Retirement of the Accidental Blogger

This morning, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I googled “Accidental Blogger” — I’ve had a whopping 87 visitors so far, and I wondered if someone could find it without being my friend on Facebook. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there were no fewer than five blogs listed, none of which were this one. Hmmm, my idea wasn’t very original.

Throughout the day, I put some backup cycles into thinking about a new name. One that is cool enough to be memorable but unique enough that it wasn’t already taken. That’s a stretch given the fact that Tumblr alone had 227 million blogs as of April. Anything I could think of was even less original than my initial attempt. It seemed hopeless.

And then I remembered an interaction I had with a good friend during my college years. After a late night chat fest, hours spent debating God knows what, it was time to call it a night. She looked at me as I walked out of her room and said, “I love you, but you know there is such a thing as too much Mel.”

At the time, I was still young enough that the statement hurt. My view of friendship was binary — great friend or not friend. I wasn’t capable of seeing that relationships have limits and that healthy relationships are honest about those limits. All I saw was that one of my newest and best friends thought that I was annoying or obnoxious or boorish or…something, but nothing good. I went back to my room and tried to figure out what I needed to change.

Of course I didn’t need to change anything. There wasn’t anything wrong with me then, just like there isn’t anything wrong with me now. She was exactly right that having a strong, hyper-energized, always on personality can be a bit much to take, especially for people who prefer quiet and solitude. Now, I can see the gift in her simple statement. I understand what ‘too much Mel’ looks like, and I can (and do) ratchet it back when needed.

I googled it, and guess what? No one else is calling their blog “Too Much Mel.”


Thinking about Thinking

Reading my blog, people might come to the conclusion that I spend a significant amount of time in quiet reflection.

Ahhh, quiet reflection. That reminds me of a story.

When I got my first promotion to a supervisory role my boss told me something. She said that her boss, while announcing her promotion had shared the guidance he had received at his promotion to that level. He said, “Before, you were expected to constantly be writing, typing or calculating — always in action doing tasks. Now, you’ve reached the level where you can spend a few moments of each day just thinking. Enjoy it.”

We had a conspiratorial chuckle, laughing at the times of old when big open floors were filled with table after table of analysts scribbling frantically on green bar paper. I accepted my promotion gratefully and ran back to my desk to pound out more work. I did not take a moment for quiet thought.

It was years later before I really thought about how bad I am at quiet reflection. Now, don’t get me wrong — I think. I think constantly, but it is always thought in motion:

  • I think while I am writing, like now.
  • I think while talking, the home turf of the true extrovert.
  • I think in edits, in version after version of a difficult spreadsheet, a multi-layered presentation or a sub-optimal process flow.

I am thankful for computers, because now I can churn through reams of ideas without a wastebasket full of evidence. I am an active out loud thinker.

I envy the friends I know who are inside thinkers, those steady waters that run deep. I’ve considered taking up meditation, but I’m not sure I am capable of sitting still that long or of completely calming my mind. The closest I get to that is the 15 minutes in bed at night before I collapse into sleep, and to be honest those are usually either shallow tactical thoughts (what are the three most important things I need to do tomorrow) or self-sabotaging thoughts (who did I let down today, what could go wrong tomorrow). I’m not sure I want to encourage more of that.

Besides, I’ve reached the point where I embrace who I am and how I work. The world needs the frantic energy of my vividly cycling thoughts as much as it needs those who reflect quietly.

It’s the thinking that matters.

The 20-year Year – Part 2

20 years ago, there was a three week period that would change my life in remarkable ways. I graduated from Smith College, a place that taught me how to grow into my authentic self, and I got married, the first decision on a tree that has informed every choice since. Every big anniversary of that time in 1995 makes me thoughtful. Ok, more thoughtful even than usual. How have I grown in those years? I am living up to my promise? Do I bring enough joy to the world to offset the inevitable pain? How am I contributing as a woman, as a wife, as a mother? If I could talk to that woman of 22, what would she think of her 42-year old self? Would she be satisfied or disappointed?

Part 2 – The power of closing doors

Last week, I sat down for a one-on-one with an intern. I could tell he had done his homework — he had read my on-line company profile and was connecting to me in thoughtful and useful ways. And then he asked me a question: What did I know now about achieving goals that I wish I had known at the beginning of my career? I paused for several seconds (a lifetime for me) and articulated a simple statement.

“I wish I had understood the opportunity inherent in closing doors.”

I went on to explain that in the American culture of ‘stick-to-it-ness’ and persistence biases our decision-making toward motion the only successful direction is onward and upward. I shared that when I was younger, the idea of limiting my options was not only unappealing, it was unimaginable. Every single decision I made was about opening doors, adding more and more options to my mental model of endless possibility. As I got older, I told him, I realized that sometimes opportunity only comes from closing doors. Sometimes you have to say no, not yes. Sometimes you have to walk away.

In short, opportunity cost is not just a financial concept and my 22-year old self didn’t get that.

At the end of my sophomore year, I decided I wanted to be an architect. I had no right to think that was reasonable — I hadn’t taken a math or science class since high school and my last two years had been working toward an English degree. But in my mental model of open doors there was only opportunity. I found a small niche Master’s program at the University of Michigan that didn’t require an undergraduate degree in architecture. I took Calculus 1, Calculus 2, Physics, Drawing and Design, mostly in my senior year. I applied, was wait-listed, and then persisted to acceptance.

When I decided two weeks into the program that I had made a horrible mistake, it was a shock to my system. The only thing I had ever walked away from was my high school running career but that was different. (I had never had any illusions about running after high school, so I rationalized that it was only an acceleration of the inevitable.) I agonized about the idea of closing the door and what it would mean about my talent and future success. But the idea of investing three and a half years into the degree that would make me fit to practice in a career that was feeling less and less right was making my stomach ache. I spent a weekend agonizing about my future.

On Monday I withdrew from the program.

At the time, the only thing that felt good about it was getting a full refund. But looking back, I am capable of seeing the closing door as the first domino in a long run of opportunity. The next day, I negotiated to get back my summer administrative assistant job. That bought me time and space to pick the right direction, to get my MBA, to join Ford Finance, to build my fan club. To put myself in a position for new and greater opportunity.

One of my favorite podcasts ever is the Freakinomics episode called The Upside of Quitting. I’ve listened to it at least five times as a reminder about just how hard it is to fight the inherent momentum of onward and upward. And, I keep a memory book of little and big ‘quits’ as proof that you can not only survive but thrive when a door closes. The Upside of Qutting says when something is wrong quit fast. I believe it — now.

I’m not sure how my 22-year old self would see my philsophical transformation from a model of endless possibility to one of closed doors. Would she see it as giving in to the crusty bitterness of adulthood? Would she see it as the pragmatic realism of middle age? Or would she see it as I do: endless possibility focused with the insight of experience. Finding not any opportunity but the right opportunity. Picking not any path but the right path. Choosing not any door but the right door. And closing the rest.

I think she would be ok with it.