Learning to Lean In

Six months ago, to our surprise and joy, my husband and I discovered we would be bringing our third child into this world.  I had just finished my MBA (we actually found out we were pregnant the night before I walked for graduation…talk about one door shutting and another opening!), and I was laser-focused on my next career steps.

My first instinct was to take a step back from my career, to back off from my goals, to wait until after pregnancy, until after maternity leave, until after the re-balancing of life following our newest addition.   I didn’t want to, but rather thought I had to, lean back from my career in order to be a good mom, a good wife, to take care of my family.

I was wrong.

I shared my thoughts with a good friend.  I had been vying for a promotion, and I thought I should bow out now.  I thought that I couldn’t balance both a pregnancy and growth in my career.  Thankfully my friend said, “Don’t do that…don’t leave before you leave.  Lean in.”  My friend, a career-loving parent herself, had started reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg.  I know this book impacted my friend, but the timing of her advice and the introduction of this thought into my life in that particular moment was life-changing.

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I listened to my friend.  I did not slow down.  I did not lean back.  I pressed full force on the gas pedal, and I leaned all the way in.  I was sick, physically sick from the pregnancy.  I could barely eat for the first few months due to crazy food aversions and nauseousness.  I was utterly exhausted all day every day due to anemia brought on by my pregnancy.  I was stressed out between prepping for job interviews, prepping my current role for the next person, showing up as my best self every day for my current job, caring for my two children and husband, and running my household…and dealing with pregnancy hormones (you mommas know what I’m talking about!).  And in that time, we faced a serious illness within our family.

So here I am, six months down the road.  I pushed forward when things were not ideal, and I got the promotion I have been working toward for years…I got my dream job.

The stress isn’t gone, if anything it is now crunch time.  Baby three is due in eight weeks and four days (but who’s counting???).  In those eight weeks, I will train my replacement for my current role, I have taken on a special project within my company that will take place in two weeks (another lean in moment for me), I am continuing to work to excel in my current role until I move, I am beginning to train and work in my new role…and I’m nearly eight months pregnant.  Let’s not forget that I have a family and household to care for, and we’ve tried to make the most of this fall season with Halloween fun, field trips, lots of quality time, prepping the house for baby, along with the usual homework, laundry, baths and daily routine.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m totally looking forward to my maternity leave with my new little nugget.  I’m counting the moments until my sole focus is my newborn and my other two children, until I can be just mom for a bit.  But also, and this part is so vitally important, I am already looking forward to going into my dream career when I return to work after maternity leave.  I’m so thankful that I’ve leaned in to arrive at a place that I am truly excited and ecstatic to be.  I’m so thankful that I’ll be doing work that I find meaningful, setting an example for my children that hard work pays off in the best of ways, that I’ll be providing for my family while fulfilling my own individual goals.

I thought this morning about what my life would look like right now if I had leaned back in that moment six months ago.  I enjoy my current career, and I would still be thankful to work for a company that I believe in and within a role that is challenging every day.  But I would also be watching someone else step into the promotion that I know I am made for…and it would hurt.  I would not have taken on the special project that I’ll be completing in two weeks, and I’d be watching someone else in my spot…and again, it would hurt.  It would hurt for my pride, but it would hurt more so for the opportunity lost.  When I factor in the last six months I’ve spent full-throttle careening toward my goals, the next two months executing the final steps before baby, and my upcoming maternity leave, I would have missed nearly a year out of my career progression had I not leaned in.  A year of my career would have been stopped, stalled, at a standstill.

When we look at professional women and we wonder about things like the pay gap or the glass ceiling, I am convinced it is in these make-or-break moments in life that determine if we continue to advance or stall.  These are the moments that we easily fall behind our male peers, and while it is for a wonderful and fulfilling reason, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make up for.  It would have undoubtedly been easier to stall in this year’s time; however over my lifetime, I will look back and be so thankful for the advice I was given to “lean in” when I was afraid to push myself.

I’m aware that this decision is not for everyone, and I admire and understand those whose choices are different than mine.  Every decision we make has an immediate consequence on our lives and the lives of our family.  For me, as I know it would be for many of you, leaning in was the right decision.

I encourage you to not be afraid, to give every single opportunity your absolute best.  I encourage you to stay engaged in those things you are passionate for up until the very moment that you can’t; I encourage you to not leave before you leave.  There are times that our personal lives take center stage and balance between family and career is impossible, so our focus becomes 100% our family, and that is the way it should be…that is wonderful.  But when that time passes, when it again becomes possible to have our families and continue to pursue our personal goals, it’s important that we’ve given ourselves every option possible, so that the decision to be made, the going back to work, is a happy one, because we’re returning to a career we love, a career that we’ve spent every available moment working toward, a career that we didn’t leave prematurely.

I also encourage you to be the friend in my story. I’m so blessed to be surrounded by strong, career-loving parents.  These are the women and men that help me to see all that is possible in my own life.  Be that driving force, that role model, that source of inspiration when those around you struggle with the work-life balance dilemma.  Be that kind, supportive friend that understands the struggle, but won’t allow someone to quit their dreams.  Be the person not only to say, but to show, exactly what leaning in looks like.

 

 

Clean Those Filthy Lenses, My Friend

Wow, this life is good…this feeling is hitting me especially hard today while reflecting on the week that is ending.  There are challenging days and moments in my rear view, but my heart is so full, and I’m left with a feeling of pride and hope.  I didn’t get a pay raise or promotion.  I didn’t achieve a lifelong goal.  I wasn’t given an extravagant gift or compliment.  Instead my wonderful life-view this week was the accumulation of the ordinary extraordinary moments.

I have weeks like this past week all of the time, as I’m sure you do as well.  I experience these extraordinary moments every day, but the difference in my life experience is actually not life at all; it is me.  The difference is that many times my lens is out of focus….or more likely covered in dirt and fingerprints….or truly, covered in my worries, heartaches and anxieties.  Have you been there?  Are you there right now, unable to see the beauty before you because you can’t see past your challenges?

the difference in my life experience is actually not life at all; it is me.

For me and my family, the hard times were there this week.  The sadness of illness, the pure exhaustion of working, keeping a household and having a million kids (okay, maybe we have two kids but it often feels like a million), and the injustices and unfair things that sneaked their way into my world daily.  What is different for me today is that when I look back on this  week, I am looking through a clean lens, a lens of gratitude.

I am looking through a clean lens, a lens of gratitude.

So how do we get there, to the clean lens?  How do we maintain the gratitude that helps us to appreciate the good and to weather the not-so-good?  Here is a simple recipe:

  1. Ask for help when you need it.  Ask with clear, direct requests for the specific things that you need.  Don’t be a martyr or a victim of your situation.  Figure it out and be honest with those around you about how they can help.
  2. Read something that you’re interested in and invest in your own personal growth.  If you’re one that just doesn’t enjoy reading, I get it….but there’s this wonderful thing called Audible.  Download it.  Today.  Make the most of your time driving or bathing or washing the dishes…and put new and wonderful ideas into your mind and soul.
  3. Listen to music and podcasts that make your heart happy and inspired.
  4. Exercise, whatever that means to you.  It may be a five mile run, or it may be a ten minute walk, but move your body and treat it like a temple…it’s the only one you’ll ever have.
  5. Do nothing. No dishes. No laundry.  No cleaning or planning.  When your body and soul tells you that you need to do nothing, just do nothing and be okay with that.
  6. Say yes.  When your son asks you to play cars.  When your daughter asks you to go on a bike ride.  When your spouse begins a conversation, say yes and tune in.  When real joy is offered to you, say yes.
  7. Spend time physically close to your spouse…intimacy is so important and healthy for your relationship and for you as an individual.  We all need to feel physically connected to the person we love.  Hold hands.  Give hugs.  Look them in eye.  Connect.
  8. Be honest about your feelings.  When you’re disappointed, be honest about it.  When you’re struggling, be honest about it.  When you’re mad, be honest about it.  Putting all of those feelings out into the open allows you to deal with them and move on, and then, when the happiness comes, there is clear open space to let the good vibes in.
  9. Eat well.  Think about what you put into your body and treat your food as fuel most of the time…with the occasional mocha muffin splurge now and then.
  10. Don’t hold yourself to all of these things at one time.  Don’t strive for perfection.  Choose progress instead.  One step into the right direction.  One moment at a time.  Being better today than yesterday.  Living in this very moment.

For me this week, my extraordinary moments through my lens of gratitude looked like this:

  • My husband and I met with our children’s teachers for parent-teacher conferences, and got to see our children through their teachers’ eyes.
  • I spent one evening just curled up on the couch with my husband (not so easy at seven months pregnant…the two of us trying to fit on the couch together looks more like like an assault on my furniture than cuddle time, but we took time to make that happen and my soul is happier for it).
  • I saw my son set academic goals for himself and then put in the work to meet those goals.
  • I read my daughter’s latest book where she chronicled our back-to-school shopping adventure, and my heart melted in knowing that time together meant as much to her as it did to me.
  • I watched my son pitch, play first and second base, and get some good hits in at his ballgame.
  • I found my children snuggled up in my son’s bed this morning sleeping like angels, and came across one of those rare moments in between all of the sibling arguments where their love for one another shone through.
  • I went on a bike ride.
  • I had my 27 week OB appointment, heard my baby’s heartbeat again, and felt her move countless times.
  • I had lunch with a good friend, talked about hard things, and also laughed a lot.
  • I had a meal with my parents, sister, niece, nephew and my children.
  • I started reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and am loving it.
  • I listened to the Rise Together Podcast by Rachel and Dave Hollis and found myself so inspired that I was in tears.

In this moment I am GRATEFUL.  Just completely grateful.

Friendships that all Women Need

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There is a scientific theory called the law of averages, which says that any given situation will be the average of all outcomes.  Snooze fest, I know.  But Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker, took this scientific theory and applied it to us, humans, and that makes this scientific jargon pretty darn interesting.  Rohn theorizes that each of us are the average of the five people that we spend the most time with.  Think about that for a moment, and picture who those five people are for you.  It’s pretty likely that you’ll see a lot of yourself in each of them.

So how is this information useful?

we can build upon who we are today, just by being intentional about who we surround ourselves with

This thought means that we can build upon who we are today, just by being intentional about who we surround ourselves with.  We usually spend time with people that we like, and most of us like people who are very similar to ourselves.  These relationships are comfortable.  But they keep us exactly where we are.  My hope for my readers is that you can look inside yourself and see places for improvement, because I truly believe that personal growth is the key to happiness in life.  The areas in which you are lacking, areas of opportunity if you will, can develop simply by surrounding yourself with someone who has mastered the desired quality.  To think about it a bit more simply, we learn from our friends.

We’ve taught this concept to our children, knowing the concerns we have about our kids falling into the “wrong” crowd, but have we thought about this for ourselves?  For adults, the “wrong” crowd means something different.  The “wrong” crowd for us can be something as harmless as the complainer, the pessimist, the fearful, the uninspired.  The people we truly invest in should be the people who can show us the bright side in this life, those who can put a smile on our face when we can’t seem to muster it on our own, the ones that push us a bit beyond our own limits and inspire us to be our very best self.

The “wrong” crowd for us can be something as harmless as the complainer, the pessimist, the fearful, the uninspired

I made a conscious decision some time ago to be intentional about my friendships, and the results have been incredible.  And here’s the thing, I totally have lifelong friends that I ran around in diapers with, and they feed my soul in a different way with memories, laughter, a special kind of sisterhood.  But for those relationships I foster as an adult, I’m not afraid to say I am choosy, and you should be too.

Here are three examples of ways that my selected She-Tribe have rocked my world in the past few years:

  • I had an insane idea to take a road trip up Highway 1 in California from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and I had not only one of these fabulous, brave, adventurous females sign on, but THREE.  Three devoted wives and mothers that saw an opportunity to have an adventure and grow personally, and thought it worth their while to spend their precious life moments with me.  Wow.  Without those ladies, I would have never made that trip, made those memories, or lived an adventurous dream of mine….I’m forever thankful.
  • I have had some personal and professional struggles over the past few months.  Without asking or even communicating what I needed, these women have sent emails, cards, and even small gifts of encouragement, love and understanding.  And even more importantly, they have asked, “How can I help you succeed?”  Every single one of us should be so lucky to have these people in our lives.
  • I have been inspired by their accomplishments.  I see what they do in their daily lives, and I am blown away by their strength, determination and boldness.  Those qualities that I admire make up the woman I aspire to be, and how I want my husband, daughters and son to see me.  These ladies make me want to be better, my best self.

This is not a science (although I started you off with some scientific theory…sorry about that!).  It is truly simple.  There are people you admire in life.  Ask them to lunch. Say hello.  Cut the small talk and have a real conversation with them.  You will be surprised at how open people truly are.  You don’t need to sit down and say in the most un-creepy way, “Hey, I admire you and want to be friends”….although this is something I would probably do….sorry to anyone I’ve creeped out in the past, or will creep out in the future.  It’s as simple as beginning a conversation, and allowing things to progress from there.  You won’t become best friends with everyone you would like to learn from, but you can certainly develop enough of a relationship to soak in some of what makes them so awesome.

Here are a few simple ground rules for me for my She-Tribe:

  • She has to be a “she”.  I have nothing against men.  In fact, some of the professionals that I look up to most in this world are men.  However old fashioned as this may sound, I will always keep my relationships with men professional, while I’ll allow my relationships with women to grow deeper.  I don’t want to form a significant emotional bond with any man who is not my husband.  As a married woman, I see that as inappropriate, and my husband has the same respect for me.  It works for us.
  • She has to be totally rocking something…her health, her mommy-ness, her positivity, her professionalism, her personal-style, her intelligence, her motivation.  Women who rock their lives are confident, happy, and willing to invest in friendship in the same way that I am.  It’s a winning combination.
  • The relationship must be reciprocal.  I’ve had friendships in the past where I thought the other person was great for one reason or the other, but I found myself constantly giving, constantly reaching out, constantly trying, without feeling like I was receiving the same in return.  This one’s simple.  Life is draining enough.  Friendships should not be draining.
  • She doesn’t need fixed.  I used to feel a drive to connect to people I could help, and not in a personal development kind of way, but in a struggling to find themselves kind of way.  I’ve learned that I cannot fix anyone, and shouldn’t.  We are each on our own path, and my way isn’t the right way for you, or her, or him, or anyone else.  Anytime I disrupt someone’s natural path, I am keeping from them from their personal journey.  Fixer just isn’t my place anymore, and it truly never was.

That’s it.  That’s all there is.  I hope you’ll take the time to be intentional in your life.  You deserve it.  You deserve to be surrounded with those who love life, who wish to grow and develop every single day, who rock life, who spend their time in an attitude of gratitude.  You deserve that, and I encourage you to create it if you haven’t already.  And if you have, kudos.  Keep on keepin’ on!  Please share your tips in the comments of this blog/post so other readers can learn from you too.

Make it a great moment, a great day, a great week and a fantastic life!