What do you most want to learn?

It is said that we teach what we most want to learn. Research is “me search.”

One of the exercises I have tried while crafting my “offer” to my ideal clients is to consider the topics I most enjoy exploring through writing. By looking at my “tag cloud” or my category list, well-being and consciousness are big on my list. I also love thinking about and experimenting with how to increase employee engagement and career satisfaction.

Regarding my well-being focus for the past few years: in 2015-2016 I realized I had gained more weight and life felt stressful. More travel and meetings were required of my position as a manager for an international division. I knew something had to change. I did not like the feeling of my clothes getting tighter, or my need to take the “edge off” with a glass of wine as soon as I got home each day.

I decided to take a 10-day pause from my nightly glass (or 3) of wine when I came home each night. Whew, lots of emotional stuff came up. Then I realized I’d started taking the “edge” off by over-eating more often, or justifying extra chocolate or dessert because my day had been stressful and “I deserved it” I told myself.

But what if I could live a life where I did not feel a need to buffer my emotions with alcohol or food? What if I could learn to feel my difficult and uncomfortable feelings, without needing to dull them? 

As someone slightly on the introvert side of the introversion/extroversion spectrum, being with people for the majority of my day is taxing. Susan Cain advises introverts to find “restorative niches” of quiet or tranquility in our day, in order not to be overwhelmed by the social interaction required.

As a nexus point for 5 different departments and many different countries and regional units, it felt like constantly being “under fire” from far too many bosses or project managers, to whom I was accountable, even though I technically reported to just one director.

Restorative niche? Only if I could work at home (and I did now and then). I craved “deep work” assignments when I could have uninterrupted time to work on a project or develop a tool or workload model, for example. But the number of conference calls and meetings grew exponentially with the number of different initiatives we were called upon to execute.

I got really good at saying “no” toward the end, and also much better at delegating to fellow team members while developing their skills. Not always a popular choice for the entities which funded our small team. But a necessity nonetheless, since we were not able to deliver high quality results when spread too thin.

Fall inlove with taking care of yourself. (1)

So what do I want to teach and learn?

  • We must make conscious choices in our lives. We cannot do it all, nor should we. We must decide on what is essential and strategic, and do only that.
  • Wellness is non-negotiable. Our employer may think our mid-day run or yoga class is optional, but for many of us, it is the restoration we need to be most productive.
  • Working harder is not an option. Most of us are already maxed out. Working smarter is an alternative. Turning down calendar appointments is an option. Setting boundaries and expectations and communicating those is critical.
  • Being willing to receive tough feedback as a leader is essential. When people know you trust them, and are willing to listen and make changes, or help influence the process based on feedback, they trust you. Trust is essential to getting the work done efficiently.

These are some of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my time as an operational manager in a very large medical device company.

What do you most want to learn? Do you spend time writing about this topic as well? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Fear of success

When I quit my job in the corporate world recently, most of my colleagues were excited for me. They assured me that they knew I would succeed at any chosen path. It was a confidence-booster. I was grateful for their kind words.

There were people who seemed very worried and concerned for me, leaving the “mother ship” as I used to call my former workplace. What would I do if I did not find another “gig” right away? Or if it did not work out to be self-employed?

To be honest, fear of failure was not on my mind. I am more concerned about decisions I will make about which direction to pursue. Since I was a young girl I wanted to do LOTS of different things in my life. I still remember being very distressed when someone asked what I was going to be when I grew up (around age 6). I listed off a bunch of things: teacher, writer, doctor, actor, store owner, etc.

The woman who had asked the question had good intentions, I suppose, but she laughed and said, “Oh honey, you can’t do ALL those things. You will have to choose one (or two).” I was immediately sad and surprised too. Seriously? You could only do ONE thing in your life?!? Crap!

I suppose that was much more true then than it is today. So she was not really trying to burst my bubble. She just did not understand my intention. I got bored easily when I mastered things. And I suppose that might have been a clue that I had an active imagination and could create compelling visions of possibilities in my life (and maybe a sign of a.d.d.)

It never even occurred to me that I might try one of those careers and fail. My parents, bless their hearts, had helped instill confidence in my abilities, and in my resilience. I still remember my Dad teaching me about “meta-cognition” when I was in grade school. Thinking was important, he said, but understanding HOW we think (or learn) is even more important.

Recently as I was completing an application for a fellowship I had a major realization – sometimes I have a greater fear of success than I do of failure. Huh? Who is afraid of success?

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As an introvert, I have often looked to leaders or people who are very successful in their careers (say, in public speaking) and thought: that’s so awesome. But I would hate to be surrounded by all those people all the time… yikes. While I like some professional acknowledgement, fame has never really been a goal for my life. I value my privacy and solitude too much.

It did not occur to me that success can look a lot of different ways, or that I could succeed in a career and set appropriate boundaries around my time and space. When you are successful, people seek you out. I guess another of those fears has to do with the future – if I succeed, people will have even greater expectations of me. I will have greater expectations of myself as well.

Where does that end? Oy! The thought makes me tired.

Right now I am considering my definition of success, first of all. For some people, that means money, a nice home, a fancy car, a corner office. I am not the kind of person that craves a lot of material things. I feel pretty weighed down by things, actually. I love going on vacation adventures, so regular travel is part of my success definition.

I love time and space. I love the ability to think, learn new skills, take classes, design workshops and collaborate with my favorite people. The spaciousness of my days has been a distinct benefit to this sabbatical, and I am trying to figure out how to build this into my new gig.

My hubby might say that success means I can retire early and do whatever I want. While that is a lovely idea, I actually enjoy working, when I do the kinds of things that make my heart sing. Success is about giving back, because to some extent, I feel I have already succeeded in my life. Sure, I failed at certain things I tried. But I learned so much along the way.

Truly I am happy in my life, right now, and I appreciate the wealth of my relationships. Ultimately is that not the best measure of success?

Happy weekend,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Enchanted by an idea

I have been possessed by an idea I had while at yoga class on Saturday. It reminds me of the notion Liz Gilbert describes in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. It is one of those ideas that came to me with a visceral sense of excitement and fascination.

It is an idea that caused me to reach out to my favorite yoga teacher to collaborate, since it involves yoga as a tool for mindful leadership. Y’all know that I practice meditation and yoga regularly. Meditation is a daily practice and yoga is typically 3-4 times a week. I consider yoga one form of my meditation practice because it is about body awareness and has helped “ground” me in my life and truth more firmly.

As I contemplated this idea, I met some women after class who are also attendees of the class. We reflected in this women-only gym on how this hatha/soma yoga practice has enhanced our lives. I started to explore my idea with them, explaining how radically my world has changed since beginning to re-embody myself through this practice. They shared their own stories, and we sat for an hour in mutual exchange of some big life realizations.

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I carried that spark to my yoga teacher, asking if she would meet with me to discuss the idea, to figure out if we could co-create a workshop around this notion. I seemed to have confirmed there would be interest, but of course had not figured out the venue, the exact audience, the marketing, etc. That will come later. We will meet on Wednesday to discuss.

Who knows where it might go, but the idea has taken hold of me. Last night I woke up from sleep around 1:30 a.m. and the idea was with me in vivid color. It didn’t give me insomnia like some ideas do. But it did very firmly take hold of me, and it seemed to ask if I wanted to dance with it.

Indeed, I do want to dance. There is pleasure and excitement in the idea, and it is starting to blossom into more creative ideas within me. This is truly enchantment. It is allowing rather than pushing and striving. But it is also being ready for what emerges, even if a fluttery nervousness is also present. That is part of the process, and I accept it as well.

When did you last dance with an idea that would not leave you? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Starting my Summer Sabbatical

This weekend we visited our families in Bemidji and relaxed after a busy week of finalizing my corporate position. While I am excited to start my “new thing” I also know that I need a break from the intensity of work for a while.

In the corporate world, it is not as common to take a break of more than 2-3 weeks (at the most) in the U.S. as it is in academia. But I have been dreaming of a break like this for quite some time now. I expect it will be ~2 months for me, and will conclude with my 2-week honeymoon Sept 5-19 with my husband (1 year wedding anniversary).

In the academic world, typically sabbaticals have are granted as a year free from teaching duties that could be devoted to research, travel and writing. Traditionally this occurs in the 7th year. Sabbatical is related to the biblical “sabbath” in origin, the day of rest referred to in Genesis. Leviticus refers to an entire year of rest in the 7th year, as a way to respect the natural rhythm of crop-harvesting, and allow the land to lie fallow.

I love the concept of cycles of intentional activity balanced with intentional rest. An over-focus on productivity in our culture seems to rob us of the ability to rest and play without guilt. We feel like we have to “earn” our rest, and then, if we work very hard and have saved up a lot of money, maybe we can retire formally and finally rest.

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Personally the idea of going from full-time work, to full time retirement has always seemed weird to me, and not at all desirable. Work often gives us a sense of purpose and satisfaction, even while it can be the source of stress and struggle at times.

If you love your work and it is well suited to your skills and interests, it is something you may not wish to escape. While you may decide to “down shift” in your later years, or work less than full time, the idea of going from 100% to zero has never appealed to me.

Granted, in the days when work was largely physical and humans had a limited capacity for this enduring effort, it certainly made sense. Today, knowledge work demands high focus during “productive time” but can also require rest and intentional play for creative generation.

What if more of us had a more flexible approach to work and life, where we could take a couple of months off every year to recharge and refresh? How might this affect our quality of work, our quality of life, and perhaps even the planet and the environment?

My theory is that quality vacations and sabbaticals may afford the kind of down time that helps us appreciate what is good about our lives, and also what is missing. This time off has required us to put away some savings, and make some sacrifices in terms of luxuries and spending. To me, it is entirely worth it. I have planned 2-2.5 days a week to “work” and plan for my consulting launch.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity and shall make the most of it. My husband tells me the time will go fast, and I am sure it will. I have a stack of books, some Udemy courses to finish, a road trip with my sister, and other connections to renew. I shall savor my journal and writing time, will meditate every day, do yoga, dance and perhaps create some art.

What would you do with a nice, juicy sabbatical of a month or more? I would love to know. 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Values mini-manifesto

Hi Readers,

I received some excellent feedback from a few people who received my draft consulting values “manifesto” so this is actually a revised version of the draft. Thank you to all who commented on the Core Values write-up I posted on Friday. I am refining that as I go to hone in on those particular areas of practice where I can add the most value.

Let journalism thrive!

Consulting Values mini-manifesto

  1. Diversity drives innovation. Period. We have been shown this again and again in the research. There are countless examples of this in business, design, education, customer service, engineering, etc. See the book The Medici Effect if you want to learn more about this principle. Diversity can broadly include gender, age, culture, discipline, expertise, interests, skills, strengths, orientation, and many other dimensions. Your team is enhanced by how inclusive you can be about bringing full engagement of your diverse players.
  2. Women are leaders. This is true in families, communities, business, nonprofits, government and all sectors. One problem is that we have widely associated leadership with a lot of “masculine” qualities. We do not always see the value of collaboration, influencing, building genuine connections and flexibility in thinking. I believe that women already have most of these skills already, and they are skills that can be coached and developed. We have undervalued the skills of half our workforce in encouraging women “act like men” in their leadership styles. Instead we must develop confidence and assurance in our own voices and our own ways of getting work done. Leadership is going to look different than the models we have seen. And that is a GOOD thing! We need that now, more than ever. 
  3. Teams are made of individuals with far more talent than we typically use or optimize in their current work roles. While that is a challenge, we can build in better ways to tap that talent, help design workplaces and teams that fully utilize our strengths while maximizing the overall productivity of the team. There is an art to doing this, and there are mindsets which allow us to fully utilize talents. When we think someone is too “junior” to have an impact, we miss the freshness in perspective that person can bring to the work. When we think that we or someone else is too “senior” to have something to learn, we sell ourselves short. This principle is based on the “growth mindset” pioneered by Carol Dweck. It is also based on years and years of research I have done in my own workplaces, witnessing growth of so many people, when given the right conditions and encouragement. I aim to help you maximize the wealth you already have, which already exists within your team.

This is intended to describe the values I bring to my consulting work. Of course I am adding more detail to the consulting “program” and practices I intend to offer. I have time to work that out before I actually will start marketing my time and effort in these areas. But it helps me to write and focus in the places where I feel most passionate and committed. I think the above areas describe that well for now.

Cheers & have a great week! As always, I am happy to receive your comments and feedback.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Junk science and nutraceuticals

Lately I have received two completely separate solicitations from a friend and a family member for “nutra-ceutical” products that make claims that are fairly dubious. I am curious about why the information was sent to me, and I am following up to understand this. However, I feel the need to debunk bad science before it harms or scams people.

Terms like epigenetics, biohacking, and reducing oxidative stress are used to draw people into the pseudo-scientific claims they are making. It really upsets me, because the research that they link to their articles does not back up the claims they make. They also prey upon the lack of clinical research knowledge of ordinary people in order to try to sell them supplemental nutrition that we should be getting from real food.

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Promotional blurb from the Facebook ad, trying to capitalize on trusted brands in order to market a product with dubious claims.

It makes me so angry that I am going to go on a bit of a rant here. Pardon me for that, but I do not like to see my friends and family duped into buying or selling expensive products that are totally unnecessary. Because this industry is NOT regulated and does not have to go through FDA or other approvals to be released, I have serious safety and efficacy concerns about these products.

I support medicines or supplements that have been shown to have clinical benefits, as long as the side effects are non-existent or minor. Obviously, as a clinical researcher in the medical device industry for over a decade, I have seen the difference that proper therapy and intervention can make for patients.

But I see also the shady under-belly of an industry that is preying upon the worries and fears of people. There is probably a strong placebo effect in terms of people’s belief that these products may work for them. However, I think consumers waste money unnecessarily on non-proven and potentially dangerous supplements that have not been adequately evaluated.

I have healthy skepticism for the medical establishment. I realize that recommendations are not always in the long-term best interest of the patient. Incentives can be contradictory. I realize that presents a problem. But approval for medicines, devices or supplements should be made based on rigorous study design and tested via randomized controlled trials.

Please be careful when you see claims made that seem too good to be true. When a pill claims to reduce symptoms for Fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, and dementia, and MS and a host of other conditions, be suspicious. Typically these claims are overblown and would never pass muster in terms of their scientific validity.

End of rant. This has been your weekly PSA from a concerned clinical researcher.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Reading, writing and rhythm

I am a voracious reader. My nightstand is typically piled with books, and I have about 3-4 going at any one time.

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There’s at least one fiction book, which is my treat reading before bedtime, and the way I wind down before sleep. I am not so into e-books. I have a Nook, but forget to charge it. I have a love for real pages that I can turn, a visceral and physical experience of a book that I am too old-fashioned to replace.

When I write, I integrate the things I read, the practices I attempt, and the swirling thoughts I notice while meditating or navigating my days. It helps me slow things down enough to consider how it all fits together.

My philosophy teacher used to recommend that we write to remember. When studying, write out concepts and ideas we want to understand or explore.

In biology or chemistry labs, we wrote to capture our protocols, and our results. Writing is a part of science, part of study, part art-form and part formal work.

Reading and writing do not come easily to everyone, and I am grateful that I have always enjoyed both since a young age. Fifteen years ago, toward the end of graduate school I was diagnosed with adult a.d.d. Now it makes sense to me that I can either hyper-focus or be challenged to finish a page without distraction.

I do not have the “h” part of the usual diagnosis (and women often do not manifest that part, or they train themselves out of it to be quiet, compliant little girls from a young age). But clearly the difference in my ability to focus was palpable after treatment and medication.

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Before the diagnosis I had suffered from 2-3 periods of depression in my life, precipitated by burnout and anxiety. I had always struggled to pay attention during my “boring” classes, and often escaped into my imagination. Teachers knew I was smart, but they often said I was not working up to my potential. I finished salutatorian of my high school class, so clearly a lot of students may not have been working up to their potential…

What I find these days is that life is more about establishing the right rhythm for my days and weeks, rather than pursuing the elusive “balance” many strive for.

Filling days with to-do lists and activities may help us feel productive and in control of our lives. But resting, pausing and re-evaluating need to be a part of our lives too. An a.d.d.-oid brain is typically in motion constantly. I describe my thought processes as cascades, and they are very fluid and dynamic.

Normal people can typically compartmentalize their thoughts, like putting them in boxes, categorizing and organizing them. The a.d.d. brain tends not to work that way, instead flowing from thought to thought, in associative “play”. We create new categories, with different boundaries. Our brains  leap outside boxes like playful puppies or kittens.

For years I spent time hiding my a.d.d., at the advice of well-meaning professionals that explained to me that employers would not necessarily understand, and may penalize me for it professionally. In every job I needed to “prove myself” with consistency for quite some time before advancing, very hard for the a.d.d.-oid mind that gets bored once it knows the routine. The first time I was able to hire administrative support to help with the details while I could focus on big picture work, I finally started realizing my potential.

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My current position as an operational manager for an international team requires me to be quick thinking and to balance many factors in making decisions. I get to help my employees with career development (which I love) and coach them to develop their skills, especially when it comes to influence management in a large corporation with a matrix reporting structure.

I turned a weakness into a “superpower” of sorts, at least the way I am choosing to author my life and my story. I do not see it as a disability. I see it as a way of seeing around corners, flexibly solving problems, and bringing creativity to many teams.

As long as I find the right rhythm in my days, get time for rest, play and taking very good care of myself physically, I thrive. When I neglect myself, or slack off on good self-care routines, like getting enough sleep, healthy food, affection, love, and exercise, I suffer.

What I want to say to those suffering from depression, anxiety, a.d.d. or any other type of diagnosis: it does not have to define you or your life. You will need to learn to manage it, that is true. But it will give you unique insight, skills and resilience when you learn to manage it. You will benefit from more compassion for those who struggle. And if you learn to love yourself, and the unique way that your brain and body work, you can fully use your gifts.

 

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Find your rhythm, find what makes sense for you. Find others that support your strengths and help you cultivate them. You deserve that. And it is possible.

Have a great week, friends.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

What’s your One Thing?

Yesterday I took an opportunity during my monthly operations meeting to present to my team a concept I had discovered that intrigues me, from The One Thing by Gary Keller.

In preparing for the presentation, I realized that I can indulge my love for teaching and training in my current job. It was totally fun to prepare, and I enjoyed challenging my team with a new idea. It was a bit of a risk, and I had not discussed it with my director first. But he has been open to my creative streak, and when I finished (in about 20 minutes) he actually came up with the perfect picture to capture the idea of what we do now, versus what we might prefer to do.

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“One man band” – photo taken in March 2018 by my boss

What is perfect about the photo is that it showed empathy for the struggle of my teammates, and it illustrated the point I had made during the presentation.

The basic idea of the book is that we need to work on ONE thing at a time, sequentially rather than simultaneously to achieve extraordinary results. When we multi-task or spin in a list of to-do’s that has no main priority, we dilute the focus and the quality of our work. So the book has a number of suggestions for how we drill down from our “someday goal” to a 5-year, then one year, monthly, weekly and daily goal.

We are asked to use a focusing question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This can be applied to goals at work, in relationships, goals for your physical health, personal life, money and business. You use it both on a temporal level: “what’s the one thing this week, or today or in this moment…” Then you plan time blocks on a daily basis so you get your one thing done first, before you slide off into more shallow work, like answering emails, attending meetings and other tasks.

Nothing should distract you from your one thing until it is done. Those time blocks can be protected. This is similar to the concept of Deep Work, by Cal Newport.

After I concluded, I asked the team: How can we apply the concept of “The One Thing” to the work we do every day? A couple of them had some ideas, and one had a great example. One thought it would be very hard to do this in the world we live in now, which was when my boss pulled out that great photo. We often feel like “one man bands” in our group, serving so many business units.

I believe the concept has merit, and though we a.d.d.-oid folks struggle with doing just one thing at a time, and many need to have shorter “time blocks” than the average person, I know when I do it well, I generate amazing results. I like to think of my one thing right now as my morning writing practice. When I do it, I feel a nice surge of energy, and that makes the rest of my day more productive as well.

What’s your ONE THING? Or if you prefer a more focused question: What’s your One Thing today?

Happy Friday, amigos!