My Six Million Dollar Life makeover: Better, stronger, faster

When I was 19, I realized that my family, as I knew it, was coming to an end.  Oh there had always been warning signs, but they just seemed like a constant presence of smoke, with no flames.  However, there was a day when I knew there was more than just smoke – things were burning down.

All this may sound a tad melodramatic. After all, separation and divorce were not that unusual at that time and it’s not as if were the Waltons, despite how fervently my mom wanted us to be.  But it was still a very sad and unsettling feeling.

I was at an age that I was still young and self-absorbed enough to only really worry about myself, but old enough to head out on my own.  And that I did – determined to establish my own place and own family.

Now, fast-forward some 20+ years and I’m faced with the same sadness and anxiety that I felt at 19 when I faced the reality of what was out of my control.  My daughter is heading off (under much better and supportive circumstances), my son is distancing himself from both his parents (as is his god-given right and obligation as a 14-year old boy), and my husband and I struggle (together) to make sense of our careers, our future and what we want to do with it now that the focus is changing.

I truly feel as though I am on the cusp of my family unit, as I have come to know it, ending.  We all still need each other and will be there, but not the same way.  It will never be the same way.  I am really lucky to have the great kids that I do and the amazing husband that I have…not matter what I might gripe about some times…but it does scare me to think about the free fall that will happen immediately after we take this big leap of faith.

I understand that to make something stronger, sometimes you have to break it apart and reconfigure it in a way that is more effective and resistance.  I get this, but what we can’t overlook is that generally speaking, the breaking process hurts.

[Like the six millionaire dollar man, "...we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster." ]

In the past few months, I have focused so much on the planning and execution of what’s to come, that I really didn’t put too much thought into what to do and how to handle the aftermath.  How to focus on that rebuilding and reconfiguring. And it’s become apparent that without this part, there is a potential for all the parts to just drift away.

I know this from experience.

And when it’s happening, I don’t need to hear any of the following:

  • Don’t worry you’ll get over it soon
  • Be grateful you can afford to send your kid away / have a job
  • It happens to everyone
  • At least you have your health
  • You need to embrace change

The last thing I would expect or want is a pity party, but some recognition that going through change is more than simply rearranging furniture or getting used to a new role – it has an emotional component that can leave people feeling vulnerable, and lost.

I may be a stronger person because of these changes that I have gone through, but I also recall how it felt to go through them and gratitude for the pain was not top of the list.

Life’s big questions

I’ve made no bones about saying that there is so such as thing as a stupid question.

cluelessnessdemotivator

Okay, I’ll clarify…asking a question when the answer is blatantly obvious or re-phrasing a question that was just answered, just so that you can ask a question (or were too lazy to listen to the earlier answer) is stupid.

We all deal with this.  Especially in HR, where we pull together and roll-out guidelines and policies that assume that those people working for us are fully functioning adults capable of making reasonable decisions.  Ah yes, the infamous “assumption”.

And you know that a policy roll-out isn’t official until someone asks a “what-if” question.  You know, the really obscure variation of what may possibly happen…and likely never will, but you never know…and it’s just good to know in case.

But I’ve come to realize that there may be somewhere that gets even more inane questions than HR: food blogs.

I love food blogs – they are my lifeline to new recipes, inspiration, and help when I need something that I can make with almond meal, honey, coconut milk, and chocolate. Stat.

What drives me crazy about food blogs (and I cannot even begin to imagine how those bloggers feel) are the questions.  I mean some are completely legit and useful.  Others…not so much.

Seriously people do you not have any kind of imagination whatsoever.  If the recipe is called cherry chocolate chip cookies, and you a) don’t like cherries, b) don’t have any cherries, or c) are deathly allergic to cherries then a) use another freakin fruit or b) don’t make these…don’t ask the blogger what to do.

Or if the first 10 people who commented asked ” what could I substitute for maple syrup” (although that begs that question, why the hell would you NOT want to use maple syrup…unless you have run out…in which case, my sincerest condolences).

So, these 10 people have all asked the same question and the blogger has patiently copied/pasted her answer to each and everyone, “you can use honey”, then WHY, WHY, would you ask it AGAIN?  Why would you not take a moment to see if maybe someone else had the same question. Because you are special? Because you are too busy to read the other comments? Or do you think that maybe the 11th time this question is asked it’s like an Easter egg and the blogger will reveal something new and exciting…like a portal to a secret ingredient list?

Honestly people.

I blame Google Search.  It and any other search engine out there that has made people slaves to the instant answer.   Can’t decide what to wear on a first date to a baseball game? Google it. You are allergic to all nuts and want to know what you can use as a substitution for peanut butter in a Peanut Butter Cookie recipe?  Google it (or be the 100th person to ask the blogger).  Wondering whether it’s okay to wear your capri yoga leggings to the office, as long as you wear a blazer with them?  Ask your HR person.

But whatever you do…do not try to figure these things out on your own…common sense is over-rated.

(Image from http://www.despair.com/cluelessness.html)

On-boarding, kool-aid, and my hippy daughter

I’ve both alluded and blatantly talked about the fact that my daughter is heading off into to that scary place we call the real world to pursue post-secondary education. 

I am both excited and nervous for her, but at least she’s heading to a place that had the decency to put together a solid on-boarding package, even if it’s a bit whacked.

Lately, I’ve taken to saying that she’s not really going to school, but joining a cult.

Okay, that may seem like an exaggeration, but if you had to sit through meal time after meal time listening to detail after frickin detail about the school, the classroom, the curriculum, the reading material, Ina May, the other students, the Facebook page the students have put together, the potluck they are already planning for Orientation week outside of classroom….well, then the word “brainwashed” and zealot come to mind.

In fact, the absolutely reverence with which my daughter informed me that one of her fellow students has actually visited The Farm made me stop and think about where the hell we were sending her. 

Now, anyone who knows me or who has read at least two of my blog posts will know that communal farms are not my thing.  In fact, communal anything that potentially threatens my personal space is not my thing. I certainly didn’t put this idea into her head.  

To clarify, she isn’t going to The Farm, she’s going to a midwifery school attended by people who have gone to The Farm.  We are supportive, but not THAT supportive.

But this isn’t about me.  This is about how my daughter, already passionate about a career that she hopes to do, is being welcomed in by an institution and by people that share this.  For a kid who has never been away from home longer than two weeks and who is making the gargantuan leap of moving from Canada to the US to live and study on her own this welcome is so important.

She will be the youngest student in the class, she will be living away from home, and she will be adjusting to not having teachers and parents nudging her along.  She is nervous and scared (as she should be), but at the same time, she has been reassured by the fact that the school has been sending out information regularly (when they said they would), providing clear expectations, and helping her connect with her fellow students.  In fact, she has already been Facebook-ing, emailing, and even had a call from people that were complete strangers, but within minutes they found their common ground.

I know there are a lot of programs out there that people and businesses find onerous and of little value.  It is a pain in the ass to put together packages and contacting with people who you aren’t yet working with – I mean, we all have work to do, right.  But if you stop and consider what it means to the new person – what impact it will make and how much easier and more reassuring their first few days will be.  Then you might think differently.

I’m not suggesting that you treat your organization and its on-boarding like a cult, but you may want to consider serving a little kool-aid when you meet the new guy or gal.

My life is no box of chocolates. It’s a book.

Ruby Tuesday # 31

My life is no box of chocolates.

It’s a book.

And like many books, there are parts that are better than others and there are whole chapters that you read and think…I do not remember a single thing I just read.

Right now, I’m living one of those chapters. Oh sure, on a day to day basis I can recall what’s going on, but I swear it’s forgotten by the time I wake up the next day.

Would I call it b Continue reading

The ties that bond us

There are so many layers to an employee-employer relationship. Some are very obvious and easily referenced – you will do XYZ from Monday to Friday and we will pay you. There are likely some picky little details like…if you don’t do XYZ the way that we expect, and then we may penalize you. Or if you have to work beyond the 40-hour work week, we may pay you extra…or let you take your lunch breaks.

Another layer, a less visible and less obvious one, is the psychological contract. Although not as formal, it is no less powerful than the employment agreement that people sign. Why? Because it’s based on unwritten perceptions and expectations of the business relationship.  It’s founded in the idea that if I work my ass for 60-hours to get a project done, then my employer is going to remember that and reward me…in some way…at some point. The principle is equity.

So what happens when this psychological contract is broken? The result can be devastating to an employee – there is a sense that they have been betrayed, used, and disregarded. Responses can vary but include resistance, disengagement, lack of productivity, and even sabotage.

I really hate hearing that employees (en masse, not just Gen-Y) have too much of a sense of entitlement…”employees expect to be given everything and don’t want to reciprocate”.

This is bullshit.

Oh of course there are people who fall into this category – there always will be. However they are not representative of the majority.

What I see are people who are giving up their family time, physically and emotionally draining themselves, and “sucking it up” to do what needs to be done.

And sometimes they hit a wall and complain. But that’s okay, we specifically didn’t hire martyrs…we wanted people who would challenge and push back.

Remember?

I certainly do.

However, when business decisions are made there are often significant impacts on the people. What some fail to remember is that for most employees, the first reaction is not to pull out that black & white agreement that says, yes…we are entitled to do this to you. What they typically do is reference that psychological handshake that was made that said – if you are loyal to us, then we will be to you.

And unlike a paper contract, a torn and damaged psychological contract cannot just be reprinted or taped back together.

Sure it may be the soft and mushy side of business, and maybe it’s the last thing on your mind when you are making hard choices, but that intangible and invisible bond is as important as any legal document and no amount of tape can put it back together when it’s ripped.

When 17 isn’t 17

Ruby Tuesday #33

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It’s the middle of January and I wake up to a house that, according to the thermostat, is 17 degrees Celsius.

It’s frickin cold…I’m huddled in bed under blankets and when I finally emerge, I’m wearing layers of pjs, fleece jacket, and socks.  I dream of the time of year when I can jump out of bed and saunter around comfortably – throw on light clothing and proceed with my day.

Truthfully, it’s knowing what’s out there waiting for me…the even colder temperatures (like -30C ), the snow, the layers upon layers of clothing, the energy-draining lack of sunshine that make that initial 17 degrees unbearable.

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It’s now almost the middle of June and I woke up this morning to a house that was 17 degrees Celsius.

And yet, it’s no longer cold.  In fact, I saunter (okay, stumble)  downstairs to start my day and leave the house wearing lighter clothing.

Knowing that today is expected to get increasingly warmer (like 30C), with the likelihood of a sunny afternoon, the promise of more daylight and a chance to enjoy the gardens after work that makes that initial 17 degrees completely bearable.

Often times it’s not where you start that matters, but the direction you are heading that make all the difference.

 

 

 

Circular thinking

I have a pretty good memory.

Actually, I would like to think I have a very good memory, but as with most people who claim this…it’s selective.  There are things in my life that I can recall with great detail.  Particularly those things that were stressful or painful to relive.  And by painful, it might be a ridiculous as the sting I felt from my grade six BFF’s brush off.

Thinking about times like this, and many more that happened throughout high school, university, and beyond…I can actually relive the emotions that I felt and the embarrassment of having done or said what I did.

I think that this is an amazing human quality that we have…the ability to torture ourselves over and over and over by rehashing our twelve-year-old social gaffes.  What evolved beings we are.

Honestly, I just can’t seem to let certain things go and I believe that they will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life.  I’ve tried to analyze these triggers to see what the common theme is and the best that I’ve come up with is that’s it’s situations when I have told someone what they should do…and it doesn’t work out.

Like the time I was walking to school with a group of kids.  The forecast must have been for rain, because we all had umbrellas but none of them were open.  As we walked over a sewer grate, I suggested that one of the other kids put their umbrella in one of the holes and open it.  Despite the fact that I was no ring-leader or an intimidating type, the kid did it.  And as anyone with sense could predict, the umbrella got stuck and could not be pulled out.  As luck would have it, an adult came strolling by, took a look at what was going on, and asked this kid why they did such a stupid thing.  The kid’s response (as she pointed at me):  “She told me too.”

I can still feel the drop in my stomach and the humiliation of a) having been pointed out to a complete stranger as the source of all evil and b) having suggested something that was “such a stupid thing”.

If I could have crawled into the sewer grate alongside the umbrella – I totally would have done it.

Interestingly enough, the adult’s response was to point out that no one had made the kid do it and he even asked whether she went around doing everything that people told her to do.  Thinking about this now, I see that the adult was making a valuable point – the other kid was responsible for the decision she made and the action she took and while it was my idea, it doesn’t stand to reason that it’s my fault.

So fast forward to current days.  I am in a similar, and yet completely different, situation.  My daughter is in her final year of high school and should be winding down…we are weeks away.  And yet, this has probably been the most stressful period. Ever.  Why?  Because my daughter is having a very difficult time with one of her courses – she doesn’t like it, doesn’t see value in it, and has let it slide to a level that is incredibly uncomfortable.

So how is this about me? (Because you know that’s what I’m about to suggest…).  Well…of all the course selection decisions she had over the past four years, I strongly suggested that she should take this course.  And in fact, when things were tough earlier on, I insisted that she needed to stick with it. I explained why and rationalized the value.

For the past few weeks I’ve been living with that same drop in my stomach and anxiety that I felt as a kid…the feeling that I’ve made someone do something that didn’t go according to plan.  And there’s a part of me sitting there cringing, waiting for an adult to ask why I suggested such a stupid thing.

And although I jokingly alluded to it, this should not be about me.  Sure it was my idea and I will own up to the fact that, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea.  But the reality is that I can really only lay claim to the idea…not the  choices and actions (or lack of actions) that has put my daughter in this position.  Those are hers.

Of course, easier said then done.  I mean, considering the fact that I have not been able to shake the umbrella-incident from my consciousness…what is the likelihood of me not getting worked up about my daughter’s school.

And it doesn’t end at home either.

As HR – we frequently find ourselves in the situation where we council or provide advice and whether or not you add a caveat…it’s hard not to feel somewhat that familiar cringe when things don’t go according to plan (regardless of how good a suggestion you make).

These are things that I know to be true, but sometimes can’t help but feel otherwise:

  • Just let it go
  • People are responsible for themselves
  • It’s not always up to you to make it work
  • It’s not your fault

Maybe it’s a defect in me as a person.  Maybe it’s a defect in me as  HR.

Or maybe it’s just me being human and assuming that my sphere of influence is WAY bigger than it really is.

In any case, I’m likely to be circling back to this incident and adding it to the long list of cringe-worthy things I’ve done.