There’s Always a Scoreboard – Revisited

Over the last month, I’ve connected one-on-one with some people who are reading my blog to find out what they think. Most are incredibly encouraging, but one reached out recently with notes — yes notes — about his reactions. I was stunned that someone would take the time and so excited to think about how I could incorporate the ideas into a future post.

His reactions to ‘There’s Always a Scoreboard’ brought to light a key part of my blog — it’s point of view. I’m a middle-aged married working mother of two. While I may like to believe that I can channel universal thoughts, I know that isn’t true. Things will tend to be framed from my experience, historical and current. And it really came home soundly in his feedback.

It’s fascinating to think of this [There’s Always a Scoreboard] in terms of parenting. In my life, ‘beating’ coworkers in the eyes of my boss and ‘winning’ at the dating game to find the best significant other is on my mind. Seems like the post could include more examples of how to deal with this reality to be satisfied with where you are personally, checking with others as a point of reference to where you could be, but not getting down about feeling defeated.

It has been more than 22 years since I was trying to find a significant other. I’m confident in my career in a way that I wasn’t when there were 1,000 other junior analysts like me grinding it out in the trenches. True, I still worry. But not about the same things, not from a 20-something point of view.

And, I think that has to be okay. Trying to speak as a 20-something would be a failed effort. And even if I harken back to my 20-something self, she lived in a different time and place than the 20-somethings now. A river is never the same twice.

But that doesn’t mean that this blog can’t be useful to people at a different place in their life. The questions expressed by my friend are good questions — they spurred introspection and thoughtfulness. The scoreboard idea held, and the fact that he had to twist it like a kaleidoscope to get it to line up to his circumstances is okay. It’s better than ok. It means at the heart of the post was something universal, some grain of truth that could carry past my experiences to have meaning for others.

Damn, that feels good. Another point for me.

Embracing the Patterns

Somewhere between the idea that everything in life is preordained and the idea that everything in life is random is another idea — that life is built on a series of patterns. The patterns can be simple or complex, but if you are smart enough, patient enough or creative enough, you can see them emerge. That’s the life I believe in, one in which both DNA and behavioral economics co-exist and can be understood through their patterns.

When a new pattern comes into focus for me, it’s a lot like when I got my first pair of glasses. The blurry edges sharpen and a picture comes to life. New understanding forms and another part of the universe is understandable. Ahhh, that is why. That is how. I am not sure there is a purer feeling to me than learning a new pattern — it’s a big part of why I’m a learning junkie.

And no patterns are more interesting to me than patterns about myself.

One of my least favorite patterns emerged this week. I call it, “Sunday Night Sweats”. The SNS pattern has a number of tell-tale signs, including:

  • A gnawing feeling at the end of each workday that the pile has grown insurmountable
  • A steady uneasiness, including difficulty focusing on complex tasks
  • A short fuse and inability to laugh at myself or my failures
  • Great relief on Friday and an inability to fall asleep on Sunday night

Early in my career, SNS used to scare the crap out of me. It triggered feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’ — clearly, I was not capable and I was in the wrong job. I used to let SNS run roughshod through my brain, setting up camp in the part of my insecurity reserved for my teenage years. I used to fight it hard.

Not anymore. Now, I see SNS for what it is — my early warning signal. It tells me that my natural tendency to take too much on, to default to yes, has reached a limit. I know that when SNS hits, I need to regroup at work and at home. I need to comb carefully through my to do list and purge, delegate and prioritize the work. I need to focus on critical tasks, sequence large assignments and back burner good ideas that just can’t be done right now. I need to enlist talented colleagues. I need to listen to my pattern and respond.

So, this week when I felt SNS coming on, I was capable of talking about it without panic. By learning the pattern, I knew what to expect. The symptoms were neither random nor preordained, they were just me. Suddenly, I was able to move myself past the mental anguish and into action because I knew that I would recover. Years of repeating the same steps told me that I would climb out of it — I would self-correct and pull myself back from the the edge.

Guess what? This Sunday, falling asleep will not be a problem.

It’s Not A Priority

A Facebook friend of mine posted a great meme yesterday. It said,

Instead of saying, “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels.

Ouch.

I did a little searching, and the meme is actually a quote from an article by Laura Vanderkam called, “Are You As Busy As You Think?” It’s a great article, worth reading.

She makes the point that in our multi-tasking world, with our hyper-programmed children and constant distractions, we talk about being too busy. For example, in my job, people make the excuse for me all the time saying, “I’m sorry to bother you, I know how busy you are.” I feel like I’m running around all the time, rarely having a moment to sit down and just think, unable to stay focused enough to enjoy the depth of a good novel or a hobby.

But the truth is, as Laura points out, I have plenty of time. We all have 168 hours in the week, which allows us to work 50 hours per week, sleep 8 hours per night and still have 62 hours for everything else. That’s a lot of time for personal priorities. Time for making choices.

Right now, for example, I chose to sit down and write this blog post. It is time I could be dedicating to catching up on work emails or exercising or taking a class or crocheting an afghan. I am choosing to write, because writing feeds my soul and gives me a way to focus my thoughts productively. I am making a choice on how to use my scarce time — I am prioritizing what I want to do.

The reason the meme resonated so strongly with me is that when pushed, I have to admit to my choices. I am the one who spends an hour watching Netflix, decides not to meal plan or pre-pack a weeks worth of lunches, or hits the snooze bar four times in the morning. I say I need to exercise, but then don’t take the time to get up in the morning and do yoga or pack a bag so I can swing by the gym at night. I want to read more, but I haven’t managed to read a full novel since Gone Girl. I am struggling, like most people, with inertia and distraction.

Like many people, I want to use my time better. But, I don’t.

For me, it is a constant battle to move away from excuses and move to purpose. It is an on-going effort to be crystal clear to myself why I am doing something — or alternatively, doing nothing. There are times when I truly need to rest my brain or clean out my sock drawer. Sometimes it is the right time to play video games with my son or get a pedicure with my daughter. And sometimes I should be on Facebook.

What’s important is that I own my choices, my priorities and my time. That I recognize making a choice to prioritize something means making a choice to deprioritize something else. It’s not about not enough time, it’s about too many options and not enough discipline.

And, I have to be honest with myself about that, even if it hurts.

Political Correctness

Last night, I was sitting in Wrigley Field watching the Cubs grind out a win against the Giants, so I didn’t see either Jon Stewart’s last show or the GOP primary debate. But, thanks to the miracles of modern video recording, digital compression and instant replay — shazam! — I could still see the highlights.

I enjoyed the tribute that Stephen Colbert made to Jon Stewart as a boss, it reminded me of my best bosses and the way I want to be remembered by the people who I have been lucky enough to lead. And, I loved Jon Stewart’s final moment of zen about bullshit, where he ended by saying, “If you smell something, say something.”

So, here I am saying something.

During the GOP primary debate, Donald Trump was asked about derogatory public statements about women. He’s polling poorly with women, and it seemed reasonable (to me at least) to ask how he felt about that and how he would respond to concerns on the matter. I won’t put the entire quote here, but in short he asserted that he doesn’t have time to worry about political correctness and neither does America. He needs to get stuff done and can’t be bothered with us thin-skinned whiners.

Bullshit.

People generally consider me to be an effective and results-oriented professional. True, my net worth is not over a billion dollars, but I started out with privilege not a trust fund. And, while I recall a couple of times when my passion got the best of me, I have tried to be respectful of my colleagues, even when I struggled to find common ground. My grandfather once told me that his mother told him, “It doesn’t cost a penny to be polite.”

I believe that resorting to name calling and personal insults is not a reflection of expediency or results, it is good old fashioned laziness. If you have to use crass or demeaning language and personal threats to get stuff done, well, that’s not much of a toolkit.

And, the idea that language didn’t matter prior to the term ‘political correctness’ being coined is ridiculous, too. True, some terms become less respectful over time. Language is a living social construct, and it reflects the social norms of the day. A word that was used respectfully between individuals in 1890 might organically become distasteful by 1990. Or it might have been derogatory from its origin, but only be realized to have a negative impact much later.

It isn’t political correctness it is just fundamental respect.

So, I listen and I learn the words that have a negative impact on others. It may be obvious, or I may not understand why — but it doesn’t really matter if I do. Because respect isn’t about me, it’s about showing another person that I value them and their point of view through my words and actions. If I said I respected someone but then turned around and was knowingly rude with my language…

See, that just sounds stupid. You wouldn’t do it, not really. And if you did on accident, you probably would feel a little bit bad about it. Again, if you respected them.

When I add a word to my “do not use” list, I have a plethora of alternatives (also see variety, cornucopia, assortment, buffet, etc). And if I’m really stymied, I just ask. “Hey, what’s a better word to use?” Problem solved. It doesn’t take more than a minute and it speaks volumes.

So, Donald Trump (and anyone else) quit using the derogatory term ‘political correctness’ to cover up your lack of respect for your fellow humans. And stop pretending that in order to be efficient and expedient you have to be rude. Because that is just bullshit used to cover your laziness or the fact that you don’t feel them deserving of basic human consideration.

No disrespect intended to the bulls.

Measuring Success

I was talking today with my boss and he was sharing the experience of a very successful individual who — by 55 — had established enough professional and financial success to have an impressive network and a massive estate. I listened and then said, “I hear things like that and all of a sudden I don’t feel very successful.”

What ensued was a discussion about how you measure success. The person had:

  • Invested formative years in a career, but churned through multiple failed marriages. 
  • Conceived children, but relied on others to nurture them through their development.
  • Accumulated things, but ended up with no one to share life’s time, treasure and talent.

So, was that really more successful? Did I have anything to feel lacking about? Would I be happier if I was alone in a 40,000 square foot house sending my distant children and ex-spouses monthly checks and sipping $2,000 a bottle Chardonnay?

No. No. Hell no.

There have been times throughout my marriage when my husband has pointed out that, without him as a distraction, I would be more successful professionally. I would likely have ended up in a consulting or banking track where I would have willingly and eagerly said yes to every opportunity. I would have worked every hour that I didn’t have to sleep. I would have lived anywhere and traveled anytime. I would have acted exactly the way I do when we are apart. I would have been a frickin’ superstar.

And, I would have been a shell of myself. I would have worked myself to exhaustion, alone and single focused, suffering the physical and mental effects of that lifestyle. I would not know the joy of being a mother. I would not have learned the value of balance. I would not give myself the space to contemplate my existence until it was too late to change it.

Ok, it’s never too late. But, still.

So, maybe it is best not to compare one success to another. Maybe my ability to build connection, my ability to choose balance over material wealth, is more important. For me, maybe that is the right measure of success.

All I know is that I wake up pretty much every day satisfied with my trade-offs. I have enough of everything on Maslow’s hierarchy. If there’s a better definition of success, I’m not sure what it could be.