Category Archives: work

Virtual vs in person meetings

Yesterday I arrived in Buenos Aires and attended meetings in the afternoon with a relatively new contractor who started with us in January to cover for the maternity leave of another employee. We started things off with a meeting at one of our clinical research sites, a well-known cardiovascular specialty center that is also a teaching hospital. Two prominent physicians met with us, along with their medical fellow (who does most of the actual work of entering patient data).

When I make an appearance now and then and travel here from far away, these physicians like to “talk research” with me and present ideas they have about new therapies and studies in which they enroll patients. It is an engaging and interesting discussion and I really enjoy the enthusiasm of these fellow researchers. They ask hard questions! Fortunately I was on my game, even after only 4 hours of sleep on the plane the previous night.

After the site visit, my contractor and I sat to have a late lunch, since I had skipped that in favor of getting to the site visit on time. We had time to visit and get to know each other in a casual environment. I learned more about her career path in this field. We have both been in clinical research for 11 years, and we both entered though a “side door” not knowing the field existed prior to entering.

Puerto Madero - view from hotel

View from my hotel in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires

I work with an international team, with all of my direct reports living in other countries. We spend a lot of time on conference calls, corresponding via email and doing a lot of what I think of as virtual, rather than real-time communication. It is nice that electronic tools give us the flexibility to work remotely when necessary, and to come together as a team for our monthly operations meetings, for example.

I believe there is NO substitute for some old-fashioned, face-to-face, trust-building time with your coworkers. None at all. Video-conferencing can be helpful, and I am glad it exists. Looking people in the eye, and getting to absorb their gestures and body language is simply irreplaceable, especially when there may be language barriers.

My Spanish has improved greatly in the 11 years I have worked in a Latin American division, without question. But it still is my second language, not my first. Being able to know with real-time feedback whether communication is understood, or whether there is a gap, is SO much easier in person. It is also more relaxing, and you may not feel like you are “on stage” the way I sometimes do when I’m on video-conference.

For this reason, as well as many other cultural factors that are probably relevant to trust-building in Latino cultures, it is very important for me to have in person meetings to set the foundation for trust. There is something irreplaceable about real human contact, and there are certain messages that are easier to deliver in person. For this reason, even though travel makes me a bit weary, it is always worthwhile to make the journey.

Cheers, peeps! Happy Friday!


The packing list

Hi All,

I am leaving on a trip to Buenos Aires and Brasilia for the next week. It has been nearly 3 years since I have been to Argentina. It is one of the four main countries supported by my clinical research team, and we have quite a lot of studies and sites there. The journey is long and Delta only offers overnight flights, probably because it is easier to “manage” a plane full of people for 9 hours if they are mostly sleeping.

I am not so fond of traveling overnight. Typically I get about 3 hours of sleep on the 9 hour flight from ATL to EZE (if that) and I arrive tired and wired. But this trip is important. It is overdue. I have some atoning to do for neglecting the operational issues we have encountered over the past 2 years.

Sometimes doing more with less is impossible. We have to do LESS with less. We have to make decisions about which projects to cut, instead of pretending we can do it all, and then doing it very badly, instead of with high quality attention. Those decisions are difficult, but I believe they should involve an honest evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses, and a team-based approach to maximizing our contribution.

I may not agree with what the organization has decided to fund (or not fund). But I do have a responsibility to follow through, and make difficult decisions when the time comes. Limping along and pretending everything is okay does not win supporters or champions in the organization.


In preparation for this trip (and most trips) I use a packing list to be sure I have not forgotten anything.

This particular list is nice because it is pretty all-inclusive. I like to highlight all the items that I will need and then cross them off as they are put into the suitcase.

For a person who struggles with a.d.d., lists are essential. I think for most people, lists are helpful, especially for overseas trips.

But what is not on the list and what I intend to also “pack” with me as I mindfully begin this 7 day trip:

  1. Patience
  2. Openness to other cultural norms and experiences
  3. My Spanish skills for Argentina, and Portuñol skills for Brasil (when I try to speak Portuguese, somehow the works morph in my mouth to more of a combination of languages.)
  4. Patience
  5. Confidence in my intuition about travel
  6. Focus on what is important; letting go of what is unimportant
  7. Sense of adventure
  8. Acknowledgement that I cope pretty well with sleep-deprivation, even if I don’t like it much.
  9. Gratitude to be able to see some colleagues I have not seen since last year.
  10. Patience
  11. Gratitude for the delicious food I may eat – Argentina is like Europe when it comes to food. They love it, they do it well, and it is delicious.
  12. Well-established daily meditation practice
  13. Patience
  14. Strength and endurance – The trip home will be especially long, with 2 stops from Brasilia to home and another overnight flight on the way back.
  15. Did I mention patience?

My husband reminds me that I get to be in a warm climate, while we are still in the cold in MN, and that a lot of people would really love to have the opportunity to travel as much as I do. I do enjoy it (most of the time) and I am looking forward to the trip, with just a hint of trepidation about all I need to complete during the journey. Mostly it is about connecting, and having honest and open conversations.

I still plan to post every day, and hopefully will grab some good photos on the journey. There is definitely always food for thought when we travel, so we will see what comes up. Hasta luego, amigos!

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.




Smoke and mirrors

This morning I woke up very early again (3:30) on the heels of a dream, but at least it was after 7 hours of sleep rather than just 4 the night before. I tried counting breaths, I tried a little meditating, praying and attempting to let go of my thoughts. The dream faded quickly and I did not write it down. But there were work people in it, and it did not feel like a happy dream.

I tried paying attention to my thoughts (one meditation technique). Counting breaths got me up to 70, then 20, then I could not make it to 10 without my thoughts distracting me. One of the thoughts I kept having was that I no longer believe in what I do at work. I am supporting a system which is very dysfunctional. I feel like I am rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic sometimes, juggling unreasonable demands.

What also occurred to me is that I no longer trust my director. This does not feel good. But it is what emerges for me, a feeling of betrayal. He broke our group’s trust by taking on two more projects when he told us last November: no more new projects without new resources. I realize he defined this differently from me. I think of people (“headcounts” in corporate speak) as my resources. Yes, there is budget money. But when it comes to human resources, actual people to do the work that’s been committed, we are far below critical mass.

I wrote a long email to my boss and the other manager on our team about this last Friday. I scheduled a meeting for this past Monday to discuss. Since I was asked to work on a project for funding model innovation with a Senior Director of another division, I had to gather the data and face the reality. It is not good. We have 15 active projects and there are only 5 people in the “field clinical research” role in Latin America to execute, spread among 4 countries. True, about half of those projects are in maintenance mode, and are not very work-intensive. But we are fooling ourselves if we think we can continue like this much longer.

pain image

Photo credit link – this is how I felt last year at this time.

A history of over-committing our resources means we are far behind many of the targets that were originally set when the work was committed. And yes, having to lose 3 real headcounts over the past 2 years has had a devastating effect that I could not really manage (from 8 down to 5). We were poised on the razor’s edge even before that in terms of work load. When upper leadership decided to dis-invest, it kind of broke something in me.

Last year at this time I hinted strongly to 2 direct reports that would no longer have positions on the team and needed to find other jobs. HR did not encourage this, but I am loyal to people, not a corporation. One of them found a better job, was relocated to the U.S. from Brazil. The other one found another job in her country’s office as well, so I just had to do one layoff, and it was a temporary one before she began her new position.

Now is not the time to be taking on more projects. That was what we promised the team back in June (and again in November) when we met to survey the damage. No more projects without more resources. My director broke that promise. I no longer believe in what I’m selling. And now I am fairly certain that staying much longer in my current role will actually hurt my career long-term. Aligning with a boss that cannot keep his promises and has lost the trust of his team feels pretty wretched right now.

I have not yet figured out the next move for me. But no wonder I am losing sleep over this. It’s time I was honest with myself about this whole mess. I have been defending a losing proposition for a couple of years now. My team trusts me as well, and they will have to trust that when I leave, I still care about them as people.

A couple weeks ago I scheduled a trip to Argentina and to Brazil. It feels like a farewell tour for me. I know I will leave, and there is one particular colleague in Buenos Aires that I want to talk with 1:1. She has a lot of difficulty saying no to her boss when she is over-committed. He is a world-renowned electro-physiologist. I get it, but she will have to learn this skill. She returns from maternity leave next week. In my own heart and soul, I could not leave this role before her return. I feel a need to say goodbye, and to wish her well, to let her know I still care, which is why I need to leave.

I need to surrender to the fact that people with higher “grade levels” than I in this division have made decisions that I believe are not good for the health of the organization long-term. Which means their decisions conflict with my values. Physically, my body refuses to cooperate with the smoke and mirrors act that we are forced to enact to survive here.

What a relief it is to imagine putting down my sword and no longer fighting this battle. I don’t even CARE what I do next. That’s how good it feels to be honest about where we are now. I need to stop fantasizing about an “exit package” and start plotting my exit immediately.

North Star navigation

Happy Tuesday, peeps. It is dark as I’m writing, and I am getting through the DST transition, even though it is not typically my best week of the year. At least I am being kind to myself and others. That goes a long way.

In only 24 days I will head to Arizona for a weekend event with two favorite authors, Martha Beck and Liz Gilbert. In honor of that event, I downloaded the audible version of Finding Your North Star, by Martha Beck to give it a re-listen. Years ago I read the book (many times, and annotated it) and then later gave it to a friend who was in a place of transition.

martha beck

Martha Beck’s Finding Your North Star found me during  transition 15 years ago.

Martha’s wisdom is amazing, and since I am in another place of transition in my life, the audio provides just the right level of humor and perspective to help guide me in this next journey. I am working with a coach from the Handel Group, and that homework has been helpful as well.

Martha makes a distinction between the “essential self” and the “social self” in terms of helping us know our core interests and desires. I remember at that time it was a huge discovery for me, the fact that we have these different parts of ourselves that work together in our lives. When we ignore the essential self (aka our soul) in favor of doing only what the social self wants (more ego-driven, people-pleasing), we end up unhappy and unfulfilled.

On the other hand, when we use the faculties of the social self, like pushing ourselves sometimes when we are in a difficult place, in order to achieve the dreams of our essential self, we can create the lives we want. I think there are actually a lot of “selves” that exist within us, and Handel method refers to them as “character traits” that we can identify and then evolve.

A couple of weeks ago, I identified a trait I will refer to as “Mary the Martyr” as a voice talking in my head. She’s the one who tells me I should be grateful for what I have, that it’s greedy to want more. She’s the one who sacrifices for everyone and does not value her own wants and needs. I thought I had rooted her out of my life years ago, but she made an appearance when I worked on the dreaming exercise. Effectively she blocked my dreaming process for a bit.

Her voice sounds a bit like family members (parents perhaps) and she was pretty certain about what she was telling me. It was funny when I actually named her, and began to recognize how she asserts her influence in many areas of my life.  There are certain qualities I like about her: generosity toward her loved ones, a desire to protect the people she cares about, and a sense of independence. She never wants a hand-out and believes she should work hard, but she also has difficulty receiving.

When navigating toward our North Stars, our true purpose in life, it can be difficult when these familial or societally-programmed voices start interfering with the journey. But in recognizing those as not our essential selves, but rather the social selves we evolved to keep us “in a tribe” then we are able to see whether these serve us. It can be a little painful to wake up to this realization, and know that we have been putting dreams on hold.

slaying dragon

When slaying a dragon, recruit some help! (photo credit link).

Sometimes we must find different tribes that support our new journeys. But this is possible, and we must create this support for ourselves. It can take the form of authors on our shelves or people we admire. We do not even need to know all of these “virtual” supporters in person. The web makes this process much easier than it used to be. But the internet sometimes induces other problems, like the tendency for comparison, which is not always healthy.

In any case, navigating toward our North Stars is a scary and exhilarating process. It makes sense to get as much support as we can muster. There is a Hero’s Journey part of the process, and while we may be okay with slaying a few dragons by ourselves, having a posse can make the journey a lot more fun and interesting.





Focus vs exploring options

I am preparing for a session with my coach this morning and slept in an hour more than usual. Sometimes when my body needs it, I just allow it to rest. After last week’s travel, and disrupted sleep schedule, it has been lovely to have 4 nights in a row of 8-10 hours of sleep.

But of course, my writing time is a little cut short for the morning, so I sit, brainstorming what I most care to say. I went back and read a bunch of previous posts, scanning the “data” for trends, themes. Then I considered my worries about the upcoming coaching session. I turned in my homework only 5 minutes before the deadline this time, not a half day in advance like last time.

I wondered about all the resistance, and the fact that committing dreams or goals to paper makes me feel some pressure about it. I asked my husband last night about what he wanted to be when he grew up (at age 5-6) and he wanted to be a farmer like his grandfather. But then his family moved, and the farming industry changed. I reflected on my own memories of being asked that question.

I typically had a long list of all the things I wanted to do someday. But I remember being disappointed with someone who laughed at me kindly and told me I could not do ALL of those things. I would have to pick one, maybe two. What?!? I was sad that I would have to choose and I wanted to keep all doors open.

Back in the day, in our parents era, that was the norm: to choose one main career goal and to stick to that choice for 30+ years. Pension plans were built on that principle. To move around too much was flaky, seen as irresponsible and perhaps self-indulgent.

I had an active imagination and knew that everyone in my family were teachers, and that I also considered that a possibility, but did not want to limit myself. Fortunately the world has changed, and people seldom have just one career. The possibilities now seem limitless, but that does not mean we can have all our choices all at once.

Now that I am getting older, I recognize the value of making a career choice for one particular period of time (say, a decade) and fully embracing that choice, allowing ourselves to go deep into that field of endeavor, really to learn it well. Any area where we practice extensively and develop a body of knowledge is a place we can make a contribution.

But then there comes a time when some of us (and maybe this is my a.d.d. talking, or just my curiosity about other fields and the roads not taken) long for a transition to something new. I had hoped to get into the “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program at my company but found out yesterday that I will not advance to the interview round. I was a bit disappointed, but strangely felt relieved as well.

Working for a very large corporation for nearly 11 years, this era is coming to a close for me. I long for more freedom and less bureaucracy than this setting can deliver. I long for more innovation and less forms to fill out in order to get work accomplished. But that specific direction has yet to solidify for me.

Perhaps it has been a long time since I worked toward a particular dream or goal. I did dream of becoming a manager, and I achieved that dream. I dreamed of travel and work where I would get to do that much more often, and I achieved that dream as well. So in a sense, I have accomplished some of the goals that I had for myself, definitely not along the path I had expected.

I believe in staying open to opportunities, and saying yes to experiences where I might grow and learn. But now that I have achieved a certain level of success, I return to the question of where I want to focus. I long to figure out what contributions I most want to make, where I can provide the most value in the world.

This is a road we all travel, I realize. Perhaps making those choices and sticking to those decisions has been more challenging for me, or maybe I am operating on an old belief system that needs upgrading. In any case, I would love to hear from others that have made big career changes in their lives. What were your fears? How did you discover what you truly wanted? Were there ever times when you doubted your new direction?

Getting ugly

Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian by Barbara Kingsolver entitled “#MeToo isn’t enough. Now women need to get ugly

It was a thought-provoking piece and I am still mulling it over today, in light of world news, and in light of experiences I have had in my life and career.

“Patriarchy persists because power does not willingly cede its clout; and also, frankly, because women are widely complicit in the assumption that we’re separate and not quite equal.”

She explains how we are so embedded within the patriarchy that sometimes it is difficult to perceive it. I have heard patriarchy likened to being a fish in water, but not knowing what “water” is – it is the stuff we swim around in every day. We do not know what it is because we have never been without it for any length of time. Patriarchy is like water: it envelopes our lives in such a way that it becomes our reality.

But fortunately humans are not fish. And our breathing is not dependent on the existence of the patriarchy, though it may seem like our livelihoods indeed depend on it for many.

I realize part of my aversion to corporate life these days reflects partly an exhaustion with a patriarchal system that does not value work based on merit. It privileges the contributions of one gender over another. It does not value people and their multiplicity of contributions, the range of what they could bring to the table when given an opportunity.

I am fortunate to work in a company that places a high value on employees as people, and usually lives up to that tenet of our mission. But looking at a wall of inductees to its highest scientific honor society, counting the ~70 people’s faces and realizing that just 10% of them our women, I sigh and wonder.

There are so many barriers to women attempting to enter realms of work like science, engineering, politics, higher management. Some of these barriers are internal: we lack  confidence or we are not sure we have the competence to enter. We erect higher standards for ourselves than men have to try these positions, and worry more about making mistakes.

The socialization of women and girls has evolved a bit in the 4+ decades since I was born. The availability of sports teams and competitive opportunities has allowed more of us to challenge ourselves and take leadership in new areas. And yet when we lack critical mass, we must work much harder to build professional alliances and networks.

getting ugly

The “old boys club” is very much a reality in many of the corporate environments where we work. My own experience has shown me that men who mentor and sponsor us at work can be professional and appropriate in their behavior. But patriarchy functions subtly here as well.

My boss treats me a bit like a daughter figure – I can tell he is proud of me and my achievements. He wants me to “brag” more and to make sure others know about my accomplishments.  He allows me to make my own mistakes and learn from my experiences. But he has also been protective of me in a way that may be different from how he has treated his male proteges. Whether that is an aspect of personality or of systemic bias, it is impossible to really separate out. We swim in patriarchy so clear vision is obscured.

This morning I will return to a project group of mostly men (25% women) to work on a design project for technology that needs an upgrade. I found myself wanting to share more of my creativity yesterday during the “ideation” phase of our human-centered design process. But I found myself holding back. I was not sure why. The group is unfamiliar to me, and that is a barrier sometimes.

It does no good to blame the patriarchy when we struggle to get our ideas out, when there are also internal barriers as well. But it does help to understand the context of why women are less confident putting themselves out there. Kingsolver notes: “It’s really not possible to overreact to uncountable, consecutive days of being humiliated by men who say our experience isn’t real…” 

Exactly. This type of rape culture makes working “outside our comfort zone” a regular and daily occurrence. Is it any wonder that taking risks in business or engineering feels so dangerous? While many of us learn to live and even thrive in these environments, we also realize women are disproportionately attacked and thus we remain on guard for more of waking hours.

I am contemplating the the notion of getting ugly as Kingsolver recommends. I definitely think we need to dispense with making ourselves pretty and “acceptable” and comfortable for men. It simply does not serve anyone, ourselves or the wider world, to neglect the gifts and talents of half the world’s population.

Men have been ugly to women privately in ways that are now becoming public. And it has caused some seismic shifts in the way women realize how non-personal and cultural all of that behavior has been. I agree that we must never tolerate this behavior, and if that makes me ugly, I am fine with that.








Yesterday afternoon I wrote a post in advance, then “scheduled” it so I could read it in the morning, edit and publish. Apparently WordPress ate the 700 word post. Oops. I have no idea how that happened. But spending a lot of time trying to recover a lost document is a waste. It’s best just to get started on the next one without a lot of drama or delay.

This morning I will meet with a VP for our Corporate Science and Technology division at work, my director’s boss. He has been a career mentor for me, and my director has encouraged me to meet with him once a quarter as I figure out my next move.

I am typically anxious about what to wear to such meetings.

My work “costume” has been evolving a lot in the past year or two. I already wrote about “grown up clothes” in a previous post. I had always read that you should dress for the  position to which you aspire, or at least a level up, not necessarily the position you have. In corporate leadership functions at my company, that typically means for women dresses and heels.

As someone more comfortable in jeans and t-shirt, that was a transition for me. But I embraced my feminine side and realized that dresses are actually more comfortable than pants most of the time. A friend of mine likes to say they as comfy as pajamas but people actually think you look nice! She’s right about that, except during Minnesota winter, when they just seem stupid when your legs and feet are cold for the sake of fashion.

Work clothing can be a kind of “armor” we put on in the morning, to convey a sense of authority or power. As long as we feel comfortable with what we wear, and it does not “clash” with our sense of ourselves, I think it can enhance our confidence. Fake it until you become it, as Amy Cuddy says in her Ted Talk. A few wonder woman poses before a big event will not hurt either. Your body language may speak even more highly than your clothing, so it is worth being mindful of how comfortable you feel and what you project.

Clem in chaps - Canada

My hubby in chaps during our trip July 2017. This was taken in Canada.

I realize that what I project at work does not really capture authentically who I am, and I am trying to figure out if I can bridge that gap. My husband bought me riding chaps last year before our summer motorcycle trip around Lake Superior. A friend teased me about it because he thought of chaps as a sex fetish thing. But hubby likes to say “dress for the slide, not the ride.” I know that my work colleagues would probably be shocked to see me dressed in jeans, chaps, and a black motorcycle jacket. It definitely does not alight with my work costume or the image I have sought to project at work.

At the same time, the motorcycle gear “costume” expresses my desire for freedom and for being engaged with the world in a different way. In a very practical sense, it is safety gear. And it is also represents a different part of my identity that is not something I feel comfortable bringing to work.

As I write this, I also know that the mask I wear as part of my work costume is getting a little old and tired as well. Having to feign enthusiasm for a job that is “over and done” for me in a fundamental way takes a lot of energy. It is not something I can do for much longer.

I believe that when we bring our whole, authentic selves to work we excel and produce our best work. Maybe there is room for that in my corporation, and maybe not. It is worth speaking up about my real feelings and thoughts to see if this is met with acceptance or with rejection. Either way, I will know whether I might find some other place in the organization or whether I need to move on.

Costume change, please!