Prayers for my MBA

mba
Me taking a selfie in my first business class! That’s professional, right?

I know what you’re thinking because I’m thinking it too…

You started an MBA program? Are you crazy? Isn’t life already busy enough?

Yes. Yes, and Yes.

But a door opened and I felt the nudge to walk through it, so here I am.

Starting a weekend Executive MBA program at the Goizueta Business School is one of the most uncomfortable and awesome things I’ve done in a long time.

It’s uncomfortable because I basically just traded in the precious free time I had to go to school. Hard school. With really smart people and exacting professors.

It’s awesome because I’ve already learned so much about leadership and the business world and it’s only been one week. Between now and May 2021, I’m sure to be transformed. I hope this program makes me a better leader.

But wow, is it scary. So much so that I can see the far edge of myself is within eyesight and I’ve still got 2 years to go.

But, I know that this was the right step and I have a supportive spouse, so I’m stepping into the unknown with a ginormous corporate finance textbook and a few prayers…

  • Lord, please give me supernatural energy to do it all. Help me to keep all the balls in the air and not neglect any of them. Help me to be deeply grateful for a full life.
  • Lord, help my husband and family to know that I love them fiercely even when I’m not home. Help them to feel my presence when I’m at class.
  • Lord, may my girls see in me an example of what women can do and pursue their dreams with abandon as they grow up.
  • Lord, bless my husband with everything he needs to fill in the gaps I will leave behind for studying, attending class, and group meetings. May he be blessed in abundance for his sacrifice.
  • Lord, may I know in my heart of hearts, even when it gets hard, that you have placed me here and I can run without hindrance toward the goal of becoming a better organizational leader.
  • Lord, may I live with peace and kindness rather than guilt and worry. Make me a person who is expanded and improved by being stretched, not diminished.
  • Lord, may I use this degree to do more good in this world. Help me pave a way for organizational work to be done with more compassion, excellence and urgency.

May I be everything you have called me to be. Amen.

We Make Sacrifices

DSC_0590.JPGI went to college at Emory University where very few people (except me) graduated from school and promptly got married. Throughout my liberal arts education there was a strong theme of women’s empowerment and gender equity- something I am so grateful for and has played a big role in shaping my life. However, there was another message that was indirectly communicated: you (women) can have it all. This is a new day and age and people are enlightened and you can mix family and work and reach for the stars. Go forth and conquer!

This energy is so much of what has fueled and directed my career- encouraging me to make leaps to numerous different organizations early on to advance in leadership. It’s what has inspired me to take on management roles, to write a book with another mom colleague, and to say “yes” to opportunities (even when they scare me) because, why not?

But along the way I’ve also taken on another big (huge) job: becoming a mom…twice. Initially, Eric and I didn’t even know if we were going to have kids. We’re practical people and when we looked at our careers and looked at what it takes to be parents- we didn’t see how it would work. There just didn’t seem like there were enough hours in the day (spoiler alert: there’s not!). But ultimately we did have kids and I learned something new: you can’t have it all. There are sacrifices.

I’ve heard executive women say, “you can have it all, just not at the same time” – but I’m not even sure this is true. In those early weeks, months, and years with your babies there are choices that are diametrically opposed. I can’t breastfeed exclusively on demand for a year and go back to work. I can’t be up all night with my baby and be mentally present the next day in the big meeting. I remember distinctly two moments that reminded me of the fact that being a working mom with an office job comes with sacrifices. Specifically, the sacrifice of time.

I was visiting my cousin after her first baby was born and Aubrey (my oldest) went with me. We had a ton of together time, including sharing a bed and hours on hours of just hanging out. I remember being surprised by some of the things she said and did, observing pieces of her personality that probably came out at daycare but not in our brief morning or evening time together that is highly routinized. It was like I was getting to know her a little deeper, and as I studied her face while she talked animatedly about her classmates I also noticed she was older. She wasn’t a little girl anymore and I felt a sad twinge in my heart for how fast it went by. I know time flies for all parents, but it really races past when you’re working.

The second was when I was pregnant with Emma and thinking about how to do maternity leave and returning to work well. I wanted to make a way for more time at home before going back. In trying to engineer a different way, I realized there were things I wished I had done differently the first time around. I felt the first real sting of regret and cried big tears. I remembered those mantras of empowerment I had been educated on, but I still felt sad… was I doing something wrong? Having it all was hard and confusing.

I’ve been tempted over the years, in the face of uncertainty, to “opt out” of the working world. At least I would eliminate the GOMO (guilt over missing out) – but at what other costs? What would it cost my spirit to leave a vocation that I love? What would it cost my organization? What would it cost the world? I believe my work deeply matters.

I don’t have all the answers; I just wanted to name the costs…to open the cage and let the birds fly out. I see so many new moms, completely overwhelmed at the start, and I know what they’re thinking… “Is it supposed to be this hard?”, “Is it normal to miss my baby this much?”, “What do I even want for my life now?” I am convinced that more support for new moms in the workplace, in the following forms, would make a difference:

1) extended leave (3 months is not enough for most moms, it was not enough for me)

2) mentorship with a mom (or a group of moms) who have been there (more Mom Posses! https://www.mindfulreturn.com/working-moms-posse/)

3) flexible options for returning to work and creative advancement opportunities without getting “mommy tracked”

Maybe if we re-engineered the system, there would be less sacrifices… maybe we could then, in truth, have it all.

How do you hold on to awesome?

sangriaIt’s Friday and I’m off early. After a long couple of marathon months I find myself sitting at my favorite Mexican restaurant, alone, on a perfect sunny day sipping (gulping?) my second glass of sangria while munching on chips and salsa. I’ve cleared a few recent hurdles- out of town trips, high stakes board meetings, new program launches, and I’ve found myself in a brief moment to just stop and eat and rest.  If you want to know the way to my heart- it’s a taco salad and red wine soaked fruit in a fancy glass- every. single. time.

As I sit and trace the beautiful puffy clouds, I’m back and forth checking my Facebook feed… which is chock full of memories from years past and photos posted from Emma’s first birthday party last week. There is so much beauty and joy and life in these photos- yet, at the time I was so focused on stuff I needed to “do” or what was coming next, or making sure peoples needs were met, I didn’t see it shining so brightly like the sun in the middle of my life. I intentionally try to focus on the awesome every day, but it’s hard to hold on to. I long to increase my capacity to just hold awesome. To give it a big bear hug and not let go.

If you’ve read my book you know my family experienced a fairly difficult decade in our 20’s that had a traumatic impact on our mental health. One of the consequences of this is that, even though life is better and safer now, I can’t forget how hard it can be. I still worry about life turning hard again, and the awesome moments only exacerbate that- making me want to double down and protect what I have that’s good.

But life is not about controlling awesome, it’s about being grateful when it comes. I can’t make everything go smoothly for my family for the rest of our lives (I wish I could). But I can see the awesome and appreciate it, letting it linger. I can hold my sweet baby a few minutes longer and forego bath-time tonight. I can let the weeds grow knowing that a walk to the park after school is time better spent. I can leave work early and take time to exercise, because my health matters. I can be human and finite and limited and still choose awesome.

And like the magnet says that hangs on my refrigerator…

Anyone can be good, but awesome takes practice.

Stop Feeling Bad!

Grandpa Dad
Eric in full “Grandpa Dad” mode at the neighborhood Easter Egg hunt this past weekend

Over the last few weeks I’ve attended a number of work related weekend conferences, evening and morning events. In order for me to say yes to these things, Eric has to do a lot more at home. He doesn’t complain at all, but I notice this sinking feeling in my gut that is always there… I feel bad. I feel bad that he’s shouldering more than me at home and, even though I would gladly do the same for him, my instinct is to apologize. “Honey, I’m sorry I left you with everything to do last night and this morning so I could be on two back to back panel discussions…”

But as I drove to my early morning event last Thursday it struck me why this is unhelpful thinking. Or more specifically, unhelpful feeling.

Feeling bad firstly steals the joy and energy I have for the work that I do, which is not a great posture from which to show up as a speaker. But more importantly, feeling bad puts the focus on ME. It’s a place of analyzing what I’m doing or not doing. It’s an internal conversation that doesn’t really help anyone.

What if instead of feeling bad, I felt grateful? Instead of thinking about how I’m not home to make dinner or color with Aubrey, I think about how Eric is so good at engaging his two girls and will likely make stove-top s’mores and play soccer in the house while I’m gone. Eric affectionately refers to himself as “grandpa dad” when I’m away. Grandpa dad is loving, fun, and allows for dessert before dinner or Cheerios for an evening snack. What if instead of my mental narrative playing lies about how I’m slacking as a mom, it played a chorus of thank you’s out loud to my husband?

  • Thank you for always saying yes to my work opportunities and covering the home front while I’m gone.
  • Thank you for supporting my career and believing that there is value in my work. To that end, thank you for making adjustments so that I can show up for important work events.
  • Thank you for letting me be a leader, even though that means I’m always “on” and sometimes distracted by work. Thanks for stepping in when I need help.
  • Thank you for being a good dad, a present husband, and a man who demonstrates his support of women in how you love and parent.

From now on I’m not going to feel bad. I’m going to feel grateful.

Take that Momma to a Park!

ParkI normally don’t enjoy running. So much so that one of the blog ideas in my queue is to pen an “open letter to running” and catalog my numerous complaints about the uncomfortable exercise that is the only thing that helps me shed pounds. Dear Running, I really don’t like you (sorry, not sorry).

But this weekend… my run was nothing short of beautiful. On Friday I felt a minor panic attack building up in my chest as I irritably confessed to Eric that I feel overwhelmed. Book stuff has ramped up, work is on full blast (you know that’s the case when a board member says you need a vacation…), and Emma has regressed hard on sleeping at night. Eric and I have been alternating hitting total burnout and it’s not pretty. I came into the weekend with nothing in my tank. I wasn’t even sure a run was a good idea… but somehow my tired, zombie self put on my old school running shoes and earbuds and walked out the front door of my in-laws house right after arriving for a weekend visit. Thankfully they are gracious people who understand and support me even when I miss the mark on social graces!

But the run. So good. It was perfect warm sunny weather with a cool breeze. The air, significantly cleaner than the Zip code where we live, was noticeably fresh and crisp – I wasn’t just breathing, I was taking gulps. The gorgeous landscape was speckled with blue birds, cardinals, and two majestic swans. Kids were playing sports and laughing and the flat, well marked road stretched for miles and miles. At the edge of a small lake I took a deep breath and the incredible tension that’s been building in my neck and shoulders started to release. I filled my Park Prescription today and took a double dose. Green space heals.

The truth is, as my dear friend Antonette Montalvo (rock-star working mom of two) so eloquently wrote about earlier this week in a post titled The Price of Purpose,

What I have recognized in this #visionary pursuit of purpose, is that it often comes at a price. A price that often feels beyond me, and, in some instances, too costly for me to handle. But, what I have also come to realize is that the obstacle, challenge, or hardship that we think may break us, can also be transformed into our greatest resource in finding our purpose.

The purposes I’ve chosen to give my life to: mothering, working, writing, advocating for healthy equity… take their toll. They are rewarding and awesome but they are costly. My heart, my body, my spirit are all engaged in this work and they feel all the feels- the highs and lows of a full schedule and life…the highs and the lows of trying to change the world to be a better, healthier place.

This weekend, standing on the edge of the little lake I was bone tired, but grateful. Grateful that at least one consolation for the weary traveler, or the “wounded healer” as Henri Nouwen calls it, is they get to drink the deepest when the moments of rest saunter by. Rest doesn’t visit much, but when it does, I drink it down to the last drop.

So that girl in the pink workout gear rolling around in the grass, skipping through the trees, and blowing kisses at the sun? Don’t mind her. She’s just taking a long overdue dose of green space on the journey to make sure that everyone, in every Zip code, can do the same.

Foolish for a Good Cause

IMG_0360Earlier in my career I was really aware of not wanting to look foolish. Even if I had no idea what was going on (which was frequent) I tried to seem as competent as possible. Fake it ’till you make it was one of my most cited personal mantras! As a young, youthful-looking woman in board rooms, I felt the need to over-prepare, over-communicate, and dress older than my age to be taken seriously. And that’s what I was aiming for- to be taken as a serious professional. I was young and green and the focus was on me: How I was going to be received, how the presentation would go over, whether my idea would be adopted, etc. At that time my worst nightmare would have been looking foolish.

But by the grace of God my life and career journey has progressed, and I don’t worry so much about looking foolish anymore.

Not much has changed externally… I still look young and I  still feel like my job challenges me daily… but when I’m in the board room that’s not the main thing on my mind. These days I’m thinking about our patients.

This past week we held an important board meeting to discuss the future growth of our organization. Because of some pressing external factors, we were trying to envision possibilities without the time to follow all the normal processes of drafting a plan. My co-leader and I had done our best to prepare, research, meet with experts, etc. but nonetheless there came a point in the board meeting when, in front of a room filled with brilliant executives, I stood up with a single piece of white legal paper and described in earnest a sketch I had done depicting a potential building project complete with a childlike depiction of Good Sam’s logo.

“We should probably hire an architect.” said one board member (ha! agreed!)

“We may be putting the cart before the horse here… we need a plan.” said another (yes, amen!)

Another board member’s face said it all… a sort of, are you serious? expression. I would have looked the same way if the situation were reversed.

I know how it came across- green, immature, unsophisticated… but it started a discussion that could lead to big things. Specifically, bigger and better resources to address social determinants of health for our patients- increasing their quality of life and longevity. And it started the conversation at just the moment it needed to happen.

Later as I replayed the entire day in my head I thought about those moments and laughed. Sure it wasn’t my most competent looking moment (even my business dress and blazer couldn’t compensate for stick figure sketching!) but I didn’t mind.

I realized an important truth about myself that day: I’m willing to look foolish for a good cause.

I see more of this happening in the world today- women leading out front in big roles and taking risks, charting new territory, and creating new normals. I am encouraged by them and it empowers me to do the same – homemade sketches and all.

Does your company have an “up all night” policy?

up all nightAs is so common in the life stage with young children, last Thursday I was up all night with my five year old Aubrey. She came down with a stomach bug and started throwing up around 12:30 am. There was vomit all over her, on the bed, and in multiple spots on the carpet. She was scared and miserable and came looking for mommy. I bathed her, attacked the carpet with OxiClean, did a load of laundry, put her back to sleep, and just as I fell back asleep she woke up again, throwing up a second time in her room. This cycle happened five times by 5:30 am and she never made it to the toilet. Around throw up episode #3, Emma also woke up crying loudly for a bottle. I woke Eric up at this point so we could divide and conquer.

Aubrey stayed home from school the next day to rest, but Mommy and Daddy didn’t. We split the workday and each stayed with Aubrey half of the day and worked the other half, as is our normal routine when one of the kids is sick. Or, if I have a day full of meetings, Eric will take the whole day.

A few days later at 12:30 am on Saturday night, Eric and I both caught the stomach bug at the same time. I had just finished throwing up when I heard him getting started. We were up all night again, still not recovered from earlier in the week, and we were both pretty pitiful. The next day we spent Sunday at home still sick and trying to care for the girls when we really needed to rest. It was an exhausting day.

By Sunday evening I found myself still nauseous, dehydrated and weak, and fighting a tension headache in the back of my neck, muttering, “I quit. I should just quit. I can’t do this.” I found myself wishing something like an “Up All Night Policy” (UAN) existed at work. My employer is wonderful and very accommodating, but I still feel like I need to explain every time a situation like this arises. And, if too many UAN incidents happen close together, it starts to sound like excuses. In fact, last night as Eric and I debated whether to stay home today for ourselves, we both decided to go to work for the same reason: we’ve taken too much time off lately to care for the girls, and we didn’t want to send another email saying we’d be out of the office today.

It would be great to have something like UAN hours as a company benefit. It would work like PTO (vacation or sick time) in that you would have a dedicated amount of time granted to you per year. There would be an understanding that UAN hours are unplanned and can arise quickly without much notice. It’s different than sick time because the parent is often not the one who is sick – and most sick time policies allow for enough absent days for the parent alone, not considering a parent + child/children dynamic. UAN time could be used to just give a mom or dad a few extra hours in the morning after a rough night, rather than having to take a full sick day. No explaining necessary, no guilt, just using your company benefit – UAN time.

Let’s be a workforce that understands and sympathizes with parents who are up all night, so that as they groggily attend to a sick child the last thing they have to worry about in that moment is work.