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.

 

New Book Promotes Work-Family Justice

9780691178851_0I am excited to see a new book has just been published that takes a deep dive into the world of working moms. It’s called Making Motherhood Work, How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving by Caitlyn Collins.

This blog describing the book coins a new term (that I love by the way) called “work-family justice” explaining,

The book offers a clear, research-based argument that the US is failing its mothers and families. America’s mothers don’t need more highly individualistic tips on achieving work-family balance. They need justice.

Justice would include federal paid leave, a minimum guarantee of sick/vacation time, equal pay, and just general understanding and flexibility.

I am blessed that my employer is very understanding and I felt zero guilt coming to work an hour late this morning because Emma is still sick and needed to sleep in. But for some moms, just the mention of caregiving responsibilities at work puts them on thin ice. This is unacceptable. From the blog,

And Collins reminds readers: these women are middle-class. They’re the proverbial canaries in a coal mine for mothers’ work-family conflict. Low-income women, too often racial/ethnic minorities, have far fewer resources to draw on and less support to reduce their stress than those Collins interviewed. So if middle-class mothers are engulfed in stress, less advantaged mothers’ difficulties are likely far more acute.

The reality is, most of us working moms are just making it one day at a time – one major life event away from dropping all the balls on the ground. For me, it’s been over a month with a sick baby and in some areas of life the shoe has dropped. But as mentioned above I am blessed with countless privileges, health insurance, financial resources, the ability to pay a house cleaner to get my life back together, a helpful husband, and an understanding corporate culture… what about the women without these advantages? The lack of justice (or equity) forces them to trudge uphill every day. They’re likely still making it all work, but at what cost to their health and quality of life?

As I mentioned in a previous blog on The Case for Moms, making adjustments to keep moms happy and sane sends ripples of benefits to organizations, including to their bottom line.

I’m glad to see more books and blogs coming out on the side of better support for working moms. It’s time to shine a light on this issue, roll up our sleeves, and make it better.

 

On Bouncing Back

plants.jpgI think this every year around this time. I walk around my front yard and survey the plants, convinced that this is the winter from which they won’t bounce back. The two twiggy hydrangea bushes twitching in the cold wind look like they’re shivering. It is beyond my imagination to see a path from this cold, overcast day to the reality which will soon be spring – when their gorgeous blue and purple flowers will be the prize of my front yard. Each spring when they emerge I let out a sigh, realizing I have been holding my breath all winter wondering if they can do it again…if they’re resilient enough to survive another winter.

I learn so much from plants, from gardening. In a society that values and expects the proverbial flowers to always be blooming, I am reminded that seasons of the year are a gift. It’s not always spring. Our plants and soil need the winter to rest and prepare for the next fruitful season. At mine & Eric’s wedding my cousin sang Every Season by Nichole Nordeman, which is still today one of my favorite songs. I’ve included the full lyrics below and a link to listen online. She beautifully describes the gifts and wonder inherent in each passing year, particularly the surfacing of new plant life after the winter’s frost.

I think there are parallels for working moms here. The process of being pregnant, giving birth, bonding with baby, and returning to work (which I’ve now done twice) has recreated me in new ways both times. With Aubrey it made me stronger, yet more vulnerable too. With Emma it changed my body more significantly, but also strengthened new muscles. Both times I found myself thinking with certainty, “this time I won’t bounce back”. The fatigue will never lift, the belly pooch will never go away, my brain will always feel fuzzy.

And then I remember the lessons nature is always teaching. It’s wired into the way life was invented to recreate, again and again and again. So while I wait for spring this year, I’ll decide to believe that new life is around the corner.

Every Season by Nichole Nordeman Listen HERE 

Every evening sky, an invitation
To trace the patterned stars
And early in July, a celebration
For freedom that is ours
And I notice You
In children’s games
In those who watch them from the shade
Every drop of sun is full of fun and wonder
You are summer
And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and what’s to come
You are autumn
And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter
And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring

Comparing Ourselves to Other Women

On the Move Show 2Since my “Can’t You Just Workout” blog in December, I have been trying in earnest to workout regularly. It doesn’t easily fit into the schedule, and most days I feel like I need a nap more than a workout, but I made losing weight my 2019 New Year’s Resolution. I ordered a new pair of running shoes and re-joined my favorite yoga studio. Now one month in, I’m building the habit but still feel more “out of shape” than in when it’s time to sweat.

Despite this, I recently signed up for the hardest yoga class at my studio. If you’re not a regular yogi and can’t imagine how the words “hard” and “yoga” belong in the same sentence, then you need to come to a class with me! It’s full of body weight exercise challenges and a tempo that leaves me sweating so much I almost slip off my mat.

So I showed up for the Strong Class and chose my place in the back corner. I wasn’t feeling very energetic after a long week at work, so I just set my intention to “stay present and finish”. No frills, no extras, just survive. But no sooner had we launched into the flow that I was distracted by sudden movements on my left. One of the reasons I like yoga is because I can just be in my own head space, with no interruptions, for an hour. I don’t usually pay much attention to anything but the instructor’s voice and my breath… but there was this periodic flutter of intense movement in my peripheral vision so finally I looked. The woman next to me, perfect body and full lulu-lemon yoga gear, was doing four extra push-ups before each chaturanga. And then, my comparison voice started talking…

“Wow, really? Is that necessary?”…”Is she just showing off?”…”Is she going to do this the whole time?”…”The teacher didn’t even ask us to do extra! Isn’t the Strong Class hard enough in itself?”…”Why is she in the back row?”…

I’m embarrassed that this was my first line of thinking. It clearly came from a place of insecurity and envy. In the end, the fact that she showed up with such intensity pushed me to re-imagine the extent to which I could push myself, and made it much harder for me to cheat on the basic moves knowing she’d be right next to me killing it on her mat. The comparison born out of insecurity led to feelings of inadequacy. While it drove me to do better, it also left me feeling bad about myself.

The comparison game is alive and well in the female community. For some reason we ladies compare and contrast ourselves with each other like it’s our job. I’ve heard all my life that women dress more for other women than men, that the mommy wars are real, and women can form cliques that keep other women out. One of the central messages I took from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In is that women need to stop competing with each other in the workplace and instead lift each other up – making overall gains faster, together. Yet even though I am 100% bought in to debunking comparison in favor of collaboration, here I was in this yoga class thinking…

“Ugh, show off.”

Bad habits run deep. But there is hope.

Two years ago while working at The Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta our CEO at the time suddenly decided to leave. The board was then faced with a decision – they could either run a formal executive search or promote me and my colleague, Breanna Lathrop, into higher levels of responsibility (Breanna as COO and Medical Director, me as CAO) establishing us as something like co-executive directors. I didn’t know Breanna that well at the time, and I’ll admit being a little nervous as to how this was going to play out. I was nervous because Breanna is really incredible. She is a mom of three, a nurse practitioner, a gifted leader, a hard worker… would I just live in her shadow? My comparison voice spent a lot of time wringing its hands in the first few months.

But then I realized this was a waste of valuable energy. Comparison simply makes a judgement and then walks away, no better for the data. I decided I wasn’t going to compare anymore. I realized we have different skills sets and ways of viewing the world – I’d be much more successful if I had a posture of collaboration. If every time Breanna did something awesome, or better than me, or innovative, or amazing I said to myself, “How lucky that I get to work with her! How can we capitalize on this and maximize our collaboration?”

This line of thinking has led to some pretty incredible things. At the most basic level, collaborating means that we’re on a team together in leading Good Sam and making a difference in the world. Since we both have families, there is need for teamwork and filling in for each other on a regular basis. When family calls, we know we have each other and work doesn’t have to skip a beat. We also brainstorm regularly and, as first time executive leaders, have found a sounding board and a source of wisdom in one another.

It is in this spirit of collaboration that we decided to write a book together – a book neither of us could have written in a silo. We brought our unique stories and strengths to the story, rounding out the overall message because of our differences.

Last Friday Breanna and I were filming a workout and interview segment on a TV show for our newly released book. As we stood on the stage and did workout moves in sync, laughing at ourselves and feeling equally awkward wearing yoga pants on television, I realized this is women doing life together at its best. As we walk through the new territory of marketing and promoting a book, especially on radio and TV, I sure am glad I’m doing it with a partner.

In comparison thinking, I’m evaluating for a winner and a loser. In collaboration thinking, we’re winning together.