was a blog post about this parenting journey as just shared with me. I mean afterall, this person likes to share career advice on a blog so of course this was a blog post.

The individual kindly responded, “No, I have not shared this on the blog and never intend to.”

I immediately heard the lesson this kind and wise individual was sharing with me ever so graciously—

Some things just aren’t meant to be broadcasted and shared.

Years later, this person still put up a fence around this personal area of life. In an effort to love and cherish those in the closest circle known as family, this person chose to safe guard people over going viral and gaining over night blog subscribers… or whatever the virtual world has to offer.

I instantly needed this reminder and learned so much from a quick segment of our conversation. Not to say that personal matters in life should never be shared, not at all.

But I think what the world needs more of is folks like this individual—who know that we must safeguard some experiences—hardships especially—in an effort to protect and love those around us. It’s so easy to get caught up in “this is a great post about my life—vulnerability, relatability, and authenticity.” The strength and love in the story or experience is sometime best kept in confidence.

My husband would be so upset but since he doesn’t use social media I can get away with this (shhhh don’t tell him):

I remember a few years ago, he was selected as a golden ticket winner at our local Kohl’s. He was shopping at Christmas time to buy me a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and because of his selection, he was told he would get the entire purchase for free. He told them thank you but that there would be someone else coming in that he would rather have that ticket—and left it to the manager to decide how to bless someone else with this gift. He never told me—he never told a soul. The only reason I found out is that weeks later we were back in Kohl’s and the manager recognized him which then led him to tell me the story to eliminate my confusion after seeing them interact.

Ok, so the cat is outta the bag now on that story. But the beauty in that moment was that no one found out. Not a post on social media or a blog or any outlet to share the experience… and I so admired and loved that.

There is such humility and love and grace in choosing not to share some stories, and this lesson rang through this week. I am thankful for encouraging and gracious conversations that serve as a reminder to me.

I did it.

Our spunky two year old Cora has learned the art of the blame game. You know how it goes—

Caroline did it! (If Caroline simply touches her face and it apparently really *hurt*.)

Daddy did it! (When Tyler puts her to bed at her regular bedtime but she isn’t ready.)

Mommy did it! (When I brush the tangles out of her hair very carefully but she wasn’t having it to begin with.)

Just the other day, Cora bit her tongue while snacking and talking at the same time (I feel your pain, sweet Co). And after the tears were dried and she processed what happened, she proclaimed-- ‘Cora did it!’

I had to keep myself from laughing, of course. But what an example of owning up to a problem! The mind of a child is often a refreshing reminder to us all, and this was a great example.

How many times would it be easier to say—he did it, she did it—rather than

I did it. My bad.

A two year old can remind us all that one of the most powerful statements can be—it’s my fault. I own this. Although that can be very difficult and go against our pride, it is fundamental for leadership and for all relationships in life.

So the next time you blub up at work, are at fault in a relationship, or even if you bite your tongue, please proclaim '(insert your name) did it.'

Thanks for the life lesson, Cora!

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