Let’s Start a Business, Babies

So I got a pretty drastic haircut last weekend. It’s summer in Texas, y’all, and I was tired of sweating while I curled my hair in the morning. It’s not fun to have to wait to stop sweating before you can get dressed.

I like it, but as I was walking down the hall at work today, one of my coworkers gasped. “You look like a BABY,” she screeched.

“Um, thanks?” I said.

Later, someone tried to explain to me that looking young is supposed to be good, right? Everyone wants to look young.

“Not when you’re trying to get people to take you seriously,” I explained.

I get it—I looked young. Now, I look even younger.

A few years ago, as I was getting into an elevator with a coworker, he introduced me to the people with him. They asked what I did there, and my coworker explained that I was the executive over Communications. Someone asked how long I’d been with the company, and I explained it had been about 10 years.

“Wow, did you start when you were 12?!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, I absolutely DID,” I said, grinning like I found it charming.

It Wasn’t Charming

And although I admit that I feel giddy when waiters ask for my ID, I do not have the same reaction at work.

Because at work, I need to be taken seriously. I need to be listened to. I need to be taken into account. Otherwise I can’t get the things done that I need to get done.

A friend who is a big-deal executive and also young and cute told me once that her mom explained that she’d have to do everything twice as well as a man because of how she looked.

God, when we’re already being good and nice and playing politics and working our butts off and doing what people expect and yet still kicking ass, how do we do all that? It makes me so tired sometimes.

Like Today

Today, I made a rookie mistake—I spent some time on Facebook. And I happened across a bunch of articles in my feed that just depressed me on the topics of women or women in the workplace. (Thanks, Harvard Business Review.) Particularly:

In no way do I think that a bunch of misogynistic old men are sitting around trying to discriminate against women. (Although actually that may describe how I feel about Congress now, but that’s another post.) Honestly, though, I don’t think most people are ACTIVELY TRYING to discriminate against other groups, women included.

But studies have shown that we like people who look like us. And many of the cultural and structural norms we have built do cause or reinforce these problematic issues.

So while I don’t think that being or looking like a young woman makes me a victim—I understand how truly privileged I am—I think it does mean I often have to work harder to be taken seriously.

And Now The Good News

Luckily though, I think that we really are making progress. And I am getting older by the day, so there’s that, too.

I’m feeling positive about our chances, probably because I spent the weekend with an amazing group of women who are all very different, but still part of the same. . .tribe. Meant to be together. Accepting of each other. Encouraging to no end. Loving cheerleaders. It was so healing.

And one of them happens to be a captain of industry. She runs a $6 billion business that also happens to be the largest public benefit corporation in the U.S., which is a type of organization that is required to have a positive impact on society in addition to maximizing shareholder value. It has to make a difference AND make money. (But it’s not like I know about all of this because she TOLD any of us about it; I read it for myself in Fortune, magazine y’all. Like you do.)

Not only that, but one of them happens to be a 70-year-old who decided to take up hip-hop dancing in her 60s. And then stand up comedy a few years later. (Also, the phrase “hip-hop dancing” sounds so unbelievably white. Wow.)

Nevertheless, each woman has an amazing story, has faced insurmountable odds, has achieved jaw-droppingly spectacular things, is making a real difference in the world. (Which is why I don’t have time to tell you about all of them, but trust me when I tell you that they are spectacular.)

At dinner on our last night together, we celebrated our friend the CEO for her accomplishments. And as we talked about our dreams, one woman said, “I could see us starting a non-profit one day.”

“A non-profit?!” the CEO exclaimed. “Why not start a BUSINESS?!”

Good question. I’ve heard a lot of spiritual people brag about how they “got out of corporate” because it was such a horrible, godforsaken place. But the world needs more spiritual people in business these days, not less. That’s how we change things.

So bbs, let’s start a business this week, whatever that looks like. Kick some butt at work even if you look stupidly young. Donate to a good cause. React lovingly to a real asshole. Don’t believe the lies the culture tells you. Dare to think, even for 5 seconds, that you are a ridiculously good-looking. Call your mother. Tell someone who’s doing a good job how impressed you are with their work.

Don’t get bogged down in the details, just get out there and START A BUSINESS! The world needs it and you probably do, too.

A Love Letter to the Women who Work for me

Photo by katrinaelsi, https://www.flickr.com/photos/lyrabellacqua/2413965754/

Photo by katrinaelsi, https://www.flickr.com/photos/lyrabellacqua/2413965754/

Ugh. Y’all. I tried really hard not to write this thing, because it is so stereotypically female and EMOTIONAL. God forbid. Corporate leaders are not supposed to be emotional.

But bless your hearts, you didn’t get the perfect corporate leader, you got me.

And I’ve known I needed to write this blog post since Monday. I swear, I’ve been running from it, trying to shove it down and sit on it so I can’t hear it any more, and covering it up with distractions when necessary. But it keeps finding me in inadvertent moments of silence—when I’m walking to a meeting, lying in bed, or in the shower.

It even followed me home tonight, threatening to beat me up and hold me down, standing on my chest to keep me awake all hours until I wrote this.  And you, of all the people in the world, know how grumpy and useless I am when I don’t get enough sleep. So for the good of all that is sacred and holy, I’m writing this down so I can rest.

So here goes.

Since one of you experienced some personal sadness this week, I’ve been trying to figure out the proper Boss Response. How should Super Boss respond to the kind of sadness that they don’t make sympathy cards for, but that still invades your daily activities? I hate to admit that I have no idea.

I’ve also been trying to figure out the proper Human Response to your personal sadness, but I haven’t come up with much there, either.   (I blame my college registrar for failing to ensure that I took the Adulting 101 Course; I secretly feel that everyone else in the world mastered the curriculum, while I still regularly try to figure out what my face should be doing when someone is telling me a boring story.)

And as I consider this conundrum, I’ve been walking past your desks and wishing you could see yourselves the way I do. I wonder what would be different if you truly understood how beautiful, how brilliant, how amazing you are.

Look, I get it. You’re not perfect, and neither am I. We all have things we need to work on, our very own “opportunities for improvement.” But this letter isn’t about those things, because I have a feeling that most of you are well aware of what your particular “opportunities” are.

But I wonder how our company would be different if you strode into work every day understanding your true value, your full power. What if you swept in, sure of your abilities and unique skills, ready to tackle the big, important problems of our industry and organization, unfazed by the various personalities that sometimes make our work difficult (if not a momentary pain in the ass)? What if you truly knew how important you are?

So, for your sake and our work’s sake, I want to tell you what I really think about you.

To The One Who Works Off Site, I wish you could see how EVERYONE who meets you falls in love with you instantly. You should have seen all the gushing emails I received about you when you were brand new! You may not be crushing each and every goal, but you are achieving so many of them that we keep having to move the goal posts. You have so many amazing gifts, and you need to be sharing them in other ways than just the work you do for us. Write that book, baby. You need to write it and we need to read it. (Even if it is incredibly gory.) It will still change the world.

To The Newest Mom, I want you to know that you are doing a great job. I know the kind of product you turn out at work, so I am entirely confident that you are a spectacular mom at home. We are all in awe of your “customer service” abilities, including the way you keep a sweet and easy tone with people who are verbally berating you. But let me tell you that people don’t like you just because you’re nice and pretty and funny and snarky. They like you because you are YOU. So please breathe easy. You are doing enough. You have done enough. You ARE enough.

To The Newest Member of the Team, I wish you, especially, could see yourself through everyone else’s eyes. You don’t need to eat a can of green beans for lunch every day to feel good about yourself—you are literally gorgeous. And you don’t have to question your ideas. They’re always grand and lovely and just barely out of reach. (And those, of course, are the best kind.) We tease you about burying the lead, but you are amazing at what you do because you have a killer journalist instinct. Thank you for always finding a pitchable spin on the things someone wants us to publicize but that I am repeatedly sure no one will care about. (The snoozers.) You are kicking butt here.

And To The One Who Always Looks On The Bright Side, thank you for being the calm and steady voice of reason and regular provider of snark. When I am sure that Those People are all idiots and just maliciously, purposefully stupid, you find a way to make me laugh and lighten up. You have spot-on insights and a stellar judgment muscle. I am so proud of the BIG STEPS you’ve taken this year and the future development you’ve set yourself up for. You’ve been considering these things for a while, and now you’re DOING them! Great things are starting and moving and happening, and you deserve each one of them and more.

I wish you all could see how incredibly gorgeous each and every one of you is. And I don’t mean in a “she has a beautiful soul” kind of way or a “her personality makes her pretty” sense. I mean in a real, physical, you-are-beautiful kind of way. I see you over 71% of the days in the week, so I know what you look like. And you look amazing. (And even if I don’t see you daily, I regularly see you when you’ve rolled out of bed at 3 a.m., and if you can look THAT good on THAT little sleep, I feel confident that you look amazing daily.)

Ladies, I’ve been with our company for 10-and-a-half years, and I’ve done a lot of BIG things. The latest project I’ve taken on has been really financially successful and incredibly important for our organization in every domestic region we serve. But I can tell you, hands down, that hiring all of you is the best thing I’ve done here.

So when you come in to work in the morning, hold your head high. Sweep in like the Queen of Health Care that you are. Our company will only benefit from women like you operating at the absolute top of their game.

And you know what? Our world needs it, too.

Tomorrow, remind me to tell you the story about how I got promoted to my first executive position and questioned it every step of the way.

I even called the new VP of HR and told her that I wasn’t sure my boss should’ve promoted me.

Looking at it now, I know why I reacted that way, and one BIG REASON was that I didn’t really believe in myself. I was so preoccupied with all the things I wasn’t that I missed all the things I was.

And the truth was that I had been doing executive-level work for many, many years. I earned that position.

But I don’t want that to happen to any of you. That’s why I make each of you brag on yourselves at our weekly team meeting—because I don’t want you to miss any opportunities to recognize and internalize all the amazing things you’re doing.

I am, though, definitely bringing a balance sheet to one of our future meetings. I’m SERIOUS about all of you learning budgets, whether you like it or not. You shouldn’t have to learn it the hard way like I did.

Regardless, though, I want you to learn just how spectacular you are.

So keep doing what you’re doing, but please just do it with the firm understanding that You. Are. Amazing.

And I’m so lucky to be your boss.

2015: The Year of Playing Big

eIn my last post, I mentioned that I’ve started a year-long mentorship program to help me fulfill my goal of playing big.

And I’m PUMPED.

Let me introduce you to the Epic Fucking Badass (EFBA) Mentorship.

My mentor is a master certified life coach, grew up as a Missionary’s Kid, and has a blog I LOVE to read. I have a history of paying women to shepherd me along in my Woo-ness, and Anna is High Woo. A Priestess of Woo. Part of the Reformed Woo set. She leads with her gut, her intuition, but she still GETS STUFF DONE.

And she said my blog was “yummy.”

If you want to know more about the EFBA mentorship, you can read about it in one of Anna’s emails.

But if you’re not the clicking-through type, here’s an excerpt:

. . . It’s ALL RELATED. What you wear, how you handle your bills, how you show up in the boardroom, how you talk to your kids. My year-long EFBA Mentorship is the only coaching program I know where you can get support with ALL of it.

It changes EVERYTHING when you have something in place to catch you when you falter.  Someone who will hold the vision for you when you’re too tired or discouraged to do it for yourself.  Someone who pushes you to stick to the path you want– even when it’s hard– so that you GET where you want to go.

I still have never gotten a flaming message in the sky that said, “Hey Anna, you’re supposed to help people with their lives and run a thriving business and write a book! Here’s a grant and some childcare!”

Nope.  I declared it.  But then? There was another crucial step. I lined up the systems, structures, and accountability that would help me get where I wanted to go.  I continue to hire coaches, mentors, consultants. And I write scary checks that make sure I have skin in the game so I don’t walk away when it’s hard.

This year, I’ll talk to Anna every other week, spend some time with her other four mentees at a relaxation retreat and for some horse whispering, and rely on her to help keep me on track. Anna’s really into fierceness and luxury, so I think we’ll work well together.

I’m really hoping she’ll help me decipher what I most want to be when I grow up and help me map out how I might get there. I know that part of this will include sticking to my guns NOW so I can honor the intentions I set for the year.

That’s the foundation I’ll build on for whatever’s in my future (which, thank goodness, is something other than January).

I’m Okay, You’re a Jerk

jerk

Copyright that guy.

Remember that person at work, the one who got all up in my sandbox inappropriately? The one I’m going to talk to today?

Well, as I got ready for work, I thought about the situation and about what I’d say. And I got more and more angry.

How DARE he pull this! How would he feel if I had told HIM that I was inserting myself in HIS area?

How DARE people tell me that I shouldn’t express my emotions! How DARE they tell me to just pretend like everything’s fine! How DARE they tell me to ignore things I don’t like in corporate culture—to just deal with them instead! I’m so ANGRY that I learned that I had to be a good girl, and that good girls don’t rock the boat! How dare EVERYONE!

All of a sudden, the conversation I was planning would be held on behalf of all womankind, to right centuries of deep in justice. I was going to put on my Big Girl Pants this morning and save the world.

Paved With Good Intentions

And then. . .I got in my car to drive to work, and I began listening to some recordings for the food program I’m in. And I came to a horrible realization. . .

. . .that if what has happened thus far means absolutely nothing about me, then it means absolutely nothing about that guy who pissed me off as well.

He’s a good guy, doing his best, making the decisions that he thinks are best for the company. Really, he’s a lot like me.

So, perhaps, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Now, he also needs to stay away from my sandbox, but that doesn’t mean he’s maliciously up in my business. It just means he needs to take a gentle step back.

You’re a Jerk

I should mention, though, that this doesn’t apply in all situations. Some people really are just jerks. Just like you, I work with some of these people. I’m related to some of them, even. And I trust jerks to continue to be jerks.

Jerks must be handled differently than Captain Good Intentions.

I talked to a huge jerk last week. I think almost everyone in our company agrees that if you looked up “Biggest Bitch” in the Dictionary, her picture would be next to it.

She is mean. She is a bully. She should not be allowed to continue her behavior, and when she points it in my direction, I calmly let her know that it is not okay.

Because she is also MAJORLY afraid.

She is afraid that if she isn’t a bully, she will become ineffective, she will get fired from her big position, and she will be destitute and alone. She is afraid that if she isn’t mean, you’ll notice that she’s overweight and begin to hate her for that instead. She’s afraid that if she doesn’t give you a reason to dislike her first, for her own protection, then you’ll find one on your own.

This does not dismiss her behavior. It does not give her a permission slip for acting badly. But it does help me understand why she does what she does. So when she starts yelling and pointing in my direction, I can look over and see the scared kid who’s actually inhabiting her seat, driving her bus. And I can respond calmly, firmly, and with compassion.

I’m sorry, but jerks don’t get to drive the bus if it’s headed in my direction. Even if they have their Big Girl Pants on and are preparing to right wrongs done to womankind over the centuries.

Some days I hate this, but it is true.

The Play Big Manifesto

I can only please one person per day. Today I choose me.

I took this at an airport.

So let’s just say that over the last few weeks, lots of things in my life have gotten stuck, broken down, and otherwise not played by my rules. Big things, small things, important things, stupid things. I’ve worked too hard, rested too little, and otherwise gotten into a very grumpy place. . .the Valley of Victimhood.

When I’m in the Valley of Victimhood, I forget that I get to make my choices. I forget that I am in charge of my one amazing, wonderful life. I forget that my ego does NOT actually call the shots, and while it is only trying to keep me safe, it is also generally a really huge jerk.

So I’m saying adios to the Valley of Victimhood, and I’m traveling on to the Hollow of the Hero. (The theme park rides and funnel cakes are WAY better there, just FYI.)

I’m driving this bus, so everyone should just MOVE ON OVER.

Because Food is at the Center of Everything

Helping me make this shift has actually been a program dealing with food. I’m currently taking a class with Isabel Foxen Duke. She’s young and tough and only slightly crude, and that works for me. Because here’s what we’re aiming for: not giving a shit about food. I’m learning that wanting to eat when I’m not hungry makes sense—it’s a great coping mechanism. Food is good; eating it should be pleasurable. So wanting to eat good food, whether or not I’m hungry, is not a failure on my part. And it really. . .doesn’t even matter that much.

Today I went into Nothing Bundt Cakes to pick up dessert for this evening. They always have samples of their cakes lying around, which I used to resist. This would often result later in me eating more cake than I would have if I had just eaten a sample in the first place.

So today. . .I didn’t eat a sample. Because I didn’t want one. And you know what that means about me? Absolutely fucking nothing.

Nothing. It doesn’t mean I’m good. Or bad. It doesn’t mean that I made the “right choice” because I listened to my body instead of my mind. It just means that both participated in the conversation, and then I made a choice. That’s. It.

Tomorrow, I might make a different choice. And that’s totally okay, too. Because the more I try to restrict food, the more I try to fit into x size or base my happiness on how I look in a bathing suit, the more likely it is that I will dive straight into a box of cookies. Because a caged animal always tries to break free. And food restricters always end up losing that battle eventually.

And Here’s how This all Relates

Perhaps, then, it’s time to stop taking EVERYTHING so fucking seriously.

There’s a person in my office who is a great, and he has good motivations, but he’s gotten into my sandbox a few times.  It took me a while, though, to figure out that this was not because I was failing at my job, but because I had not set the boundaries. And, you know, possibly because he was doing what he thought was right, what was asked of him.

Yesterday he announced that he’d be calling together a group to look at something that falls in my area. Something that has always fallen in my area.

I got somewhat peeved. A woman in his position wouldn’t have pulled this shit. And the woman who was in that position before him couldn’t move things nearly as quickly as he has. And, in my professional, expert opinion, this is because he is a man and she is a woman. And this TOTALLY SUCKS.

But I think this has more to do with lady bits vs. male parts, with society’s view of us, as well as a long history of patriarchy in certain industries. It is because many of us, as women, have learned to play small.

I certainly did. I learned to play small from just about every female boss or coworker I’ve had. I learned it from the religious tradition I grew up in, which would let women run VBS or just about anything else, but not serve in a leadership position. I learned it in school, where good girls were rewarded and bad boys were expected.

And I have to say that I am fucking DONE playing small.

My friend Ali—who is amazing in her own right—reminds me often that I’m not small; I am BIG. So I shouldn’t play small, and I shouldn’t listen to people who want me to. She also reminds me that one of my favorite authors thinks I am cool; she even wrote this down on a napkin for me, which I carry in my wallet.

My friend Lorna—who is an epic fucking badass in her own right—tells me not only that whatever I decide will be the right thing—she also tells me that I am beautiful. And she doesn’t need to lie. Lorna is a beautiful soul who is not to be trifled with.

So I’m done. I’m done doing the right thing because someone else thinks I should. I’m done being nice because it’s expected. I’m done thinking I don’t deserve what I want. I’m done not trying because it might be scary, or because I might fail. I’m done letting my jerky ego call the shots.

I deserve a big, juicy, fabulous life. But no one’s going to hand it to me—I have to build it. Every day. Every decision.

Does this mean I will always get my way? No, absolutely not. Does this mean that I’ll become a huge bitch? God, I hope not. I’ll play the B-card if it’s necessary, but that won’t be very often.

I want to set boundaries or disagree calmly. I want to make decisions from love, not fear. I want to speak words that are true, that improve on silence, and that are kind.

I can do all these things and still live BIG.

So seatbelts on, friends. Here we go.