Graceless under Pressure

I’ve always had more energy that accuracy. It’s why I was a runner and not a gymnast, even when it was clear from early on that I wouldn’t be breaking any height records. I was athletic, but I couldn’t put together enough coordination to play any of the sports involving dexterity or bats, balls or sticks.

Between my junior and senior year in high school, I found myself in summer school for gym. Yes, there is such a thing. I was there because I had taken too many academic courses and hadn’t used enough electives to meet the gym requirement. I guess I could have used my three years of lettering in track to get an exception, but even then I wanted to follow the rules. So, I signed up for gym in summer school.

The people who take gym in summer school are an interesting bunch. Very few enjoy athletic activity and even fewer make attendance at school a regular habit. As an athlete, I regularly lapped people doing the required mile warm-up run, and I hated the mile and wasn’t even trying. On sheer physical fitness I had 99.9% of the group beat, but unfortunately for me it wasn’t just about being in shape. We also played sports.

With balls. And sticks. And racquets.

I remember, because it was a painful, pitiful experience. I wish I had had the sense of humor then that I have now about it, but then I was just resigned. Resigned to being picked last for teams, including behind a girl with a broken arm. Resigned to being the fastest to the ball, but the most incompetent when it came to fielding, throwing or hitting. Resigned to being the designated runner, which at least was useful.

I was reminded of my own gracelessness over the weekend. We got home from dinner and I came barreling out of the car, hell bent on getting into the house quickly. I ran around the car, quick powerful strides and then, *boom* I ran straight into the car door my son had just opened. The force of the hit threw me backwards and I landed on my butt on top of the snowblower.

“Damn IT!”

I popped up and continued in the house without another word. It was stupid and graceless, but so incredibly me that I couldn’t even be upset. It’s not the first time my over-energized self has run into a car door, a minivan hatch, a door jam or a desk edge. I’m just not the kind of person who slows down long enough to avoid objects in my way. And I’m not Barry Sanders, I can’t zig out of the way, either.

That’s okay. In addition to running, I bruise really well, too.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles 

My office is very close to a major international airport, so in the course of an average workday I see between 10 and 20 planes. They fly overhead as I drive on the highway and they fly past as I sit in window filled conference rooms. I thought that I had gotten to the point where they were completely routine, hardly worth noticing.

Yawn.

And then this week, as I was coming in early when it was still pitch black out, a plane flew overhead on a path perfectly aligned to the highway. I came from behind with it’s lights burning bright through the dark and the fog until I saw it like a bird, wings outspread directly above and then in front of me. The image conveyed in that single motion at that single instant was beautiful. I was stunned.

It struck me in that moment that I have lost a little bit of wonder around technology. And there is no place where technology is more ‘hum-drum’ to me than in transportation. Sure, driverless cars, drones and hovercraft still feel cool, but a plane? A car? A train?

Yawn.

But there it was, a graphic in-my-face reminder of the fact that while plane travel is routine it remains worthy of awe.

I think the problem is that transportation has become so routine that now we are able to complain about it. There was a point in human history where moving more than 10 miles away from your family meant an all day trip — young couples who chose to ‘go West’ were effectively saying good-bye forever. You couldn’t complain about bad traffic or busy routes or inconvenience — people were too worried about survival and figuring out how to build an entirely new safety network.

Now, I have a daily commute of 32 miles one way. With good traffic, I can make it door to door in 45 minutes including walking to and from my car. We can drive the 270 miles to our parents’ houses in about five hours, connected the whole way with satellite radio, DVD entertainment and safe reliable communication. There are four different public transportation methods to get back and forth, too, ranging from $30 to $250 round trip.

How awesome is that? Pretty darn awesome.

And that awesome has made me weak. When the traffic is bad I have the luxury of complaining, sitting in my safe, reliable car on a well-paved road. When a plane is delayed I have the luxury of being annoyed and anxious. When I sit on a crowded train I have the luxury of being uncomfortable, stuffed with others just like me who are also going places with agendas and purpose.

I’m thoughtful that it took a moment — a picture perfect in my windshield moment– to jar me out of my routine and remind me just how epic it is to be a human moving around the earth in 2015. I can go nearly anywhere. I can see nearly anything. And in 95% of cases it will be routine, the normal balance of predictable and inconvenient.

And that’s not boring, it’s pretty darn cool.

The Impact of Super Hotness

So, Matthew McConaughey is super hot. He’s the kind of hotness that makes a person wonder what it would be like to be around someone that good looking. Like, does it feel as surreal as I think it must?

I was watching ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’ and that thought just kept going through my mind. There’s this scene where he’s hanging out with his movie family at their home, and everyone else is normal — not bad looking, just normal — and in my head I’m thinking, what must it be like to have someone that good looking in the family? If that is your son, what in the heck do you think? Does it strike you every time you look at them? Or does it become just routine?

And here’s the rub. I think my husband is really good looking. He’s the kind of guy who is looking better and better as he gets older. He’s got the bones for ‘distinguished’ and the face for ‘weathered’ wrapped up in one — just like a great pair of leather loafers don’t look ratty as they get older, they just look right. He just looks right, like he’s always been ready to be 40-something and his age is just catching up with his body.

So, I’m not looking at Matthew with a wistfulness. I’m not longing. I am simply curious. What is it like when you are that far out of the normal range? I guess the same thing must happen with intellect, or sports ability, or any other attribute. But looks, well, that one is the most observable. Do you think Matthew’s more normal friends and family feel awkward? Do they feel stunned by him walking into a room in something as normal as a t-shirt and jeans?

I’d love to find a way to ask the question without seeming like a stalker. I am seriously curious. Even in my most outstanding qualities, I don’t feel like I am so far out of the normal range that anyone would feel like I was noteworthy. Certainly, in the looks category I am remarkably average. I am confident that even in my glamour shot moments there are no double takes happening. Since I’ve never experienced it, I really just want to know, “what is it like?”

I’m racking my brain to think of one person in my network that is smoking hot. Matthew McConaughey hot. Because now I really want to know. I’m sure that is weird, but there it is. What is it like to be so ridiculously good looking that it is an issue for everyone — even your family? How do you manage to not become a prick or a pariah or a peacock? How do you remain grounded? How do you find people who are capable of looking beyond your looks to understand the deeper person?

And, what percentage of those 1% looks people do you think manage to survive being there? What percentage end up in healthy relationships with a balanced point of view? Statistically, does it change the outcomes? Did my being average in looks increase the likelihood that I would be happy?

I bet it did.

So, I’ll give a silent thank-you to the genetic gods that made my DNA cocktail. And, if I get a chance to ask Matthew the question, I will. Or, I’ll get a big hug from him and find out if super hotness feels any different, too.

You know, for research.

An Honest Day’s Work

I grew up in the Midwest and so I am stereotypically wired to appreciate the value of hard work. It’s possible that if I had grown up somewhere else, I might not be a workaholic. Possible, but not likely.

Over the last 24 hours, I had an opportunity to shadow the employees at my company who do the real work. I watched as the night shift picked and loaded shipments and followed along as a driver delivered product to a dozen customers over an eleven-hour shift. I got four and a half hours sleep between shifts and walked more than 14,500 steps and 6.75 miles. I pushed myself 100% harder than I normally do.

It felt great.

When I got back to the office today, a number of people asked me how it went. I told them, honestly, that it was a great experience and I was very appreciative of the time and effort that the team spent to help me learn the business. There was surprise, because I think it’s hard to believe that what you do every day, day-in and day-out, could be valuable to anyone else. I get that. I’ve worried about whether I bring enough value to the world, too.

But here’s the thing that I got to see that I don’t get to live every day:

  • Tangible completeness. The work was specifically defined and could be finished. We started with a trailer full of product and after a day’s worth of hard work it was empty. My work is so rarely that neat — instead I have ‘good enough for now, do more later.’ It was rewarding to be done, if only for a day.
  • Clear value. Each stop along the way we were met by real people who were counting on us. People with empty shelves that needed to be filled. Everyone was waiting, eager for their product deliveries. I heard more than a few people say, “see you next week” as we headed off on our way.
  • Physical tiredness. There are many days that I go home on fumes, my brain exhausted and my eyes red but I rarely have the bone deep tiredness that comes with activity. I’m sure that if I had to do it every day that I would look at it differently, but today I appreciate the weariness that comes from honest effort.

The guys that let me into their day-to-day life treated me like a VIP — I was from corporate and had a fancy title. But the reality is that I spent at least as much time as they did worrying about the visit. I worried that I would be in their way or upset the carefully coordinated steps of their work. I worried that I would say something stupid, or at the least something uniformed. I worried that I would look silly in the uniform. (Truthfully, I did.)

Worry aside, though, I’m glad I did it. I got closer to the work of my company and to our customers than I have been in three years. I was able to connect what I do every day to the people who benefit from it. And I was able to remind myself about the value of good, hard work. The kind of work that so many of my friends and family members do every day while I am sitting in meetings, helping people clear bureaucratic hurdles and building awesome spreadsheets and presentations.

And in case I forget, tomorrow I’ll have the aches and pains to remind me all about it.

The Siblings Only Dinner

Tonight, I joined my two brothers for our annual post-Thanksgiving tradition. We’re not sure when it started, but we’re pretty sure it was triggered by my international assignment or my grandmother passing away. One of my brothers was able to rattle off eight restaurants we’ve eaten at so we are pretty sure it has been at least eight years. We call it “siblings only dinner.”

Which of course is a misnomer. Sometimes we have breakfast.

Anyway, eight years ago (give or take) I noticed a pattern. Whenever I saw my brothers, we were surrounded by people and we rarely had moments of quiet connection. And that was hard because I’ve always been close to my brothers. We share the same DNA source code and had the same experiences growing up, but more importantly I really value them as people. So when I noticed that we were only able to get to the ‘hey how’s the job?’ depth of conversation, I decided that wasn’t going to work. So, I made a proposition.

One night, once a year. A couple of hours away from your spouse and kids. Just a little bit of time to remember where it all started and to stay connected. Siblings only.

That first year involved a bit of negotiating. Our significant others wanted to know why they weren’t invited. Our kids wanted to know why they couldn’t come. People had to work. Others were traveling. I got creative and leaned in. We made it work.

We’ve made it work every year since.

It hasn’t always been easy. One year I had the flu so bad I barely remember eating anything. Another year the only day we could make work was the Friday after Thanksgiving and one of my brothers had to work — we met him during his lunch hour. We’ve done late breakfasts and early dinners — we’ve met within minutes of our homes and driven two hours one way. 

We just make it work.

We do it because it’s important to each of us that we stay connected. We want to make sure that when the bumps and bruises of life hit us that we are resilient and capable of responding not just individually but as a team. We want to know that we have the kind of relationship to weather the things that we will know will happen someday — including loss and heartache. I want them to know I will be there for them, just like they want me to know they will be there for me.

The most interesting thing is that as much as we have in common, and as much as I feel like I know everything I could know about them, they still have the power to surprise me. They have been part of my life since the day of their birth and I don’t know everything yet. We still have new stories to share.

And in 364 days, we’ll share some more.