Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Lesson in Less

I live in America. Being a U.S. Citizen, I have great opportunities and over the years I have learned to take advantage of them. I have gone from someone who made a minimum wage after school to an income I was well satisfied with. I was able to afford things I never dreamed of and had grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Of course, you'd think that made me very happy but it didn't. When I went from married woman to single mom suddenly, the pace and the effort it took to keep up with my appetite for living made me grow weary. I wanted more free time, I wanted less stress. I wanted less bills. I wanted less results of wanting more.

The pinnacle came as I was driving my brand new Mercedes into the city where I worked. My office was in a prestigious building right in Boston's financial district. I wore beautiful tailored suits and ate nice lunches with my coworkers. As I sat in my latest purchase, staring at the traffic and being frustrated by the wait I started to cry. I called my mother and told her that I just wanted a simpler life. I didn't want all that I'd worked for any more. It was making me miserable. If this was "it" then life could have it back. I wanted to quit my job and write a book. Her unexpected reply was "so do it". And, the next day, I did. I packed up my desk, had a few long meetings with my supervisor and Vice President and left with a box and a smile.

The time I have spent in shorts and flip flops since then has been great, mostly. I don't have to be up before dawn, I spend time with my daughter in the morning making breakfast, putting together puzzles, discussing what we'll do today, fixing her hair and leisurely getting her off to pre-school. I come home and eat breakfast and fire up my laptop to get writing. Sometimes, I don't even shower until after lunch. Easy, some would say. I sit in my tiny shoebox of a condo on the second floor in a small Key West neighborhood. I call it The Tree House because my balcony is surrounded by flowering trees and palms. My condo could have fit 4x into my old house. There is no lawn to worry about mowing, no landscaping, no nothing to do maintenance wise. I was doing okay financially. I didn't have the freedoms to spend like I did before but it was kind of a novelty to not just buy anything on a whim. I think I was playing with the idea of having less but actually seeing it in action was going to be another story.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. Getting a lesson in less was coming. It is a long story but with the social security benefits I am living on plus the proceeds of my investments that I have used, I never gave a second thought to money being tight. I had enough and that was all I cared about. I was still able to get pedicures and massages, that mattered to me. I needed to get the car washed once a week, it's an unwritten rule. You need to get your car washed regularly or people will think badly of you, didn't you know that? One thing led to another in my checking account. Money went this way and that and a cash out on my investment proceeds somehow never ended up being sent and I didn't realize that the check they were sending in the mail to me the day I called wasn't coming and it had somehow been mistakenly voided and couldn't be reissued for another 30 days. Did Mr. Customer Service on the phone just say 30 days?!
I immediately logged in to my bank account to see what cleared and figure out what I absolutely needed to spend in the next week and a half. That left me with a whopping 40 dollars. I had 40 dollars to my name, for the next 10 days. How in the world does anyone live on that for what seemed to be an eternity. Impossible I thought. It can't be done. I moped, I complained to God, I felt sorry for myself, all kinds of negative things. I started to resent my decision to quit my job and be down here at the very end of Florida.

What was I going to do? I decided to give it a try. To live on my 40 dollars and not use my credit cards until my next deposit. It was great challenge but I was willing to see how little I could live on and still put food on the table and gas in my car. I took inventory of what was in my cabinets and freezer. I determined that we'd probably be okay. Instead of just going to the grocery store because it was Wednesday and that was grocery day, I decided to use what ever we had to make meals. I couldn't just make what I felt like having. I had meal plans and had to stick to them. Carli wasn't getting her choice of what to have for dinner. She had to eat what I put in front of her. Quite a feat for a very picky little toddler. We had a couple of nights of crying at the table but she rallied quickly when I didn't relent and told me she was "better now" and got down to eating. Who knew? She could overcome her finicky eating habits.

The gas I had in the tank of my over-priced crossover was going to have to do. I had to fight the urge to bust out the American Express and just drive by the gas station. Gasp! I couldn't wash the car for two weeks. To top it off, I had to park my car under a tree for a couple of days and we all know what birds in trees do to cars that are underneath them. I had to drive around in shame. You know what? No one pointed and laughed. No one looked at me in disgust. It was okay. I did it but the morning my deposit hit, I was right to the car wash, no questions asked.

So where are we in my lesson? I didn't go to Starbucks, walk to the corner to get Carli ice cream or pick up any trinkets. I did go to the dollar store for trash bags and to the grocery store for the essential things that couldn't wait like milk, bread and vegetables. I had seven dollars left over after my trips to the store. The last part of the lesson came when I pulled into a gas station with my last 7 bucks and put what I could afford in cash into my car. No one starved over the last two weeks. I got to where we needed to go. I consolidated trips to places and we walked when we could. Where I ended up was leftovers in my fridge and a little less than a quarter of a tank until I got to the gas station this morning and twenty six dollars still in my checking account. I lacked nothing I needed over the last two weeks. No one went without and no one suffered anything. When we ran out of convenience breakfast foods we made pancake batter. It was fun, Carli loved it and she ate pancakes almost every morning. That is heaven to a 3 year old. When we ran out of snacks, we made sugar cookies. Fun times had by all and what beats homemade cookies anyway? I invented entrees with unlikely ingredients that I will definitely make again.

My life is much simpler. The lesson in less was not easy but it was very necessary. Even with the less that I had, I had so much more than other people right here on this very island I am hanging out on. I am blessed, still. I don't mourn the loss of shopping trips and online purchases any more. I am happy with what I have and content to make great and appreciate what I call mine. I have too much. I am thinking of ways to trim what I can to make it easier and not worry about trivial things that don't really matter and excess is definitely one of those trivial things.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor Part 3 - Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something everyone wants. I know I do when I mess up. Oddly, it is something that most are very slow, if at all, to give away. If we all want it so badly when do we hesitate or deny it to others? Some would say, "I do forgive". I would question, think of someone who has wronged you that you think that you have forgiven. I mean someone who has really wronged you, it caused damage to the relationship. Think of them, bring them to mind. How do you feel? Pain, sorrow, anger, frustration? Anything like that? If you don't have any emotion other than the good, fuzzy feelings of friendship or love I am sorry to say, there is something between you that hasn't been forgiven. I know first hand.

Studying myself in situations of asking for and extending forgiveness I have noted a few things. First of all, asking for forgiveness is very hard. It is, if you are sincerely looking for reconciliation rather than an "I'm sorry too" in return. I know it is nice to get the other side to admit fault but it doesn't always happen. Sometimes they even apologize for something else that wasn't even what you had in mind! Oh, the complexities of relationships. In any case, the first times I earnestly sought forgiveness were and remain, very powerful and humbling experiences for me. In all but one case, there has been reconciliation on some level, meaning the relationship continued on either immediately or eventually in some way.

One comes to most readily is one that was not only hard but the recipient challenged my motives, I would say now to that person, good for you! It was someone with whom I worked along side who eventually became my supervisor. The thing between us was, as peers, we had differing views on how my program within the company should run. I created our program and he had run a successful, similar program at another office within the same company. My program was also successful. I was not very open at all to his trying to mentor me when I hadn't asked for it. Honestly, I was pretty full of my own ego and didn't appreciate him trying to deflate it either. Tensions progressed and further down the road our boss informed us that he had too many managers reporting to him and that I would roll up under this man's team. You'd have thought that our boss had punched me in the face right then and there. I was resentful. My relationship with this then peer and now boss continued to deteriorate. I was indignant, disrespectful and openly critical. I should have been fired but for some reason he didn't. I had come to a place over time where I needed this office distress to end. I hated going to work and I didn't want to find another job. I sat down, went over where my faults were in this relationship and humbly presented them to him after a regularly scheduled business meeting and asked him to forgive me. I went on to say, which I think is most important in these situations, to define what my plan was to not let this behavior continue. He surprisingly pushed back. He asked me to state examples of what I felt were my trespasses against him. I was caught off guard, took a second and then gave him one or two. He asked for more. I swallowed and pressed on, giving him more detail and some others. Something most interesting happened. His face changed. It softened, he looked almost emotional and informed me that no one had ever put him in this situation of asking forgiveness before. He thanked me and we left the conference room. Our relationship changed immediately and for the better. We went on to have many great wins in business together. It turns out, we were a very formidable force together and we remain friends and I hold him as one of my best supervisors, mentors and role models in business. Imagine that.

Harder though is extending forgiveness, mostly to those who are not seeking our forgiveness in the first place. This is my "all but one" person I referred to earlier. I find that this is so common among us. It is so hard to get through and although it causes us so much pain and emotional scarring, it seems we'd rather allow it to reek havoc rather than heal it. I am in fact, still working through this myself with this individual. This person is a family member. During a great trial in my life, this person extended help and the security of help and undying love for me and my daughter. I didn't know this person well in an up close and personal sense but I took the emotion to be genuine and accepted. Public and private promises were made and almost immediately were reneged on. Resentment welled up in me and two more disappointments lead to me, very publicly, announcing this person's wrongs and letting everyone know who I thought he really was. I don't even need to detail the extensive damaged that did to our relationship. I was angry, rage-filled and vengeful. I felt completely justified in my actions at the time. I still believe that this person did wrong me. The sticking point is, I have humbled myself to see my errors, presented these to this individual on more than one occasion not only to have my asking for forgiveness rejected but even harsher words hurled back at me. This person is not open to any communication from me or my daughter at this time. Rejection of me is fine, I've had to live with that before but when it comes to my daughter that is another thing entirely. The "Momma Bear" in me rises and I want to swipe my paw at anyone who dare harm her. I considered this person's actions to be an affront to the emotional well-being of my daughter and I couldn't let it go. The mere mention of his name, the thought of this person made my blood boil over. My jaw clenched, I never turned down the opportunity to voice how hurt and disgusted I was with this person's behavior to my family and close friends. Truth be told, I hated how I felt about this person and I wanted to let it go but I couldn't. I prayed about it, resolved to not feel this way any more, only to be disappointed to find myself angry and discussing how I felt about the situation, again. The crossroads came recently when I had to contact a company my late husband had an annuity with to find out how to close it out. I called and was informed that the paperwork for the beneficiary would be in the mail in a week. Not really paying too much attention, the mail came and to my utter shock, this individual was named as the beneficiary, not me his wife. Ironically, after I felt like I was punched in the stomach for about an hour, this pinnacle helped me let it go. I took the paperwork, put it in an envelope along with a note explaining what this person had to do, stuck it in a mailbox and walked away. Why did this bring about change? I really don't know. Maybe God was pressing me to put my prayers into action and decide if I really wanted to stop carrying around this baggage any more. Will this bring about change in our relationship? I really don't know but I am finally able to think of this person and wish them well. When the thoughts reappear of me talking to this person again and what I would say, I immediately changed the subject in my mind. I can't entertain the "who's right" argument any more. It doesn't matter. This was initially a miscommunication that needed to be resolved followed by someone not meeting my expectations and my reaction toward that. It could have been easily settled but now it may never happen. That's okay. I can leave it there without needing to open old wounds every time someone brings this person up or I think about it.

I've learned that forgiveness is an action. I need to decide to forgive and be committed to the forgiveness regardless of what happens. Easier said than done but I feel so much better having put this into practice. I have wronged people and I have had to ask for forgiveness and they have graciously extended that to me. They, I believe, have moved on and allowed our relationship to continue. If I would expect that from others, why shouldn't others expect that from me?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Love Thy Neighbor

Everyone has heard the quote "Love Thy Neighbor" or at least The Golden Rule "Do unto others". Interesting that when people quote these two phrases that they will inevitably leave off the rest of the sentence "as yourself" and "as you would have done unto you". In a world of bumper stickers, T-Shirts and banners that all scream for us to "Celebrate Diversity", "Give Peace a Chance" and be "One Human Family" you would think we would be doing a great job of this. I mean, people seem to be buying into the hype. They are putting these things on their bodies and cars. How are we really doing? Honestly, I would say not too well. Let me explain...
I am living on a very small island right now, 2 miles by 4 miles to be exact. I get the benefit of seeing society operate on a micro-scale. It's pretty interesting considering Key West considers themselves such an open community. What I see a lot of is passivity and tolerance, not too much in the way of love. Recently we had Pride Fest. A 5-day, yearly celebration of being gay I guess. There really is a more meaningful event behind this festival but it seems to be lost down here into something else. What I observed during that week about how people treated others is really what got me thinking about our two "mottos". Hundreds descended on this tiny island to celebrate. If you weren't downtown, you didn't really see too much going on but that is very hard to avoid and people came early on in the week to make a vacation out of it. Seems logical. The descent came with an undertone or an attitude by a lot of vacationers. Kind of a "it's our town" for the week and a sense of entitlement that came from being there for the celebration toward the locals and others. It gave pride a new meaning to me and not in the good sense. But not to leave out anyone else in the non-love was a man that seems to creep up on busy intersections pretty regularly around here, the "God Hates Fags" guy. His guy repulses me on so many levels. The biggest one is that he wears the banner of Christianity while holding his signs "God Hates Fags" and "God Brought The Oil Because He Hates Fags". First of all God doesn't hate anyone. In fact, Jesus was the one quoted in "Love thy neighbor as thyself"! Second of all, there are no oil spill effects in the Keys at the time of this writing thing so the other sign he carries is just silly. I want to make my own signs and keep them in my car so I can stand next to him when I see him. My signs would say "Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself" and "Let He That Has Not Sinned Cast The First Stone" and make arrows that point to him. I wonder how he would feel about that?

Adults behaving this way toward each other is having effects on our children in how they behave toward each other. I call this the "Me First" syndrome. Since we aren't loving each other, we are loving ourselves more. We are getting our due, exercising our rights, putting ourselves first. My next example is two children at the zoo while I was there with my mother and Carli. We were wondering around looking at alligators and crocodiles. The dad had reached the pen of alligators first and he was calling his children to come look. We were walking over as well. One child shoved my 3 year old out of the way while the other one ran right into me without so much as a glance back as I stumbled to regain control of my knees. The look on Dad's face was one of "they're just excited". I understood. This is how it is in their home. His permission for his children to assault people and not apologize told me everything I needed to know about him...Me first. His kids get it. When you want something, you want something and you want it first. Meanwhile, I tell Carli we have to wait our turn and everyone needs a turn. That's just me. I know that she knows that because when children shove her out of the way or step in front of her view of something, she looks up at me and says "We need to wait our turn, Mama?". I say yes and silently think about shoving those children out of her way. Where has the love gone?

My final example is one of a waitress in a breakfast place recently. I was having breakfast and was being waited on by an older woman who, in my mind, should have probably chosen another career given her lack of friendliness and courtesy toward me and my daughter. Nevertheless, I was kind to her in the same way I would have if I had been given good service. She didn't spill anything on me and she got the food to the table hot. As I was eating her manager was barking an order at her. I heard her reply "Stop talking to me that way!". What she said make me think. Stop talking to me that way implies that this attitude toward her was ongoing, not a one time thing this morning. Her frustration in her voice told me she'd had enough. I guessed her attitude toward me in the form of her customer service was not about me but about her work environment. I suddenly felt sorry for her. Who wants to be barked at while they are trying to do their job? I am glad I slowed my mind down enough to assess the situation rather than react. If I had said something quick and sharp or complained to the manager about the lack of customer service I would have made a bad situation worse for her just because I wasn't getting a smile with my coffee. Not really a big deal in comparison to the situation. I could definitely argue that I was owed a good attitude while I was there, I was a customer after all but none of this was about me in the first place. Why make it about me? Would it have made me feel better to see her berated? Would my omelet have tasted better? I doubt it and I would have further ruined someone's morning.

It's easy to love and to give to those we like and those we know well. It really takes no effort at all. After all, our friends and family members are our neighbors. Everyone who isn't you is your neighbor, or at least that is the intent of the quoter. But what about the neighbor who we don't agree with? The neighbor that we think lives a life that is not in accordance to our own values. Do we love them anyway? Do we talk badly about them in front of our children or to others?
These quotes are made because they really are hard. Loving thy neighbor and doing unto others takes us out of the equation. That means to love everyone, I have to consider everyone as important as myself. It takes a lot of self sacrifice and forgiveness. That is what I see that is lacking, in my own life and certainly how I witness the treatment of others. How are you doing with that?

I wish we were a society working towards "doing unto others" but I don't really see that at work. I see this only being conditional to being like-minded rather than just well....doing it. Challenge yourself. Extend forgiveness and a clean slate to that coworker you can't stand. Let someone cut you in line go without getting mad or saying something about it. When you want to tell your spouse about the next door neighbor who has done that thing that drives you nuts one more time, stop. Who is hearing this and what's in it for you to complain about anyway? When your children want to treat others with disrespect, make them stop and say "I'm sorry". Strike up a conversation with someone who is much different than you. You just might learn something and they may learn something from you. You would be amazed how good you will feel when you just let yourself go and put others first.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Importance of Discipline

I have always understood that good boundaries with children will help them understand that rules need to be followed, kind of like "good fences make good neighbors". It was my natural and logical understanding that a child couldn't obey rules they didn't know they were there to be followed. Made sense to me. If they know them, they will adhere. Right? Anyone who has endured toddler hood with one of their own knows the answer to that question.

The problem with young children as they mature into little people who start to think for themselves is they start to follow a simple decision making process when they run into a fence, a rule if you will. It is called selective hearing. I have seen this played out several times with my 3 year old, Carli. Being someone who can't stand repeating herself, it amuses me and annoys me to no end when I find myself giving the same instructions at least 3 times before she stops what it is I have asked her not to do. For instance, she loves to take everything out of closets, namely the bathroom. We have been over this bathroom boundary 100 times and yet it does not stop her from doing it again. Did she forget about the "no bathroom" rule? I doubt it. Was she just so overcome by her own compulsions that it didn't occur to her? I hesitate to think that is the case more than she made a decision to do what she wanted over the wishes of her mother. She wanted to "get away with it".

For most of us who do administer some sort of discipline or handing down consequences for actions, we begin to realize this is not a one time thing. Telling your children to get off the arms of your sofa seems to be a regular reminder rather than the obligatory "time out" followed by the steadfast adherence to the "sit right on the sofa" policy. It is tiring, all consuming, frustrating and sometimes seemingly hopeless to discipline. Especially for young children where the discipline for today's infraction is a success and it will subsequently be a dismal failure the next time. I have found myself sometimes wondering if all this is really doing...anything at all. Do the parents who just seem to not really do much in the way of setting boundaries have it better than those of us who are insistent on setting rules and limitations and thus following that up with a consequence? Do "free range children" have it better? Is there more harmony in those homes? I say no. They have dire consequences. They create children who grow up to be adults with no concept of laws, moral code and a sense of doing the right thing. They are the people we meet who are always thinking they are the exception to the rule. You have met them over and over. No accountability, and always shirking responsibility. What makes me so sure? See an example.

Joran Van Der Sloot. Any of us who were not familiar with his involvement in the Natalee Holloway disappearance are familiar with him now. He is a killer. A callous, unrepentant predator. So far he has been connected to two murders of young women he met in casinos, there could be more. I am not going to recount his ghastly deeds. What I want to dissect is his parents' reactions and his behavior during the investigations he was a person of interest for. I think it sheds a lot of light on how he was raised and what came of him as an adult and the apparent absence of discipline and direction as a child.

Joran was arrested for the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in Aruba 5 years ago. What astonished and infuriated me while watching the news of him was his attitude toward the police, investigators and even the very crime he was charged with. Most people, faced with being charged with a murder they didn't commit would be very scared, anxious and completely willing to comply...unless they had something to hide. People who are innocent but know something will usually tend to tell something that is as close to the truth as possible, leaving out the information they do not want to share. People need to tell the truth in order to remember pertinent details. Joran not only lied about his whereabouts, Natalee's involvement with him in the wee hours but he changed his story countless times. He enjoyed sending people on a wild goose chase only to find out he was not telling the truth. His reaction? A smile. He enjoyed toying with the investigators. His reaction to them was one of dismissal. It gave his ego a great boost to frustrate the people in authority over this situation. He was letting them know he was in control. He saw them as below his level of intelligence. He has had a lot of practice with this. You don't come about this type of behavior, at this level over night. He was too confident in what he was doing. He more or less did the same thing with the investigators in Peru but his charade didn't last long and he soon unraveled. Why? Something was missing. The key piece of his game was no longer there. His father.

During the Aruban murder investigation, Mr. Van Der Sloot was right there. He, at first, appeared to be the kind of dad anyone would want, to be there come what may for their child. To see my point in how Joran got to where he is today, you need to look further. Joran's father did a lot for him in those coming months. He was tireless in helping the world see that his son was innocent. Who wouldn't, right? I'd spend every last dime I had and probably not sleep if Carli were in a situation where she seemed to be the sacrificial lamb for a terrible crime that had been committed...if she were innocent. Mr. Van Der Sloot did something else. He tried to work the system to get his son exonerated. He threw money at it, he used his political clout in Aruba, he hired the best lawyers, his own investigators, but he wasn't really trying to prove Joran's innocence. He was trying to get him out of the trouble he was in. There is a big difference. You see, Joran knew that is exactly what his father would do. He had a lot of confidence in that. Why? Because Daddy had done that before, many times I would surmise. He didn't for one second, question whether or not someone would help him. He knew whom he could count on....only now his father is dead. The Peruvian government is not anything that anyone he knows can circumvent, no one is throwing money at this, no one is in front of a camera, tearfully pleading on his behalf. In fact, at the time of this writing, I don't believe his mother has been to Peru nor has he spoken of her. Interesting...the Joran of today is afraid for his life, scared and left on his own. That must be terrifying if you've never had to live out the consequences of your actions before, especially as an adult having to do this for the first time.

The relationship with Joran and his parents, his coming to know how they would react came from a long history in his upbringing. These behavior patterns start very early. I can clearly see how this all started in the Van Der Sloot home. I see how this can start as I observe children interacting with other children at the playground and their parents' reactions to their behavior toward others. The culprit? Passive Permissiveness.

Passive Permissiveness is easy. I find myself contemplating it often, to be honest. I am tired, I am sick of saying 'no'. I even try to count in my mind how many times I've told Carli that word in a given day. I think it is the most commonly used word I have uttered as of late other than the word 'yes' when I hear the name, Mom, coming from my daughter. I can hear the name Mom at least 50 times before lunch, I swear. Point being, maintaining order is a great task when it comes to our children's behavior. Sometimes, it is easy to just overlook an infraction because you just can't "go there" one more time. Permissiveness is an easy pattern to fall into because it's easy. What's the harm, right? Well, easy patterns are of course easy to fall into, especially when working parents come home from a long day at the office. You had meetings that ran late, your boss was unhappy with your report, coworkers and employees misbehaving. The last thing you want to do, over dinner, when sitting down for some peace and quiet is to have to dole out instructions for something you have told your children not to do for the one millionth time! I understand it all perfectly, I was there. I came home one night after a long day. My then toddler wanted to play with the salt shaker. I had told her countless times not to play with it. I always took it away from her when she did. This time I handed it to her to keep her quiet. I just wanted to be left alone. I knew what I was doing but I didn't care. It became very hard to train her not to reach for and play with the salt and pepper at the table after that. In later, similar situations involving condiments for entertainment at the table it became a battle of wits and tempers with her when I said no. Why? Because she had learned in certain situations I would relent and she wanted to find out how to make that happen again.

Does it really matter? I would submit, it does. Not keeping our children in check and holding them accountable creates grave behavior patterns that cannot be reversed over time, either by them or by you. Not holding children accountable means you are going to try to make situations go away, like trying to explain to a teacher why your child's report isn't done on time. What is the harm in that, really? Your child doesn't understand that when you don't do what you need to do on time, you get an "F" and you teach them that it is okay to lie and get around rules if given a set of circumstances. Do you really want to model behavior that you would usually punish them for? It's so easy to spackle over things rather than deal with them but over the long haul, both you and your children will pay for it. Joran's parents never intended to create a monster. Little chips in the mortar, one at a time, over the years make the brick wall crumble.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Where Have You Been CareerMomma?

So long since we last spoke, I know. Lots of things have changed my life since my last post. I remain faithful to my mission, to give working parents a voice and a hope that work/life balance will be the reality not the buzz word of the decade. So what happened?

My dear husband Greg was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure at the ripe old age of 37. I was in the middle of rebuilding my illustrious career as a business woman post-pardom when this happened. I was a sunny day in April. The winter blahs were giving way to the hope of warmer weather and fresh air. Devastated and scared, I threw myself into work in an effort to escape and be the breadwinner. Greg was not getting better. His fear of death and his family's fate was a reality that sent him spiraling into crippling depression pretty regularly. It was so hard to watch a happy, funny guy that everyone loved being around diminish into a spare bedroom to live on a futon in front of the TV in silence at every available opportunity. I was sad for him and also angry that this condition had taken so much of my husband. I had a stranger living in my house. A house guest who had over stayed his welcome and I wanted him out and the old Greg to move back in. That never happened.

Marriage difficulties can only be expected with the amount of stress it takes, having a sick spouse. As more and more of the crushing burden weighed on our relationship, the more I threw myself into work and a business plan I had decided to put into action. I often fell asleep at my laptop. I pursued every available escape I could. I felt as though the world was strapped to my back every day. I had to do something, to show him that Carli and I would be "ok". I could make it happen and be on my own. I didn't want him to worry but this thought process separated us emotionally even more. We fought. He got distant and I got bitter. Didn't he know how important my career and my goals were?

Greg's passing was a tidal wave that washed over me on a beautiful summer afternoon. I knew this would come. I thought of what it would be like but I couldn't have possibly prepared myself. What I imagined was a misting when in fact, it was really a hurricane of emotion headed my way. I thought I had already mourned. I wasn't even getting started. Regret, guilt, sadness and confusion were daily beatings I took on. It is hard to lose someone so close and even harder when the relationship was not where you'd have liked it to be. That one last conversation that would have fixed it all, it wouldn't happen. There really is no such conversation but it is nice to think of when you have nothing left to do.

I couldn't throw myself into work any more. Being a single mother took too much time. Either work suffered or my relationship with Carli did. I had to make a choice, I made the best one. I am not a Director of Sales any longer. I am a Freelance Writer. I'll be telling my story of business, career, motherhood and reinvention of self in my blogs and my upcoming book. I hope you'd join me. Nice to see you again my old friends!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Giving Back For Real

I am a big believer in Pay It Forward. The idea that I can pass on what I have so generously been given resonates with me in a way that only an underdog can appreciate. Being able to share experiences and inspire others to the greatness is divinely inspired.

There is a cry out there for help. Lots of non-profits out there are geared toward helping women from financially disadvantaged situations gain education and worthwhile employment. These women are largely single and have not had the privilege of secondary education, if they have even finished High School. Crittendon Women's Union in Boston, MA. is such an organization. Advocacy, education, family services and temporary housing are the mainstays that help disadvantage women regain financial independence.

What does an organization like this need? Perhaps you guessed, volunteers. Volunteers, ladies. I know how busy a working woman is these days. Believe me, I have to schedule a simple coffee with my cousin at least 6-weeks in advance. I could lay the ole' 'If it were you...' thing on you if it were that simple, but it isn't. What is behind volunteering to help a woman in these organizations is breaking the cycle for her children. You are helping a mom be able to be with her children, show kids that their mom can achieve despite the odds, prove the value of education and help a family flourish. The future of our country depends on as many children (especially in urban areas) see the value of education and nuclear family as we can. In a time of educational turmoil where extra-curricular activities and art-based programs are being cut from school budgets children need to see the benefits of sticking with their educational career. Nothing will help them see that than a mom who has worked hard and seen it pay off. These women are desperate for a successful woman to take an interest in them and show them that they too are worthwhile and can add value to society not matter what their past has looked like.

What can you do? Volunteering can be as simple as being available to help with resume writing, teaching computer skills or being a supportive ear. Programs for At Risk Families can be found by calling your state department or a simple web search. Some programs are only looking for 1-4 hours of your time a month. The rewards are so monumental. Giving back what you have been given, imparting wisdom, helping someone have a future, to me is worth more than any lost hour spent in front of the TV.

You can also give back and help out politically if mentoring and teaching is not your speed. The AFL-CIO has a wealth of information on how you can get involved politically to protect the rights of working families, particularly the working poor. If you'd also like to see how our presidential candidates stack up on these issues, I invite you to log on to the AFL-CIO website to find out more.

Ladies, we can't progress as a nation unless we are all progressing together. What we do today to inspire, esteem, educate will dictate the future of our nation. They are not someone else's family, the are 'We the People' of the United States of America.

I have recently signed on to be a mentor for the local Home for Little Wanderers. This organization houses, educates, counsels and finds foster and adoptive homes for in some cases, children who have been abandoned by their families. These young men and women are in great need of an adult who can show them they are worth the time, the energy and the love. An ounce of prevention in my opinion. The direction and love I show now may mean another young lady doesn't wind up on the streets or worse. If I can reach just one it will be worth it.

Please find it in your heart to give back? Haven't you been given so much?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new boss proved fruitless. The first day came and went with no new boss. I asked the General Manager what the hold up was. "You didn't get my email?" he chirped? She had rescinded her acceptance of the offer. The excuse? Her current employer countered with a $60,000 increase in her salary. I don't buy excuse for a second but I am a skeptic. If it's true, I would love to know what it would take to get a job there.

Since I was next in line for the throne, I awaited my next meeting with my supervisor on the subject at hand. That also came and went. I wondered of course, where did it go? I had to find out. I consulted one of my known offices sources for information. I asked my friend Donna who was helping with the interview process of new managers. She'd know. I usually saddle up to her cube in the morning for daily pleasantries over coffee so she'd suspect nothing of my inquiry. "So what happened to Kathryn?" I aske with raised eyebrows and an innocent twist to my face. "She changed her mind" she flatly replied, also adding "they gave an offer to the other guy." Other guy?! What other guy? The other guy is the gentleman that no one liked when they interviewed him. Why hadn't they gone back to me? That would be the natural question. Donna also helped the angst by asking me the very question, "Didn't they come back to you?" I hated to answer. I could hardly lift my eyes from the floor. Chewing my lip, I bid her 'good day' and went back to me desk dazed by the unanswered questions in my mind.

The phone rang about a week later. It was my friend Allison. I used to work with Allison. We were office mates. She was my mentor early on in my career. I prize my relationship with Allison, maybe even a little more than she does. We have been friends through job changes, moves, marriages, divorces, kids, you name it. I count on her counsel. While we are close, we haven't spoken much lately in the last year or so. It was good to hear from her until the end of our conversation. Just as we were winding down she asked me why I didn't tell her that I had applied for the Sales Manager position at my office. She previously held that position in another office so it would make sense to ask me how come I didn't tell her. I matter of factly replied that I didn't want to make a big deal out of it. The next few sentences leveled me. She said, "You don't want that job, in fact that is what I told Jay (the Assistant General Manager in charge of the hiring for the job I wanted) when I saw him last week." I couldn't breathe. She went on, "I told him that he knew you wouldn't be happy in that job and he agreed after I talked to him." I was stunned. I must have looked like someone hit me with a brick. Holding the phone to my ear, my eyes darted back and forth as I listened. I was desperately trying to find something to say. I couldn't. I couldn't interject, yell, scream, cry or laugh. Me, the one with the quick lines and the great comebacks had nothing. I wanted to ask a question. Why would she do that? Why would she stand in the way of a promotion I wanted? Why in the world would she say something like that after the roller coaster ride I had gone through of being interviewed, rejected, awaiting the boss who's job I wanted, then hearing that she'd rescinded and not getting a second shot. After all this, why? It was pretty simple really. Her conversation with my boss, Jay, was meant to be candid and meaningless but in the end, it was the damning conclusion that my might-have-been promotion came to.

So it ends? This remains to be seen. Now, I get to face the next new boss, candidate #3. The boss who's job I wanted, who wasn't even a consideration until one innocent conversation took me out of the race. I believe in nothing happens for a reason but still, it smarts.