Nobody is Watching the Why: How the Change Champions are Failing at Coronavirus Change Leadership

Starting out like most of my last few posts, apologizing for being busy and not having Image result for coronavirusposted in forever. I feel like that bad friend that says “I think of you all the time” but never calls. There have been 100 topics I have wanted to blog about but never got them written but this topic I couldn’t resist.

There has never been a better moment in time to be a student of change than right now. We are living in the greatest change management experiment ever, ‘How do we get 7.5 billion people to simultaneously change every behavior they have ever known’. There will be dissertations written on this for decades to come.

My great hope is we score better, looking back, on how the virus was handled than we have on managing the change component of this crisis. I read news articles after article, watch friends griping on social media and hear our leaders wringing their hands because people are not listening. They aren’t staying home, they are hoarding, they are continuing life as normal as possible. The words that fly around are selfish, entitled, stupid, careless and even ignorant. The lack of care for themselves and the risk they present to others is blamed on personality or lack of morals. Anyone who has read a single book on change can tell you that isn’t the case. The reason this isn’t being taken seriously is no one has made the case for why.

Why is everything in change, particularly when the change is painful, radical or has a deep personal impact. Helping people understand the why requires clarity in messaging, a single story and a sense of importance. It can be exhausting and time consuming, as that single story may need to be spun many ways to reach different groups of people. The why must be personal and it must resound deeply. It can not be mandate or directive alone. It needs to become personal and internalized. And frankly, not a single world leader I have heard in this crisis gets that.

How do we expect average citizens to believe the message when we watch house, senate and president play politics with aid packages? If this was really important, they would be working together, right? Why would college students skip spring break when we see press conferences and senate meetings with large groups of people together? If it was really dangerous, they wouldn’t put themselves at risk, right? Going out to eat or playing at the playground can’t be that big a risk, can it? The decree from our county listed just about everything in the world as essential businesses (including the liquor stores). If this was really bad, they would close everything not life and death, wouldn’t they?

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I hear so many people struggling for why during World War II people were so ready to sacrifice anything to help and this is being treated so lightly. It is not about millennials; it is not about hard-heartedness. It is about the why. Our parents and grandparents all knew 100’s of people who were going off to war, people who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives, they saw the food missing on tables and in stores. The why was clear. The toll of this virus, the why, is a lot more nebulous. Despite there being nearly 500,000 cases worldwide, that is only 0.007% (approximately) of the population of earth. Very few of us know someone personally who is ill and those that are mildly ill, nothing that feels like it warrants this reaction. The why has not been made personal. We are not hearing the stories of those impacted or the stories are continents away and seem like something that happens to “someone else”. The question keeps being asked, why are country after country and state after state waiting until they are past the tipping point to lockdown. It is a simple answer. It doesn’t happen until the why is obvious.

The most common mantra in change leadership is “change happens when the pain of change is outweighed by the pain of staying the same”. Until the why is obvious the pain of staying the same has remained invisible to most. And unfortunately, that comes with a death toll.

Image result for coronavirus texasMy county in Texas goes on ‘lockdown’ tonight. I don’t expect tomorrow to look any different than today. I know the roads will be busy, people will be out and the police will try to control through fines and threats of jail time. It won’t work. You can’t mandate why. So, what will the outcome be? Luck or death. Maybe we will get lucky and it will blow through our area mildly and we will all look back claiming the government over reacted. That is the best-case scenario. The other option, it hits hard, we begin to know people who are hospitalized or die and the why speaks for itself. And we will all look back and want to place blame. More words about selfishness will be thrown around, politicians will have inquiries and point fingers. And we will all ask why, why did no one tell us why?

You’re Not a Team Player!!!!!

As usual, it’s been a while since I have posted. It has been a crazy year and as much as I Image result for teamworkthink about blogging, I rarely have the time to sit down and do it. I want to change that. I have a lot to say and a lot that I think others need to hear and I am going to try to do better. Once a month at least is my new goal. We’ll see how it goes. Keep me honest if I am slipping.

Let’s start out with a life update. I still live in Texas (and love it). I bought a horse (Cowboy); I am in the process of trying to sell a horse (Lilo). Jasmine is now retired from show life and living the horsey dream life in the Texas Hill Country (along with her son Zeke). I am about 11 months into my new job (it was a year on Friday that I left my last one) and I could not be happier. I feel like I found my fit. That is a lot of what I want to talk about in the next couple blogs. Finding your people, not staying with the known when it isn’t working, being yourself. They are topics I have hit on before, but I want to go back to them with a year’s worth of wisdom and growth.

I am not sure I ever fully said on here what went on at my previous job, particularly the ending. In some ways the end came from a change in management (I predicted my time there was ending when leadership changed about 2 years before I left), in other ways it had been coming from the day I started there (in 2003). It might never have been the best fit for me, but that will be the next post. Today I want to try not to get too squirreled and focus on team work. This has been on my heart and mind a lot lately and I feel like I ‘get it’ in a way I never did before.

Image result for deserted islandOver and over in my life I have been accused of not being a team player. And I bought into that notion. It must be me. I must be messed up or wrong because I didn’t enjoy team projects or got frustrated with team members at work. Maybe it is my introversion, maybe it is my New York attitude. I looked to see what others saw. I tried to believe the blame being put on me, but at the same time I knew what I craved more than anything was a team work environment. I hated the fact that I was typically isolated out on an island by my former company. Looking back, I can see part of that was a result of their inability to run a healthy virtual company. Part of it was also intentionally done to contain me so that others would not have to step up from their mediocrity. By making me the problem, other problems could be ignored. I was an easy scapegoat because I would internalize their criticism. Shame on me!

It wasn’t until I joined my current organization that I realized; you can’t be a team player if you aren’t part of a team. That the flaw all along hadn’t been me, it was that I wasn’t working in a team-based environment and had no real team mates!!!!

I wish I knew what the secret is with the firm I am with now, because it would be great to share with other companies that are struggling, but I never feel like a remote employee, even though I am. I remember previously that when I would see colleagues once or twice a year at town hall meetings or holiday events, I would feel like I was meeting strangers. That is never the case with my current firm. There is no sense of being less a part of the family than those in the home office, there is no sense of being a stranger. It is odd and wonderful all at once.

I do think part of the magic is technology. We use Slack, A LOT!!!! There are very few emails between team members (maybe 10 this year total, for things clients don’t need to be cc’d on). We interact constantly and I know that helps. It feels like we are together even though we aren’t.

Another factor is our deeply-ingrained commitment to the client. On paper most of us are assigned to different projects, but when one team member has a challenge or a client has a need everyone immediately piles on to help. It doesn’t matter if it is the founder, the president, someone you have never talked to. Everyone is in this together. We succeed and fail together and while I see that in mission statements all the time, here it is life. I know every day I have a team backing me. I know if I reach out for help someone is going to have my back. And that is huge.

Knowing I have a team has been lead to major personal growth for me this year. I have learned I don’t have to do it all myself, I have learned to delegate, I have learned to trust others to do without micro managing. Do I do that all perfectly yet? Heck no! I have a lot of years of habits to undo, but I have come so far forward with this.

I have also learned how to be more vulnerable and ask for help and not feel like saying “teach me this” is the same as setting myself up as a target or seen as a failure. That risk taking has allowed me to discover skills (like programming dashboards) I never knew I would enjoy (oh heck, let’s be honest, I totally geek out on it), build better relationships with colleagues and better serve my clients. I still find myself checking people’s potential motives before I admit I am struggling, but more often than not asking for help has become a positive experience.

I learned a lot about leadership this year too. For 16 years I was a one man show (if I was lucky, I had one person I was paired with) and I had to do it all. This year I not only gained an entire organization beside me, but I am also leading a team of my own. I have always tried to shy away from formally leading a group at work (because I had been told I had the wrong personality for it, again I believed the BS). And that might still be true, because my style of leadership is not something that would work on a management org chart. I believe in a herd more than a group of followers. That we are all have a valuable voice, that we are all in it together, that I would never ask someone to do something I won’t do. But just like I watch in the pasture, every herd has to have that alpha when something is going wrong and I have embraced that role. It is my job to protect my team, to make sure they have what they need, that we are being the most successful we can. But our outcome is not because of me. Good, bad or otherwise it is because of us. Humility has never been my challenge, I easily bought into my whole life all the negative people put on me, but not feeling that failure was my fault has been. I have learned this year, I think, to own the right amount of my responsibility while also ensuring others own theirs too.

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It is so cliché to say “Team work makes the dream work” but I have to say I am living my professional dream and it really is because I found my team, my herd, my tribe. I found people who are in it for the we not the me. I found people who don’t start from their own benefit but the benefit of the whole. And that is a damn cool place to be!!!!!

I stayed too long at the party…

“The mind is the last part of yourself to listen to, it thinks of everything you can lose. 
The heart thinks of everything you can give.  And the soul thinks of everything you are.”

This is one of those blog posts where I have a big message but have a feeling it is either going to be really short or ramble endlessly to fill space when what I am trying to convey doesn’t need that.

My life is at such a good place right now. Professionally, personally and with my horses I am so happy and content right now.

Professionally, I have a job I am absolutely loving with people who work really hard, care about each other and want to do the best for their clients they possibly can. Those cookiesound like such no brainers but it is so different than where I was before. I find myself having to stop and remember that every day as I make choices for our clients.

I came from an environment that was structured to created animosity and competition, primarily because of a commission-based pay system. I spent 15 years having to hoard work and make choices to ensure I made enough money. I had to choose whether to empower my clients to grow and learn for themselves, at the expense of my paycheck, or force us doing for them as the best option. I had to limit my professional growth because handing off the simple tasks to someone else meant less in my check. Where I am now is so different. What is best for the client and what makes for them to be successful is all I have to factor. And it is weird because I have to remind myself that is ok at least once a day.

My previous environment was also culturally toxic. There was so much talking behind people’s backs, fake interactions, scheming and sabotage and a lot of it started at the leadership level and worked down. I never felt safe. I always wondered what was being plotted and knew I would be broadsided at some point (exactly what happened when I was discarded at the end). That stays with me too. I have a position now where I get to make a ton of change and I am hearing so much support and excitement from all levels of the firm, but I still find myself, out of habit, looking over my shoulder wonder how much is sincere and where the arrow will come from even though nothing there warrants the paranoia.

My horse life is amazing. I am riding two horses so perfectly suited for me. Jasmine has a leaser who is perfect for her and I got to watch them show together last weekend and it made my heart so happy to see them both enjoying what they were doing. I also did well cowboymyself and despite showing Cowboy after only riding him a couple times and it being our first show we did great in two tough classes. I adore my trainer. I know she has my best interest at heart and goes out of her way to make this all doable for me (showing is really hard when you travel as much as I do, and this is far from a cheap hobby and I am struggling with the cost a little right now). She has never done won thing, that I know of, to harm me, but I wonder all the time. Why, because of the trainers before her that were in it for their own good. Who chose horses for me that were better for them than me, who set me up to fail, who talked about me behind my back. They taught me the ugly side of our sport, and still do in some ways when I cross paths with them.

My personal life, while limited by how much I travel, is great. I have made a few very close friends here in Texas. I have great friends around the country. My life is good. I beachhave people who would give their life for me and I know it, but I don’t always trust it. After being stabbed in the back so many times it is hard to trust. There is a poem I love and one specific line that crosses my mind often…”When life calls for new beginnings, and we fear they’re doomed to end, remember…Wounded trust is like a wounded knee–It is very hard to bend.”

While these three parts of my life seem so separate, they share one common trait. I struggle in all of them because I stayed too long in bad situations with each. That was the message that I took a long time to get to my friends. Fighting change merely because the unknown is sometimes scarier than the known of a current situation is never the right choice! I have said it over and over in this blog, I believe everything happens for a reason and when it is supposed to. So in one way I know I was supposed to wait to leave a bad job, a bad trainer and horse and unhealthy friendships. But at the same time I have to stop myself a lot lately thinking “I wish I had done that sooner”. I wish I had moved to Texas 4 years earlier, I wish I had left my previous job 10 years earlier, I wish I had closed in my circle of friends a while ago.

Simply put…stop settling, stop staying. Follow what your heart knows even if it is scary because really great things are found in the scariness!!!! Life in the unknown is pretty damn awesome!!!!!

Please Unfriend Your Clients: Separating your personal life from your business

Because I didn’t have enough on my plate right now, in the last two weeks I have injected myself into trying to bring some sanity to my community’s HOA. The process ‘fixer’ in me just can’t help myself. As a result of this effort I have gotten at least 25 Facebook friend invites. I have declined every one of them. No, I am not the snobbiest person ever. I just believe in keeping a strong line between my personal life and work efforts, both for me and my businesses.

I have a professional career, I have a graphic design business, an executive/business/life coaching business, I show horses, I volunteer with a non-profit, I now am involved in my community and yet I keep around 60 Facebook friends (I’d like to be under 50 if possible). Why? Because neither side of my world is improved by having them mixed. For the thousands of clients I have worked with in the last two decades less than five have become Facebook friends. These five truly are friends in my daily life and belong, the rest do not. None of my current co-workers are on my social media and the one that was at my previous job has been removed since I left there. I keep a very simple rule around social media and knowing what I am up to, if I wouldn’t invite you to my home you don’t need to be on my pages.

When I broach this topic with executive/business/life coaching clients they seem puzzled by why this is a big deal. The first is you never know who you are offending (and as a result hurting your business). You harmlessly posting the steak you had for dinner last night can easily cost you that million-dollar account with the person you didn’t know was a vegan. Jokes that seem funny to you may not be read that way and you may be perceived as less than the professional you are. The second reason is the ability to turn off your work life and have personal time. It is important, especially in the age of constant technology, to be able to step away and take time from clients and work. That recharge is very hard when you have to filter out business interactions from your own life.

Tips for Separating

Have two phone numbers You need a 9-5 work number and a personal number. This allows you to set the work phone down at night, on vacations and when you are spending time with family and friends but not worry those you love can’t reach you. Doing this does not necessitate carrying two phones all the time. You can forward one number to the other phone during the work day so you can be centralized, but then turn this off when needed. A second number can be done either as a true separate line (which comes at cost), through a virtual number or a free service like Google Phone Numbers

Keep separate social media accounts for personal versus professional Each of my businesses has its own page. My horses have their own page. This allows me to segment the parts of my life I want to share but keep my personal life mine. Allow people who you only know through your business to follow you there versus adding them as friends.

Do periodic friend house cleaning There are times you have no choice but to add people to your personal sites. I went through this while trying to sell my horse. However, too many people take the ‘once there always there’ approach. At least once a year (although I would advocate more often) go through your friends, followers and contacts. If you have to struggle to remember why someone is there or they no longer fit your personal life remove them (or add them to one of your other sites and then remove them).

Know your security settings In addition to knowing who you have invited into your inner circle, also keep track of how much others might be lurking. Stay current on changes to the access in different social media platforms. Restrict who can not only see but who can share what you post to personal sites.

Control tagging You can have your sites locked down, be totally conscientious of what you post and have all your hard work undone by a well-meaning friend or family member. One picture of you drunk at a bachelor party can erase years of building a professional corporate image and your boss does not need to see you being teased for not knowing how to spell. Especially related to politics, religion and social opinions, the wrong tag can lose you clients or jobs. Turn on the ability to review tags to your personal site before they are live. While the tagged item may not impact your friends, if you have followed the other tips, friends of others tagged in the pictures or posts may be associated with your clients and unbeknownst to you seeing the posts.

Social media is a great tool. I love my Facebook because it has let me stay connected and be part of the lives of my friends and loved ones around the globe in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise, but it is important that you control your brand. If it doesn’t make you look professional, if it doesn’t make you look competent or wouldn’t bring you business it should not be put out for the masses. Keep who you are you. Separate your life and image.

2018 Life Lessons…………………………..

Here we are in the last few hours of 2018. I may be one of the few people in the world who wants this year to hang on a little longer. This has been the best year of my life. Nearly nothing in my life looks like it did 12 months ago and I couldn’t be happier about that. I love the changes this year brought to my world: new state, new house, new job, new horses, new friends. It is hard to believe so much has happened and I wanted to make sure I took away the lessons that were meant for me in each transition. Looking back each month or so life decided I needed to be schooled. Here is what I learned (or was reminded) in 2018.

January – Pay attention to that little voice inside you

I have spent 48 years fighting my weight. I have been bullied, teased, degraded and humiliated for what I weigh. I have spent most of that time as an obese anorexic. Despite how I look to the world I often go days without eating and take in very few calories. I have always known there was something more behind my weight, even if no one else would agree. Late in 2017 I started playing around eating Paleo (to deal with some stomach issues) and weight started to fall off. It fell back on as soon as I “cheated”. I finally knew what that voice had been saying all along, there are foods my body just doesn’t tolerate and I don’t play by the normal calories in calories out math that others do. I knew it all along, but I let others tell me they knew better. Listen to your intuition, especially about your own body and never let other voices be louder than your own instincts.

February – Follow your passions

Picking up and moving cross country to somewhere new with very few people I know doesn’t scare me. I had done that before when I moved from NY to MN. Living in the south, now that scared me. I have lived my entire life in the north. I have never known an existence without four solid seasons. In my DNA Spring is green, summer is warmish, fall is bright colors and winter is snow. I had always professed that it is easier to live somewhere cold than hot, because you can always put more clothes on and I am incredibly sun sensitive. A million times I had said I would never move to Texas. So I should have been surprised when I decided on a plane ride home from a riding trip that I was up and moving that month, but I think my heart already knew this was inevitable. Heck  I had looked at houses in the area 4 years earlier on my first riding trip. Moving to be able to ride regularly, to have a longer show season, to be nearer to the big shows was the best decision I have ever made. Too often in life we roadblock our dreams by what it would take. Make the investment in yourself! Go where your heart leads!!!!

March – Find your tribe and hold tight to them, they will get you through anything

While moving to Texas was meant to be, it apparently wasn’t meant to be easy. I sold my house, I found another one. That all went really easy. My bestie and the cats and I drove across the country and it was all going great. Then my closing blew up, to a level that looking back was truly comical. Long story short, the buyer on my house in MN had their down payment wire hacked and lost all that money. Nothing like sitting at your closing (with 2 cats in the car) and finding out that until the FBI figures it out you have no home anywhere (which btw took a week to sort out). This was the week I found out who my true friends were. I could not have mentally handled all that went on (and the stupidness of it all) without the friends who offered us to stay at their home, who put me back together when I came fully unglued, who came up with money in a pinch, who helped me unpack an entire house in 8 hours before they left. Life tried very hard to do me in with that plot twist but the people who really matter in my life made sure I got through it and I am forever grateful for that.

April – Everything worth having is worth waiting for

I moved in March, my horses didn’t follow until late April. It felt like forever. In a new state, with a limited number of friends and without my main emotional support. Seeing that trailer pull into the barn was beyond words emotional. I thought it was the best things were going to get, until 2 days later my trainer and barn owner looked at Jas and told me she was sound and we would be showing her. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Three years earlier she had been kicked and I was told I would probably never ride her again and we definitely wouldn’t show her again. It was soul crushing but she was alive and I had made peace with it, to a point, but my heart had never stopped hoping. To hear that three years of hope had a purpose made life complete.

May –  Trust, even if it makes you vulnerable

Trust is never easy for me, but it is especially hard in areas where I have been burned before. I got burned bad by my previous horse trainer. It cost me a lot of money, a lot of heartache and most of all a lot of self esteem. When my current trainer told me it was time to buy Lilo I will admit it was hard. Not because he was a Paint (well ok because of that too but…) but because I knew I was chancing I was being used again. It’s a struggle I have had the entire time working with my current trainer, but has nothing to do with her, it’s all about the past. Because riding and horses doesn’t come naturally and easily to me, like intellectual pursuits do, I have to put myself out there in a way that makes me very vulnerable and easily, in the wrong hands, taken advantage of. I still fight those thoughts some days, but I made a choice and make it regularly. Yes maybe my vulnerability sets me up to be played the fool by someone, but I am not missing out on the amazing chances life puts in your path because it might end badly. I bought the horse, it was the right choice looking back, and it either built trust or set me up to place false trust more, but either way I am glad I took the risk and continue to.

June – Never let other people define what you are capable of

“You’ll never be what the judges want to see”. Those are words I don’t think I will ever lose from my head. I remember the time, place and situation my previous trainer in MN said them in and relive it all the time. I was crushed but also pissed off, and anyone who knows me knows pissed off Pam usually comes out trying to prove a point. As much as those words hurt me, they have driven me in the 4 years since they were said. I knew I could do it. I knew riding was so hard for me but if I put my mind to it, found the right mentors who believed in me and the right horse I could be successful. That picture all came together at Pinto World in June. And I bawled like a baby on my horse when they called out my number as the World Champion. I am so grateful I didn’t let the perception of one taint my dreams.

July –  Surround yourself with people who understand the value of your dreams

My trainer and my barn family here in Texas knew when I moved down here that Jasmine was the center of my universe. That I had dreams for her and things I wanted her to prove to those who have doubted her and they made them come true. They took a very out of shape, injured horse and rehabbed her into a National Champion in mere weeks, not because it mattered to them, but because they knew it matter to me. For as much of an introvert as I am, and as much as relying on other people terrifies me, I realize more and more that success requires you to find the right tribe and let them fill in your cracks.

August – People care about looks a whole lot less than we realize

I have lived my whole life in the north. I have survived in layers of clothes and not needing to show skin to the world except on rare tropical vacations (where my theory was I will never see these people again so who cares). Moving to the south meant a new wardrobe of life; bathing suits, shorts, flip flops and tank tops replaced my hoodies and hiding clothes. This scared the crap out of me as a plus size person. Every day at the pool with people I knew was paralyzing at first, but I very quickly realized I was the only on thinking about how I looked and I needed to let it go. People look at us a lot less than we think. Whether it is because they are dealing with their own paranoia, or are busy being self-centered their thoughts are much more inward than out. I will also say I love that I moved to a community where not everyone is a “pretty person” and every shape, size, color and demographic feels welcome.

September – Find gratitude, especially in the tough times

September was hard, I’m not going to lie. For many reasons I had to keep it quiet at the time, but I was burned pretty bad by my boss and “downsized” out of a job. It wasn’t a surprise, I had seen it on the horizon, but it still hurt when it happened. It hurt more that colleagues I thought were friends turned out to be on the other side and didn’t come to my defense, but just like everything else in life I can see now that it was all to move me forward. It was a toxic environment that I needed to be out of and out of financial fear I probably would have hung on a lot longer. Life gave me the out I needed and I am grateful for that. Everything for a reason and a purpose.

October – Winning isn’t always about the color of the ribbon

For the 5 years I have had Jasmine I had one dream. Show her at a big Appaloosa show in the John Justin Arena. Looking back now I realize I never in the dream saw a ribbon or a trophy, that was never in my thoughts. Weird I never realized that. For those same 5 years life tried REALLY hard to take that dream away from me. Trainer issues, kidney issues for me, her injury, me almost being killed by a drunk driver, god awful winters and very short riding seasons in Minnesota. We were making no progress and most of the time moving backwards. With all we had been through riding her into the Justin at World was winning. I’m not sure I knew that going in (Although when I saw us on the monitor waiting to go in I did point it out to my trainer and giggle like a 5 year old. I may have even said “look that’s us” as I was giggling.). The ride was less than stellar, my fault as much as hers. But it didn’t matter we didn’t place, and still doesn’t 2 months later. I won that night, Jas and I won. We did what so many said we couldn’t and never would. I lived my dream and while many others looked at it and called it a failure (some even said so to my face in the hours afterward), I won that night.

November – Be Authentically yourself

I found a wonderful new job in November, thanks to a previous colleague/boss who had left my old company months before me. When I was offered the job I was also interviewing for another position. It was the interview with my now boss that helped me realize what mattered to me and which job to take. Normally in interviews we all try to pretend and give the right answer, but I decided I wanted to work where I fit. Where being me was not only ok but embraced. When I learned that he was interested in me partially because of the brutal honesty on my website I was intrigued, and when I interviewed and told him I would never apologize for being smart and he supported that I knew I had my new home. It was a pay cut and a bit different direction than I had imagined going, but it was the most me I had felt professionally in 15 years. And I have loved every day since.

December – Accept what isn’t working Life is short, love hard and don’t wait

When I started outlining this blog about a week ago I had planned to talk about some relationships that I had decided weren’t working and I opted to exit in December. But the year still had lessons to teach. A friend lost her heart horse unexpectedly at only 3 years old and last night I learned about the 22-year-old intern tragically killed by a lion at a wildlife conservatory in North Carolina. The young lady was the niece of one of my closest friends. Both of these fall on the backdrop of ongoing conversations about loss and grief I have been having with another dear friend since her losses a few months ago. It has all, once again, brought into focus how short life is. We are promised nothing but this moment. Too often we wait to say we care or we value or love someone, we put off visiting or calling until it is convenient. We always think there will be a ‘later’. At some point there is no more later. Live for today, live as if today is all you get with those that matter, because at some point it will be. Buy the horse, eat the cookie, give the hug, spoil yourself. Even when it isn’t great for your calendar or wallet go to lunch with a friend, take an unplanned road trip and make inconvenient memories. They will matter!!!!

I am sad to see 2018 go. It was probably the first year in my life that I would opt to relive again because it was so great. But I am ready to see what 2019 has to teach me. Happy New Year!

Let life Make You Truly You

This is one of those blog posts that probably isn’t going to wrap up with some great list of things you can emphatically do like a checklist or even some inspiring battle cry. More than likely it is going to be a rambling, a bit too personal, purge of where my life is at right now, and my journey of the last year, but I decided to post it anyway in hopes you will find tidbits that motivate you.

Living authentically has become very cliché. It is the phrase of the year. There are a million movements related to being honest to yourself related to your gender identity, your sexual preferences, your abuse history, your pay at work and your pink hat. It is everywhere, but at the same time it is nowhere. In my personal opinion, the big one, the real “coming out” has yet to occur or at least to be embraced by society, especially in the workplace, being openly INTELLIGENT, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

This has been an insane year for me. I bought a new horse and am leasing other (after selling two I had at the start of the year), I up and moved to Texas with about an hour’s forethought, I live in a new (to me) house and the year ended with a new job (after being “downsized” out of my previous position – but that is a story for another post).

My life looks nothing like it did a year ago. A new landscape, new friends, new weather, new challenges and new adventures. Everything around me has changed, but oddly enough it feels liberating, not because I shed things but because all of these changes allowed me to build a life in which I am down to the bone brutally myself. I feel like every change this year opened up a chance to move closer to being unapologetically who I am. The new horses and trainer moved me from a situation where I had no communication and no input to a really great program where I feel my voice matters in my riding future and I was able to say what worked with my horses and what didn’t and find the right fits. Living in Texas is by definition brutally honest (it’s a perfect fit for a New Yorker) and I have surrounded myself with friends who get the real me and either like it or move on. I no longer ask people to stay in my life who want me to be someone that fits them at the cost of invalidating myself. I would rather have 4 close friends who let me be me than 100 who want someone I am not. Even my house was selected to accept the challenges related to my nerve damage and to stop pretending stairs and I were friends.

The biggest change however is in how I am approaching my job and career. While changing jobs wasn’t on my radar and probably wasn’t something I would have done this year by choice, it (like so much else in my life) happened when and how I needed it to. I needed something to liberate me to find a space where I could be the best me.

I should preface this with saying I HATE applying for jobs and interviewing. Ask me to sell a product or someone else, I can rock it like nobody’s business, but sell myself, I begin to filter. I try to be who I think they want for the position and lose the best of me in it. For as good a writer I am, I am terrible at creating a cover letter, and interviews send me down a dark hole. I try to figure out what they want to hear and get lost in that innate fear of not being picked. For me specifically it is the fear of being “too much”.

I have spent my whole life being told I was too much, of something. I was too smart, too loud, too stubborn, too opinionated, too driven, too ambitious. The list goes on and on. And for the majority of my life I believed that message and tried to shrink myself. To keep relationships, to keep friends, to keep mentors and to keep jobs. I tried to be less so that those around me could handle me. It started when I was a child and my mom called me a “snob” for wanting to go to college and has continued through my professional life for the last decade. I was told more than once at my last job that I was too much for the leaders they had and that was my fault. In my last weeks there I was told I had outgrown them because I was working on my advanced degree. Instead of embracing what I had to offer, I was told to be less to make others feel better about themselves and I bought into it. I beat myself up, I tried to change, I tried to scale back. I let the world convince me that the right approach to life was living at the least common denominator instead of expecting others to work up I lived down. I’m done with that.

Being forced to change jobs has helped me focus. It was with great pride yesterday I told an interviewer “I will never again apologize for being smart and good at what I do” and knew I was in the right place when that was met with “that is refreshing to hear”. I never would have believed being laid off would be the best career advice I have ever gotten, but it really was, I finally get it. Career satisfaction isn’t rooted in the dollars on your paycheck, or the promotions you get or the fancy titles and corner offices. It lies in being somewhere where you can be you, where your gifts are used to the best they can, where leadership realizes that finding the best people and letting them being who they are is an asset not a threat.

The hardest honesty of the year, the one I am still working through, is related to my horses. I have blogged before about the love of my life, Jasmine. This horse will be in my life as long as she lives, that will never change, but I had to face the hard truth recently that as a show horse her and I are in different places right now. I need a horse who better fits me and she needs a rider who is stronger legged than I am and who can remind her that she isn’t the alpha in the arena. As with everything else this reality got forced on me, after a less than stellar ride at a World show, but as it also does life handed me a solution, if I was willing to open up and accept it. The perfect horse came along for me to show this next year and has also potentially offered me a perfect rider for Jasmine. Once again, this all reminded me that sometime there is a major chasm between what we want and what we need, but that opening up to the need is where happiness and self-honesty live.

It’s almost 2019, that means it is time for goals and resolutions. For me 2019 will be about maintaining the authenticity that this year forced on me. I don’t expect it to be easy. I have recently had to make some decisions on friendships that I knew weren’t healthy and walking away. It was hard, but nothing worth having is easy (also a cliché but true). One of the great life lessons I will take away from my 40’s is that fit; be it a friendship, relationship, job, client or horse, is very personal and admitting that something isn’t working is not the same as failure. Failure is staying where you don’t belong because of fear of the unknown.

Make your new year ‘your best you year’ even if you aren’t sure what that looks like.

Neis Gadol Hayam Sham (Po)…A great miracle happened there (here)!

Chag Sameach, Joyful Holiday. Tonight is the first night of Chanukah. In looking for a video about the festival for a friend I came across something really interesting, to me at least. Chanukah is about miracles, specifically the oil in the temple that was meant for one night lasting eight. This allowed the Jews to survive long enough to conquer and outlast the threat against them. Neis is the Hebrew word I have always heard for miracle. It is the first of the four letters on the dreidel which is used to symbolize the holiday and is central to its celebration. I have never heard it used any other way.

However, as I was reading earlier, I learned an alternative translation for neis. It can also mean test. At first this seemed very contradictory to me. And without a long conversation with a friend yesterday I might have dismissed the thought and moved on, but today it stuck with me. The contradiction I realized is not in the meaning but in the perception of any occurrence and where we choose to look related to it. Is our focus on the journey or is it on the destination? Which we choose to highlight not only determines how we see an event looking back it it, but more importantly it also dictates what we take away from the experience. Have we grown from the getting there or only the arrival experienced the ending?

I am a huge believer that everything in life (good, bad or otherwise) happens for a reason. I have written about that before. With that said, I will also admit I struggle often with whether I believe the path we are on, especially the things that mold us and that are meant to happen to us, are rooted in faith (a deity of some type), human collective energy or something we are not able to comprehend. I know things are more than coincidence but I often change my opinion on how they come to us. My older brother, who is a pastor, has told me more than once it doesn’t matter the answer. That we can believe any of them. What matters is that we they came from somewhere and we use them to make us a better human being. In his teachings knowing the perfect answer to how/why is not important. Anyone who knows me knows I need more than that. At least some days. So I continue to search for the how. But I got it on the why. Everything brings us to the current place we are meant to be at.

I haven’t always had that realization, especially growing up and in my early 20’s when I was so sick. And exactly how the shift came has never been easy to explain when I am asked. But this double meaning of the word neis brings the answer a lot more into focus. At some point I stopped basing my happiness on whether I got the miraculous outcome I wanted and began to focus on realizing that even if I hated the conclusion, I had not only survived but had conquered the test.

Think about the last time something tough (good or bad, but tough) went on in your life. Where did you learn? Where did you grow? For a cancer survivor, is the miracle really in the 30 seconds of a doctor saying it’s over or is it in the having been strong enough to get through the months or years of treatments? When we struggle with losing a loved one it is no different, is the growth in the day you no longer cry around the clock or is it in the metamorphosis you went through in the days of heartache and tears? For me I at some point realized that when we weather a storm, our victory is not from the sun coming out but in having stayed afloat during the flooding and the darkness and that while we rejoice at the miracle the true purpose of the lesson may not be in the final exam but in the learning.

I read the book “When Good Things Happen to Bad People” years ago. It was life altering for me (I blogged about it some time ago). One of the key questions the author ponders is ‘why me’. Why is my child ill? What did I do to deserve this? If we transpose that thought into focusing on the miraculousness of the test instead of the hoped for outcome the question of why becomes much clearer and the challenge easier to face. Instead of what did I do to deserve this (or the other side of that which is what do I need to do to get to my miracle and have it vanish) the thought becomes what am I to gain from this? What is the purpose of this challenge in my life and why was I blessed with this chance to grow? I have always despised the phrase “god would never give you anything you weren’t strong enough to handle”. It frankly feels like a punishment to the strong, but maybe a better wording is “you will never be given anything that won’t help you grow”. That I cannot only live with but embrace. This mindset allows us to see hardship as less of a weight that we have been cursed to shoulder and begin to see it as a blessing that is intended to make us better. And I get it, oh do I get it that is a really hard thing to do, especially when the challenge is tragic or painful, but I have never been able to see growth as anything but a positive.

There are many many tales, I think we have each have one in our lives, where we struggled for a long time. With an illness, a problem, a relationship, a change and no matter what we did it didn’t get better or end. Then one day out of no where it’s solved. We call it a miracle (or mourn we didn’t get our miracle) but maybe, just maybe, that end point is our diploma for finally allowing the studying to be fully absorbed.

In this season of neis take a look around your life. Are you open to the lessons life is trying to teach you or are you fighting the studying and hoping for a miracle?

The Sweet Spot of Self Worth

Everyone gets a ribbon, good enough is good enough, we can’t grade, and there are no winners or losers. It was a great social experiment, but as many of us who grew up with learning life is hard and unfair and difficult predicted, it failed. If you don’t believe that turn on the evening news or read your social media feeds. Personally these days listening to the news, watching people fight on Facebook, seeing the protests going on makes me want to slap people. And I know I am not alone in that reaction. I feel like as humans, and especially as females, we have lost the plot when it comes to discussions about equality, harassment and political correctness. We have gone from intellectual discussions on the barriers and how to address them to emotional ridiculousness where ever indiscretion is a reason to ruin a person’s life, even if it was 50 years ago, and people march around in pink genitalia hats. It is easy to pawn this off on entitlement or millennials or liberal vs conservative, but there is a much deeper issue at play right now, self-worth syndrome. We have created a generation who was never taught to value themselves, their efforts and the hard work it takes to achieve and as a result the only way to matter is to search for validation externally and when it isn’t found it must be society’s fault.

I will apologize up front, much of what I am about to say will sound like this is a female only issue. I don’t believe that. The examples are easier to point out related to women, because that is what the news has focused on, but I believe this is now just a part of the human condition. Gender, intellect, physical challenges and economics can amplify the situation and make it appear selective and women are more likely to talk about their feelings around self-esteem and inadequacy, but this mindset is pervasive across all demographics.

I know there are those who will immediately write off what I am saying as me not getting it because I am white, I live an upper middle class life, I am heterosexual and a million other reasons why I won’t get it and what it is like to be held back by the world, but I hope you will try to hear me out. My life has been far from a cake walk. I was bullied in school, I grew up in a dysfunctional family with an extremely abusive father, I am Jewish, I am a female, I am fat, I live with a disability. I get it more than the check boxes about me on a census tell you. But for all I have lived through I have always maintained that how I handle what life hands me is about me not about the world or the other person. I am a fighter, I am stubborn as hell when I need to be and I don’t believe in taking the easy road. It’s how I was raised and what was expected of me growing up. I am glad I was taught to lose because it taught me to work harder to win. I am glad I had teachers who failed me because it taught me to be a better learner. I am glad we kept score in softball and had outs, it taught me to play harder. I became a believer in my own strength. I learned that to matter to the world I had to first and foremost matter to myself. Those lessons are being missed and what we are seeing around us now is the result.

While I in no way condone abusive behavior of any nature and believe there should be consequences for these behaviors, I hear something very different in the “Me Too” movement. I hear a large group of people searching for someone else to say they matter, when they don’t believe it themselves internally. These same people highlight what others have done to hold them back or put them down instead of recognizing they have never developed the inner drive to stand up and rise above and be more, and that is sad. And worse than the sad reality is that it will never solve the problem. This is part of why we hear so much protesting and complaining but no one coming forward with practical solutions or recommendations. The movement and many others right now are searching externally for internal completion and no one but you can decide you have real value. The momentary gain of getting someone fired, or their tv show cancelled or winning a lawsuit is much like eating cake when you are depressed. It feels better in the moment, but an hour later you are back to the same place.

I see the same thing going on related to removing Civil War monuments or Black Lives Matters marches. The cry for how our ancestors were harmed or equality is as much a search for belief in inner value as it is a social statement. And just like the Me Too movement, we can remove every remnant of the past, we can write ever equality law and force bakers to make wedding cakes and dictate pay rates but it is not going to change how one person feels inside. External validation does not fill the hole inside anyone for more than a minute.

I am always struck by people who allow their significant others to treat them as less than they should. That was actually the genesis of this blog post. I am living in a community now where I have a lot of married friends and I too often find myself stepping back and thinking “why does she let him……….”, and much like when I questioned why my own mother let my father treat her so poorly, the answer always comes back to self-worth. How we feel about ourselves completely dictates how we let others treat us and what we feel is acceptable. Someone who sees themselves as valuable and worthy will not allow others to treat them as any less. On the flip side those who have not found their own merit will always be at the mercy of others because they need to please to temporarily find value.

Instead of focusing on straws and protest and vitriol, it is time we as a society started to focus on what can we do to heal the insides of each other. How can we raise children who find their own self value but understand there is a line between that and narcissism? How can we help adults who don’t believe in themselves decide they are worthy of their own love and the love of others? And how do we hold others accountable without making our own challenges their fault?

Flying Your Kite………………..

I have been looking for a way to tie a few thoughts together on the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect, even at something we have never done before. As usual I found my answer in horses. Specifically in reading the Facebook posts of a dear friend who showed her horse for the first time last weekend.

I should admit before I go too far I am the worst about this trait and am probably writing this as much as a reminder to myself as anything!

Why is it that from the youngest age we beat ourselves up for not being perfect at something we have never done before? When you watch small children the transition between allowing themselves to freely learn and experience and make mistakes and where they start feeling like if they aren’t perfect they are failing is around the age that they start school. It seems to stem from grading that others do to us and we take on that pressure internally. Do not get me wrong, I am far from the “there should be no grades” or “everyone gets a ribbon” crowd. That makes me homicidal watching people think that way. But I do have to wonder if grades in life should have a component for going out on a limb and trying something completely new.

This question and the resulting lesson smacked me in the face a couple weeks ago. Life likes to do that to me. I had come back from showing at Pinto World and despite doing extremely well (including a World Championship) there were things I was beating myself up for. My horsemanship pattern I let myself get rattled and forgot everything I knew to do. My Showmanship pattern I blew the easiest part in a stupid way. In no way was I giving myself room for imperfection or to recognize that I had just come back from my first big show with a new horse and I had done really well. It was much easier to just find my flaws.

Very shortly after I got back I was invited to a dear friend’s son’s birthday party. Yes, before those of you who know me rush ahead, I did go. He is a cool kid and I wanted to be there since it was his first birthday in a new state. The party was at the martial arts studio he attends. There were nerf guns and games and the parents were competing against the kids (I was hiding in a corner watching). One of the boys was having a really hard time because he wasn’t as good as the other kids, in his mind, at shooting the balloons. Instead of scolding him the leader did two of the most smartest things I have ever seen. It was a lesson I will carry with me always. The first he stopped the young man and asked him “When you were born did you know how to walk? When you were born did you know how to talk?” Of course the child said no. The leader then asked him how he got good at them. Without a thought the response “I learned and practiced”. The leader than pointed out this was the same thing. That many times in our life we will do things we have never done before, and that just like learning to walk and talk we will fall down a lot at first but we will get better over time. I have to admit I was mesmerized watching this.

He then had the boy join him watching the next round of the game. And he quietly pointed out each time anyone else missed, especially a parent. By the end of it he had to say no more and the child was smiling. By letting the boy step back and watch he got him to see that his belief, that others were so much better than him, was nothing more than an illusion in his head. There was no long story or deep lesson he gave the boy, he just showed him we are all human and learning and he did it in the most simple, brilliant way.

It made me pause too and think about my own reactions. I had not watched anyone else in my Showmanship class and immediately walked out thinking I had failed. The irony, when I saw the judge’s sheets after, I was only one of 3 that had no major flaws. In Horsemanship I learned after I beat myself up that my horse has a history in that arena and while it was my fault for not slowing down and doing what I knew to do, much of what went on others have worked through learning to ride him too. I know now when we go back to that facility the next time we need more practice, just like learning to walk.

As I said earlier I watched a friend show this weekend. I saw her video and her caption was all she did wrong. Personally I thought she did a great job handling a young horse in a class she had never done before. Especially considering that a much more experienced handler had a horse in a later class flip himself over. What we do isn’t easy. The pros make it look easy, but they too have days where it all goes wrong, where they are still working on getting better and they too started out as green as we are now. At work my clients periodically refer to me as an “expert”. My definition of an expert is someone who did it wrong enough times and learned from that. But the only way any of us get to that point is by trying and failing. And it is time we all found that four year old inside us who is still willing to try and fall down and get up and try again, without judgement.

My challenge to each of you for the next month, pick something you have wanted to do and do it. Go and fail. Fail miserably. Stumble, fall, lose, break something, embarrass yourself. But then get back up and do it again. Over and over, until you are better at it, until the mistakes are less often. And as you do, it step back and watch others trying also. See their flaws as permission to have your own. Remember, someone new may be watching you!

Coming Home With Hardware…….

It’s the end of a few crazy weeks. Pinto World Championship and Appaloosa National are over and I could not be happier with how they went, both of my horse came home with championships and more importantly I, and my horses, met and surpassed accomplishments that people said would never happen. To me the latter is a bigger win than the things you get trophies and ribbons for. Some say that makes me strange. I think it makes me who I am.

I have been thinking about the definition of winning for a while. I saw a Chad Prather video not that long ago ( ) and at first what he said bothered me. I don’t believe that the most important thing is getting the trophy or blue ribbon every time but I felt in my gut there was more to his message.

Don’t get me wrong, when I heard my name called as the Pinto World Champion I bawled, it is an amazing feeling to be recognized for how hard you have worked, but I also cried when my mare won 5th place in her Hunter in Hand class. As I thought about why Chad’s video bothered me so much, it hit me, he is right winning should always be the goal, but what makes people different is how they define winning.

For most people winning is being the best among other people, it is coming in first, it is being the best when measured by others. The problem I have with that definition is two-fold. First it means someone outside of you gets to subjectively set your goal for you and secondly it total ignores the effort level or amount of work you have put it.

Riding and horses is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Where school, work and intellectual challenges come super easy for me, physical things are really hard. Some of the difficulty comes from the nerve damage and lasting issues I have from being so sick in the 90’s, but even without that, I have zero sense of rhythm, I have terrible coordination and balance, I have a very slow path between my brain and my body movements and those have always been. So learning to ride, not starting until after I was 40, and doing it well enough to not make a fool of myself (or my trainer) takes more for me than most of the people I compete against. This comes anything but naturally to me. Add in that I love pattern classes yet have no functional depth perception and love ground pattern classes and trip over my own two feet and on paper my trainer should run screaming from me. But one thing I know is you don’t get to choose what you are passionate for and thank god I am as stubborn as they come, because I am willing to put in the work, no matter how long it takes, to reach my goals. And I am blessed now to have a trainer who is willing to do the same.

And maybe it is how hard this comes, but I find victory and celebration and my WINS even when the judges don’t call me off the wall or place my horse as high as others would want to be. I came in 3rd in showmanship at Pinto World, to me that was a massive victory. That pattern called for a level of symmetry that frankly is beyond my ability because of my depth perception and that we managed to do well enough (even with a major flaw on my part at what should have been the simplest part of the class) was like winning the Olympics to me. To me I won. Is that what the judges card says, is that what my ribbon says, is that what will be published, but to me I won. I did better than I have ever done before, I beat my own goal for myself (which in that class was don’t be last) and in looking at the score sheets the part that scared me the most I did really well. That is how I measure winning, am I doing things I couldn’t do before, am I being things better than I did last time, am I always pushing myself and my horses to the next level or next challenge.

Winning for me is about goals, about having them, about reaching them, and about smashing them. This goal mentality also can lead me to boredom fast though. I tend to have a goal bucket list and once something is met I am mentally off to the next goal, even if I could easily repeat what I did and ‘win’ (in the traditional sense) again and again. That isn’t me and probably never will be. I will always want to win, I think the video is right, we should always want to win, but I think it is important to have your own definition of winning and to stay true to it. No matter what others may say or expect or how your wins may let them down. I have used the phrase before, know your own crazy. I am adding a new phrase, know when you are winning!

“I tend to find the ecstasy hidden in ordinary joys, because I did not expect those joys to be ordinary to me.”