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Archive for August, 2008

I’ve read First, Break All the Rules. I’ve taken the Strengthsfinder test twice, and the only strength I had in common each time was individualization. There are a lot of places where I don’t shine as a manager and a leader, but one thing that I naturally do well is get to know the people I’m working with to understand what they need from me. Armed with that information, I work differently with different people.

So why has it taken me this long to realize that the monkeys need different types of discipline?

Monkey #1 is sensitive and empathic. When he wants to get my attention, he hugs me, tells me that he loves me, or goes really whiny. For the most part, he’ll listen when I just ask him to behave. When he doesn’t, he seems to need second chances.

Monkey #2 is tougher. He’s a boundary pusher. He’s that typical kid in the playground who, when he likes a girl, will pull her pigtails. He needs to be told as soon as possible that what he’s doing is wrong, and get a swift time out. Otherwise he gets too attached to whatever he’s doing to stop. Once his misbehavior escalates,  his response to any discipline is a tantrum.

I guess I’ve always known that different kids need different kinds of discipline. But putting that principle into action is difficult. For one thing, they’re twins. I’m used to the same thing working for both of them. Another issue is that unlike with adults, changing the way I behave with different kids seems unfair. They don’t really get why I’m doing it, and even if I tried, I couldn’t explain it to them. It also seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom that what kids need most is consistency.

Does it work if you consistently individualize? Guess I’ll find out soon enough.

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One of the drawbacks of working from home is that you’re not bumping into people in the kitchen, in the bathrooms, or in the elevators for random conversations. This often means that you don’t have casual conversations with folks, and if you don’t have a specific reason to talk to someone, you probably never actually talk.

Since business runs on relationships, this lack of conversation can actually get in your way. To stay connected to the people that you work with, make a point of calling people just to talk.

I keep a list of other people on our leadership team and make sure I’m calling them at least once every two weeks. I check off their names when we’ve spoken to give myself visual reminders of when calls need to happen. I’m not as good at just reaching out to other folks in the office, and as the office grows beyond 50 people, staying in touch gets increasingly difficult. But I try to make calls when an email would do, and I try to take time in a phone call to talk about what’s going on in people’s lives and what they’re up to.

Shooting the shit can feel like a waste of time, when you’re trying to stay productive and make time for other parts of your life, but maintaining your relationships in the workplace will ultimately pay off.

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Several of months ago, I had an epiphany on a low ropes course. (I know, very cliche, but that’s what they’re designed for, isn’t it?)

As I stood balancing on a teeter-totter, helping folks get across an element of the course, I realized that I could, in fact stand in balance. In fact, I enjoyed standing in balance. I decided that what this meant for my life was that I could stand with one foot solidly in the world of work and one foot solidly in the world of home and maintain my stature, both physically and emotionally.  And that one of the things that I could do at work was help other people stand in balance. It was an exciting realization.

Fast forward six months. I was in a meeting last week where we were analyzing the lives of our research participants, women between the ages of 30 and 50. Big surprise, the topic of balance came up. “Balance isn’t something you achieve and then you’re done,” a colleague noted, “its an ongoing endeavor. It’s active.”

It resonated. For me, balance is an ongoing activity that seems to be getting harder by the day. I’m in a phase where I feel like my ability to stand in balance is being challenged.

Imagine I’m standing in Warrior II, like this:

 

Remember that I’ve got shoulder strength issues, so the hardest part of the pose for me is maintaining that upward lift while keeping my shoulders relaxed, holding my arms straight, and keeping my chest high.

As I struggle to maintain my balance, it feels like weights keep being piled on my arms.

From the home front: illness, injury, stress, anxiety. From the work front: stress, responsibility, urgency. From one perspective, I’m in balance – the challenges are coming from both sides. But I do worry about how long I’ll be able to stand up.

Amazingly, I’ve been doing a great job at work and am holding my own at home, too. I’m especially concerned about my ability to sustain it because the things that are suffering are my yoga practice and my blog, two of the activities that give me more energy than they take.

I’ll continue standing here as long as I can. Who knows, maybe over time carrying those extra weights will make me stronger.

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A few months ago, I was speaking with a client who I’ve become friends with over a couple of years of working together. She has 7 year old twin boys and my monkeys are three, so in addition to talking about work I often turn to her for twin management advice. She’s super smart, has a great sense of humor, and seems amazingly on top of her shit.

I was totally shocked when she revealed to me that she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to undergo radiation treatments. I offered whatever commiseration and compassion I could, and she told me that she was managing pretty well.

Initially, she was scared, anxious and overwhelmed. Over time, it’s gotten better. She had come to see the situation as an opportunity to grow, to rise up to the challenge of asking for and receiving help, and to remind herself of her strength. Overall, her prognosis is good and she is extremely positive.

One thing that helped, she said, was maintaining a perspective on the situation. She keeps the Chinese character for crisis posted on her desk. The symbol is a combination of the words for danger and opportunity, she told me. She said it was comforting to see the opportunity in the situation, and it helped her not to dwell on the danger.

I thought it was a very poignant story, and immediately loved this idea of hope amidst crisis.  I planned on blogging about it, but as soon as I Googled the idea I found about 10 different posts saying that while Westerners like to say this, it’s not really true. It’s a misinterpretation of the way Chinese characters work. The anthropologist in me values the intrinsic Chinese cultural perspective over Western interpretations of the culture, and so I decided that it wasn’t really true and that I shouldn’t write about it.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about breast cancer and I’ve come to a new interpretation of the crisis means danger plus opportunity interpretation. I’ve decided that it doesn’t really matter if it’s technically true or not. If it’s a powerful way of thinking about a crappy situation then it is, in some way, true. I’m sure it’s true to my client, if not to Chinese linguists.

Before, I dismissed the wisdom in the perspective because it wasn’t grounded in absolute truth. But now I realize that sometimes, truth is irrelevant. It doesn’t hurt anyone to believe that there’s ancient wisdom about how a person can respond to a situation. And it’s such a powerful idea that I believe it can really help ground a person’s approach to dealing with a frightening and often painful disease.

I wonder when else we let our intellectual understanding of a topic or an idea get in the way of emotional insight. I’m pretty sure it happens more than we know. I’d love to hear about your experiences with the truth in the comments below.

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If you search for women and domestic life and overwhelmed on Istockphoto you get a bunch of stereotypical parenting images. Like this one.  Funny.

Or Sad.

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The other day my yoga teacher was talking about how to go deeper into a twist during a standing pose. “Focus on your legs,” he said, “Root them. Strong roots will allow you more freedom of movement. Move your energy down to enable you to shift up.”

I know it’s a little cheesy, but it made me think of this effort we’re undertaking with our children. Raising them with deep roots, providing with structure within which they will hopefully be able to find their own movement.

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Many people who work from home spend a lot of time on the phone, connecting with clients, colleagues and other important people.

On my desk, the phone is right next to the computer. It’s difficult for me to stop checking email, editing a document or surfing the web when I’m on the phone. But it’s terrible to conduct a conversation when only half your brain is paying attention. Even if the other person can’t see you, they can tell when they’re not your priority.

As much as I try, I have trouble fighting the suck of the screen when I’m in front of my computer. My solution: I put an extra chair in my office, away from my computer. I sit in it when I’m talking on the phone so I can focus on my conversation. If you don’t have room for a chair, designate another part of your house to sit in for phone calls, or more extreme, turn the computer off. It’ll help you stay focused on your task, stay in the moment and have better phone conversations.

My Staying Focused Chair

My Staying Focused Chair

(Note: I’ll admit. One or two sentences of this post were written while I was on the phone. Old habits die hard.)

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