Category Archives: Personal story

Kindred spirits

One of the most rewarding parts of my travels and of meeting international colleagues is when I encounter kindred spirits on the journey. This happened to me on Wednesday night, right after a particularly grueling day in which I was frustrated with my inability to communicate as effectively as I intended with my director.

We had gone into some planning sessions and I’d agreed to dates for our next team meeting in late September, realizing that I truly do not plan to be in that position by then. However, I had not had the time to talk with my director 1:1 to let him know my intentions for August/September, in terms of moving on or at least taking a sabbatical.

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Is this a mule or a donkey?

As we took our break for the day before dinner, I wrote for a while to process the cognitive dissonance, and then took a walk outside. As it happened, I encountered what was either a mule or a donkey (do you know the difference? I cannot tell) and two women from India who were as fascinated as I was. It turns out one of them was a person I have talked with many times on conference calls, and I had never met her in person. So a nice surprise.

After a bit of walking on the grounds of the Abbaye de La Ramee I began feeling better, and I sat next to the pond with my journal. I took off my shoes and let my bare feet touch the ground while I watched a families of ducks swimming by. I considered the privilege I have in being able to travel like this, and meet colleagues in other places, collaborate with clinical scientists and engineers to create solutions for patients.

I went to dinner with a much better attitude, and tried to keep myself open to meeting new people and making the most of my experience. As it turns out, a bit late into the meal, a Hungarian colleague sat down a bit later into the meal after we had received the appetizer. The room was noisy so it was hard to talk and hear, but I sensed we had some things in common. So I made an effort to find out, and it turns out, we had a wonderful conversation.

My team scattered to find others that they wanted to talk with that evening, and my colleague and I shared a fascinating discussion of our respective challenges in the areas we work, along with thoughts about what might be next. After dinner we went for a long walk, talked about our mutual joy in yoga and running. He shared some brilliant invention ideas, and we brainstormed ways to realize faster innovation at such a large company, and how to partner with others who can help advance the work.

All in all, I was so grateful to connect with someone who clearly was a kindred spirit and “old soul” in terms of awareness and consciousness of the ways we want to create change in the world. Sometime we are put in the right place at the right time, to meet others on our cosmic “team” to do the work we are meant to do. Amazing and incredible.

Happy Friday, all.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

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Out of hiding

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Yup, it’s me.

I took the plunge yesterday and went much shorter on the hair. My stylist told me it takes a strong woman to pull off short hair effectively. I like that. I am going to rock the short hair. It is a symbolic way for me to “signal” the changes to my work colleagues, since I will be seeing several on my team next week in Belgium.

I have decided to come out of “hiding” here on the blog as well, since I aim to integrate the work and personal worlds I inhabit, gradually, at a pace that works for me.

About 8 years ago, I was going through another big life transition and was not as attentive or focused at work as I strive to be. I felt burned out and my boss was blithely dumping more work onto an already full plate. I had no sense of boundaries or how to say no. I had not yet learned how to communicate my distress effectively, to ask for help or to push back.

In addition to that, I had moved out of the home where I had been living for a few years with my partner and his children (part-time, as they also spent time with their mother). I had not yet grieved the loss of that life, even though my soul was relieved that I had left.

Perceiving my lack of commitment and energy for a few weeks during my move, my boss asked me what was wrong and suspected there was something outside of work bothering me. In fact there was, and I explained to her (in a vague way) what was going on. Instead of having empathy and giving me some understanding about my need to heal, she put me on a performance improvement plan.

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This is WAY shorter than I have worn my hair in about 2 decades.

For those who do not know, this is code for “you’d better shape up and get into gear or you will get fired.” The letter she gave to me outlined the ways in which I needed to improve my work within 90 days or I may be terminated. It was a shock to me. I was also bitter about the fact that she seemed to use the personal information I shared with her against me.

Looking back there are many other ways to interpret her actions. But it was the time I began walling off parts of my professional life from my personal life, as much as I could. I had been “hiding” my a.d.d. from her as well, even though I had seen it as an asset to the position, my flexibility in catching whatever was tossed my way, up to a point.

I gathered my energy, went to see an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor at my workplace, and tried to figure out how I was going to make this work. He helped me see that I was suffering from a minor depression and that I needed to take more proactive steps to communicate with my boss on the work overload. He explained that managers at this workplace like it when employees come to them with potential solutions, not just problems.

He helped me figure out more effective ways to communicate, rather than the passive-aggressive (i.e. Minnesotan) tactic I had been using to push back. He also referred me to the book The Chemistry of Joy, by Dr. Henry Emmons, which helped me proactively manage my depression through both Western and Eastern wisdom. Wow, am I ever grateful for his support and help.

I worked my ass off to get out of the PIP. Even though my boss was not yet thrilled with my work, she said I had improved substantially. It was not until the year after that, when we hired a second person to help with the growing workload, that she really appreciated my skills. It was really hard to find someone who knew clinical research and who was also bilingual! We were not just a dime a dozen. She began treating me differently and better, appreciating my unique constellation of skills.

For the past three years I have held (and rocked) the manager position that she left when she opted to go to a different department. I am a better boss because of that experience, even though it was hellish at the time. I want to come “out of hiding” with my struggles because I want others to know you can get through tough times and come out on the other side. It is important to find support, and to realize you are not alone.

You will get through it, and you will develop amazing resilience in the process. Peace and love, readers.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

 

 

Making trouble

I recognized a pattern in myself recently, and I shared it with my husband last night. I am not so proud of this pattern, but it seems like something I should try to understand.

When things are going fairly well in my life, either in my relationships or in my work life, I tend to stir things up. I tend to make trouble in some area, like I cannot be still with the sensation of peace and calm.

I guess in my work life, that process begins once I feel that I have “mastered” the work at some level. I have learned the procedures, practiced them, and they are no longer difficult. The work starts to bore me a bit when it hits a certain mastery stage, and I start looking around for what is next.

Relationships have been a little bit less like this, but I managed to defeat a “rescue” habit I used to have, thankfully. However, I realize that when things are going too well, too smoothly, I have a tendency to throw a wrench in the works, and test things.

Why is it that I cannot rest with a life that is too peaceful, that is too calm? I wish I knew. I blame it on my a.d.d., and probably that has something to do with it. The a.d.d. brain craves novelty and stimulation, more than the average brain. It is one reason I am a voracious learner and reader. Sometimes it feels like I cannot get enough of ideas, of stories, of vivid imagination.

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Photo credit link – Deviant Art

It could also be something like what Brene Brown calls “foreboding joy.” There is this sense that when everything is going really well, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, some even around the corner that will mess things up. But then maybe I want to be “in control” of that phenomenon, so I do the messing up myself…?

I don’t know about this one. I do know that yesterday I yelled at my boss during a meeting (actually a conference call).  I was upset with myself for behaving that way, and I apologized for letting my emotions overcome a calmer head, but I also felt relieved that I had spoken up in defense of my team. Fortunately my boss told me no apology was needed. He feels similar frustrations, and says we have to try not to be discouraged.

Here is where I disagree with that notion. Sometimes active resistance is not possible, that is true. But sometimes walking away is an option. Once we have done everything we can think to do in order to reform a system which is not working, we need to reserve the option of disengaging.

I am done making trouble here. Time to find another place to stir things up. The new opportunity I am pursuing has “drive disruptive change” in the job description. That is what excites me most, the idea that someone might actually pay me to be a trouble-maker… is that really possible? I hope to find out.

The power of sassy hair

In the last couple of weeks, I have had the desire to cut my hair much shorter. This weekend it started to feel unbearable to have the burden of long hair. And yesterday I did it – I went to the salon and asked them to chop off 4-5 inches, so my hair is only about an inch below the ears. While it is not a super dramatic change, it makes me feel lighter and I think it looks a little sassy.

sassy hair

This is not me, or my haircut, but it is one I think is super cute and may try now that the length has been cut off… (photo credit link)

As it turns out, I was invited for an informational interview on Thursday (today) for one of the positions I recently applied for – it was the one that made me excited but also a little scared because it is a big challenge, and requires the creation of new process and pilots.

I guess my cover letter submission was a successful one, since the hiring manager opted to set something up right away. I realize in some ways it is a “stretch” job for me, but I know I can learn what I need in order to demonstrate I’m capable.

I am filled with excitement but also a little dread. Interviews are a little nerve-wracking for me. But I will focus on being myself and asking good questions. Having completed a hiring process in my department recently, I realize that what I look for are people who are open-minded, willing to learn and have positive energy. Experience is important, but attitude is more important. Knowledge is important, but contacts and networks are also important.

There is a sort of “meta” skill when it comes to interviewing for a job in which there will be a lot of latitude for creation. You must know yourself well, be comfortable with ambiguity, cope well with set-backs, and realize that you may try certain things and fail. You need to recover well when that happens, and not beat yourself up. All jobs that do not have a predetermined procedure, where something new will be created, or some big systems-thinking project will be designed, require flexibility. I have definitely learned that throughout my career.

My sassy new haircut feels like an asset going into this interview process. It takes a bit of courage to make such a leap, chop off a bunch of hair that’s been growing out for some time. But it lightened my mood and my spirit, and that’s how I plan to approach the interview.

Wish me luck!! 

 

Class is not about money

I realized recently that I grew up on the poor side of town. I did not grow up poor, mind you. I grew up with lots of love, a wonderful family and in a safe neighborhood in a small town. But I always thought of our lifestyle as “middle class.”

My family always had enough to eat, we never went without any basic necessities, clothing, health care or even luxuries like television and eventually a microwave. My sis and I shared a bedroom until I moved to the basement in high school so I could wake up earlier to run in the early pre-dawn hours.

But social class and income class are not the same thing. Both my parents had college degrees. Mom chose to stay home and raise her daughters until we were in middle and high school, when she went back to work part-time, as a substitute teacher. I just assumed that meant we were middle class.

My Dad was a teacher and a leader in the local community. All of the parents of the students he taught in the bilingual program treated him as a respected professional in our small town. Of course, some administrators and teachers were not as respectful. He had his share of good principals and a few racist.

Recently my mother-in-law called herself “working class.” I was shocked. She has a master’s degree and she and her husband bought and sold homes together a few times during their history. So I always considered her middle class. But she considered herself working class. Probably it was more about her upbringing (to her) than any type of income category.

In contrast, my parents never bought a home. Not quite enough income from a teacher’s salary. We had the advantage of summers at Grandma’s house in Bemidji. So we did not go without space to enjoy ourselves in the summer, on a lake in Minnesota, no less. It was a long drive from Southern Wisconsin, but we had the picnic lunches that my Mom made, and there were rest areas for potty breaks. It was a blessing for us. We read books all, swam in the lake nearly every day, and there was plenty of introvert re-charge time.

By income standards, we probably would have been considered working class, or perhaps slightly less. In comparison to families with two working parents, mine were certainly not as well-off financially. But I always had what I needed. I always had a couple of new school outfits to start the year. There were a lot of farm kids in my school, so all of us had pretty similar income, or so I imagined.

***

 

I relied heavily on need-based financial aid for a private college, but being 2nd in my class in high school, I qualified for it. I won’t say I didn’t work hard for that.  It may have helped that my name belied my half-Mexican origin. But I was born in Wisconsin, not Juarez. Therein, by the grace of god, lies the difference. 

Why was I born here? Because my Mom fell in love with her guitar teacher when she studied in Mexico. And he fell in love with a Minnesotan woman, despite her mother serving as a chaperone on most of their dates. Why did I have the opportunities I have today? Because my family worked hard, and made sacrifices for me, so I could grow up healthy and happy.

I started thinking about people who use racism and class-ism to divide people. Take ahem… our Harasser-in-Chief. No matter how much money he makes, or pretends to make, he will always have NO class.

You know why? Because class, true class, is about how you treat people. It is about your character.

My father always treated the cooks and the janitors in his school as respectfully as he treated the other teachers. I learned to treat people as equals, not as superior or inferior due to their education or social status. I am really proud that both my Mom and Dad taught me that the measure of a good person is in how kindly you treat others.

To be a classy person is to realize that it is not about what you have, or what you do. There is honor in ALL work, and there is compassion for those who may not have work right now. There is a belief that ALL people are worthy of human dignity, no matter their skin color, creed, religion, or national origin. America was founded on these principles, that all people were created equal, which is why I am still proud to call this home.

 

 

 

Sunday haiku on home (3 verses)

 

I missed you, my dear.

Traveling is fun for me.

But You are My Home.

***

At times I see it:

My World is re-born Anew.

Much beauty and grace.

***

Other times I pause.

I miss your smell, and your touch.

Thank you, Love. Always.

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Photo credit link – You Tube on how to help a cat adjust to a new home

(dedicated to my husband)

When life hands you limes, make ceviche!

You all know the expression: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. It really means that you can turn the circumstances of your life into opportunities.

On my Monday trip to Mexico, I ended up in a bit of a situation – my flight arrived 30 minutes after the appointed time. When I reached Cancun, which was my intermediate stop on the way to Mexico City (I know, I know: I usually fly through Atlanta) I discovered the next flight was in a different terminal.  Then I discovered that the shuttle between the terminals only runs once every 20 minutes, which meant I would definitely miss my connection.

In the “olden” days as I will call them (before I started meditating and actively managing my emotions) I would have had a mini panic attack. I’d missed my flight, my cell phone wasn’t working and I was in a foreign country. Ack!!!

But this time around, I told myself: when I get to the terminal I will explain what happen and surely Delta will help me get booked on the next flight. There have to be several a day from Cancun to Mexico City. Sure enough, that was what happened. I’m not sure of Sky Priority status mattered or helped, but I did find some kind people right away who helped me get on the next flight which was due to leave 2 hours after the originally scheduled one.

ceviche and guac

I was left with actual time to have a late lunch or an early dinner, whatever you want to call it. I ordered my favorites: ceviche and guacamole and just settled in for an hour at the airport while waiting for the next flight. There was no panic, I didn’t stress over the hours of time I would miss. In fact, arriving in Mexico City around 7:45 instead of 5:45 means there will be considerably less traffic. There was no real harm done.

Later that night I had a chance to practice more mindful trip behavior as well. It turns out the taxi from the airport took me to the wrong hotel. My colleague had assumed I was going to the other address, so she told me “Colonia Escandon” rather than the location I had booked which was “Colonia San Jose.” So there was a difference in what I had paid at the airport versus the total amount due.

The driver was very kind about it, explained that I could pay him the difference. Only I didn’t have any pesos, and he did not have a credit card reader. Fortunately the hotel had an ATM, so I was able to get some local currency to pay him the difference.

These may seem like unremarkable incidents to a frequent traveler, and they are in many respects. But in my less mature days, either incident would have sent me into a mild panic (my mind racing to: “What the F*** am I going to do?”) instead of just calmly figuring out a solution to the problem.

Perhaps I am giving my meditation practice more credit than it deserves for this sense of peace and calm I have while traveling. It could be that I am a mature traveler, I know sometimes things go wrong. I focus on what I can control, not what I cannot. But I still think mindfulness practice has allowed me to slow down and think more calmly in situations that used to put me into a tailspin.

Reason enough for me to keep practicing every day. Have a great one, friends!

Preach what you practice

Yesterday I was thinking of the common expression “practice what you preach” and considering why it is an admonition of sorts. Probably because it is easier to tell others what to do than to take our own advice sometimes.

So let’s turn that one on its head and instead preach what we practice. It occurred to me that I am trying to do this on my blog. There are certain things that really help me to live a better life: meditation, yoga, writing, eating real food, choosing love over fear, etc.

I love to experiment with practices to see how or whether they work for me. If they do, after some time and testing, I adopt them as part of my daily or weekly routines. Of course, you will have to practice them yourself to know if they work for you. I am not saying they will. But I really do like to “preach” some practices that work.

Blogging has led me to some really fascinating and insightful people online. The ones I enjoy most do this very thing: they preach what they practice. They share what works for them. They show some vulnerability in admitting they are not perfect, that they have made mistakes. And they invite others to learn from their experience as well.

Today I just want to thank a few of them that I read regularly and have given me feedback on my work as well. I am grateful that the internet has enabled this kind of virtual connection and that like-minded people can collaborate on this great experiment of life.

Steph at Make More Meaning is doing some fascinating things with minimalism. Jessie at Hoosier Mystic is doing some significant personal work. Julie de Rohan has given me some great shout-outs as well, and I appreciate her support. And also raynotbradbury is a source of creativity and delight, so check out her humor when you have a moment.

I know there are more of ya out there, and I thank you for your comments and contributions to the world of ideas and this ever-expanding universe that is the blogosphere. Cheers & happy Friday!