There’s No Place Like Home

Growing up, I lived in 4 different cities, moving 3 times. While this is no where near what military families experience, it did shape who I am and left me with a unique sense of “home”.

Every summer since I was 2, we have been vacationing with my aunt and cousins in Glen Arbor Michigan at the same cottages. 15 years ago my aunt bought one of the cottages and 10 years ago my parents bought another. It has been a true blessing that we have been able to gather every summer, as a family, in this beautiful place for a week. I’m so grateful that my kids get to experience the magic of Sleeping Bear National Park with their cousins, grandparents and family.

After a 12 hour drive, coming into the lake is a series of steep hills. As kids we would count them until …. we could just barely see it – Little Glen Lake. Then, we would go nuts pointing out the 1st glimpse of the lake, of the narrows, of the dunes, of the birch trees, of cottage, of the dock… As we did this, something in my body changed. My shoulders relaxed, my heart smiled and it felt like every cell in my body exhaled. I was home.

This year it got me thinking. Why does this place feel like home to me? I didn’t grow up there, I don’t have any friends there, I know none of the locals save my family…. and then I realized. This is the place where I feel the most ME. Its a place where I can be present in every moment. Where I am accepted for who I am (warts and all). Where I don’t feel the pressure to live up to other peoples standards. Where I can try new things, make mistakes and enjoy the learning. Where I can sit on a dock for hours, just reading my book. Where I am surrounded by people who have shared past. Where I feel most grounded.

Then, it occurred to me… this is the same feeling I seek out in relationships, jobs and friends. A sense home.

A big part of why I left Target was because it no longer felt like home. Target had changed, but I had changed too. I still love Target (who doesn’t?!) but I no longer felt … grounded, challenged, supported, present. I searched hard for my next career experience where I could feel like I was home. For me, Mt Olivet Rolling Acres and the disabilities field has been a little slice of home. I am learning a ton, making mistakes but also surrounded by people that are willing to teach and support me. And, I feel like a make a difference. Every. Single. Day.

My partnership and marriage to Tom is another great example. We don’t have the type of relationship that is all romance and roses. In fact, one of the things I love doing best with Tom is making dinner or watching our kids compete at their sport events. And, if you were to ask our closest friends, they’d say that we bicker constantly. But, we do have a shared experience (21+ years!) that I wouldn’t trade for the world. He knows me better than anyone, on my best days and my worst days and STILL sticks around. He gives me space to do what I need to do (MS150, job changes, random compulsive cleaning) without judgement. He encourages me to slow down and enjoy the moment, always picking up my books at the library. He grounds me.

So, rather than considering “home” a place, I guess I consider home a feeling. A place where I can breath, expand and love. The great thing about this definition of home is that I can feel it anywhere and with anyone. Its my choice and I’m so grateful for that!

Where/what/who do you consider home?

Be Kind

Tom and I recently updated our wills. As part of this process, we reached out to the organizations we have designated and let them know that they are a beneficiaries.

While they were grateful (& gracious), they also asked some really interesting questions. “Why us?” “What do you find as valuable about our services?” “Why is it important for you to plan for the future?” “How do our core values align with your world view?”….

For such an administrative (and seemingly morose action), it certainly has caused me some deep thinking! I really wasn’t ready to answer these questions beyond the slightly tongue in cheek response of …We don’t want our kids to get their hands on ALL our money;).

In reality why DO we support these organizations (see list below) and why did they make it into our estate planning process? We support them not just with our dollars but with our time (volunteering and board work), networking (inviting friends to their events) and advocacy (connecting them with other mutually beneficial organizations).

And, while they are each very different organizations with different missions, after some deep reflection they DO all have something in common. They believe in, and are creating, a kinder future. A future where people connect as individuals and where everyone can find not only support and acceptance but a place to thrive.

Which, when I really really think about it, is one of our core family values. While school and sports are important, as parents, we have always been much more concerned about our kids being good friends and kind to everyone. Standing up to bullies. Inviting the new kid at school to have lunch with you. Cheering on your team mates. Helping others with school work. Thanking their coaches and teachers. A common theme you will hear at our dinner time is “I don’t care if you are popular, are you nice to everyone?”. A few examples…

Jimmy has been a teachers assistance in a class for kids with disabilities the last 2 years. He LOVES it. He helps with homework, takes kids to gym and basically has a blast just hanging out and helping.

Kay has ALWAYS stood up to bullies and made sure the “underdog” has a voice. She’s a force to be reckoned with! Bullies Beware!

Billy is even kind to his siblings. When is friend couldn’t join us on spring break, he offered that Jimmy could bring 2 friends in place of his friend.

And, remember, kind doesn’t mean that you are a pushover or passive or don’t have a backbone (see Kay). You can be fierce and assertive and action oriented and opinionated and STILL be kind. Being kind is a mindset and belief that everyone has value and something to contribute.

So, my challenge to you…Where do you give your time and energy? Why? Is there an underlying theme, value, belief that you use to help make your big (& little) life decisions?

If your answer is “yes!”, then I encourage you to memorialize that as you plan for the future; in your estate planning, how you are raising your kids and how you treat others.  Don’t you want your legacy to reflect your values?

For me, I’m going to support people and organizations that are creating a brave and kinder future, together!!

Organizations that we support…..

Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery – Supporting families in times of crisis; giving kids tools to build resiliency, help themselves, learn to trust adults and practice ways to be kind and support each other.

Bellis – Creating a community which encourages people with an adoption connection to share their stories, debunk myths and honor the heartbreak and miracle of adoption.

Childrens Home Society – Helping kids find their forever families. They were our adoption agency and I’ve always been impressed with their ability to nurture the best possible outcome for everyone involved with grace and humility.

Gift of Adoption – An organization that helps families become families through their support of adoption, often during the darkest time when people don’t even know how to ask for help.

MPR – Specifically The Current (89.3). We LOVE that they do their own thing in a world of analytically derived & preprogrammed media. Telling stories, promoting local artists and finding a way to share joy in music that crosses all genres.

Manic Monday

I found myself with a bit of free time on Sunday, no kids, dogs were sleeping, husband was at the gym so I took advantage of it and wrote the most glorious blog post about Enders Game (by Orson Scott Card) and how its really an example of Growth Mindset (introduced by Carol Dweck). I had seen articles about Enders Game as a leadership primer but couldn’t find anything that related it to growth mindset. I researched, wrote and finally… hit send to have my “editor” (Jim Fellows) take a look. Then I happily shut down my computer, picked up my book and went about my Sunday night.

This morning, I went into my emails thinking I’d make a few edits to the blog before I got Jim’s feedback and post it. And….I cant find it. Anywhere. Its not in my sent, my outbox, my drafts. No where. Nada. Missing in Action. URGH!!!

I spent a good 1/2 day ruminating about all that lost work. So frustrating!!

Although, if I am honest with myself, it wasn’t my best work. It was a little dry and probably too academic. Plus, who could actually relate to Enders Game outside of kids, gamers and math geeks? It’s probably a blessing in disguise that it was lost in cyber space.

I’m sure we’ve all encountered this …. we’ve worked hard on something, something we believe in, something we think will resonate with others and … it goes no where. Either people don’t appreciate the intent or you miss the mark with your message or the timing simply isn’t right.

Once I was done beating myself help, I thought… wow, this is a really good lesson in Growth Mindset. How can I learn from this situation? How can I turn it into a positive vs a negative? How can I leverage my point in a different way?

Then it hit me. What do I surround myself with – every day? Am I living my values of learning and leading? What reminders and habits do I have in place? Is my “space” a place of growth mindset?

So I took a photo of my desk – today. Let’s break it down…

~ Tissue – prior to my life in nonprofit, this would not have been on my desk. If I had the need for tissues due to a team member becoming emotional, the best I could do was offer a scratchy paper towel from the restroom. I’ve learned, in this job, that emotion and connection comes with being engaged and committed. And, yes, that means occasional tears. I’m a bit surprised but growth mindset doesn’t really talk about emotional connection so, I think this is a neutral point.

~ Nine Lies About Work by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall – this book was just released 4/1 and I’m enthralled. I’ve been watching their preview videos and it really challenges all our standard HR practices, taking leading with your strengths to a new level. I have no idea how to incorporate many of their ideas but they have me thinking, which is always good. Its a challenging read, not because its academic or dry, but because it challenges norms, 1 point for growth mindset!

~ A poop emoji stress ball – On our last leadership retreat, one of the Sr Directors texted everyone this emoji and said – “let’s go get chocolate ice cream!” She thought it was a chocolate ice cream emoji. It was a poop emoji. We all just about died of laughter and its now a running joke between us, bringing us closer and giving us some levity when things get tough. Its also an example of finding inspiration and learning through others. Another point for growth mindset!

~ A sticker that says “I put my phone away!” – This year I had 360 degree feedback on my performance for my 1st 18 months in role. One bit was – I need to be more present and be less attached to my phone and email. This is NOT new feedback. I have been getting this feedback, in one form or another, on almost every 360 I have been involved in. Its hard for me. Really hard. But, I need to own it and work on it. The sticker is my reminder. (as a side note, Ashley and Marcus are NOT fans of 360’s or feedback – and they have some good points but in this case – it is something I need to work on….). This squarely falls in the growth mindset realm of learning from criticism. 1 point.

~ 2 stickies that say “Use your story to work FOR you” and “each week ask – what are you working on and how can I help?” – these are also reminders for me to connect with my team, be authentic, find ways to help and look for the positive in every situation. The 2 questions are directly from Marcus’s research. These are habits I am trying create and directly correlate to growth mindsets believe that effort/practice is the path to mastery – another point!

~ A YOU ROCK card – there is an underground effort within the team to show appreciation and catch people “doing good”. I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of their goodness – the card reads “Tracy, just wanted to drop you a quick line to thank you for being so upbeat and present, sleeves always rolled up too! I think you are great at your job” – awww…. I might need those tissues myself! This card is a great reminder to persist in the face of setbacks. It’s the nudge I need to keep going when things are tough. Another point!

~ A dusty soda stream – if I’m honest, I was really really good about drinking more water and used my soda stream to create tasty charged water instead of drinking soda. Last Year. If you could see my recycling bin, you’d currently see 3 empty Diet Dr. Peppers. I need to get back on the charged water kick but its more work and simply not as “fun” as real soda. I think I lose a point here, not practicing new habits and falling back into old habits while letting excuses get in the way.

Of the 7 things on my desk, 5 fall squarely into growth mindset, 1 is neutral and 1 isn’t growth mindset focused. That’s not bad! The scale is tipped in my favor and I can always make adjustments (like drinking more charged water) to continue to make progress.

What’s on your desk? What are your daily reminders to live by your values? Where do you fall short? Where are you missing the mark?

At the end of the day, we all have the ability to learn and grow. Its simple but never easy. And many times growth comes out of frustration (like losing hours of work) but creates something even better….hopefully… like this blog.

All Used Up

Last month I wrote about my mid blog crisis and asked for input on a way forward. I had so many kind, thoughtful and smart people reach out to me with their ideas and input. THANK YOU!  

Overwhelmingly, the response was – keep writing you. Write what moves you. Write where are at. Don’t worry about a theme or approach. Just write.  I am so grateful for this advice and I it came at just the right time. I needed permission to just “be me” right now because my life is crazy.

I am sure everyone has struggles, challenges and issues that cause them to wonder, holy cow, when will this stop?!  It makes life exciting, exhausting and unpredictable.

I am no exception and February has been particularly challenging.  By the end of the month, I was thinking.. Holy cow, you cant make this sh-t up!

What’s been happening?
~ 2 of my closest friends (who also happen to be my healthiest friends) have been battling cancer. Hard. One with brain cancer and one with abdominal cancer of some sort (no, I’m not being elusive, they really aren’t sure what type of cancer it is). I want to do whatever I can to help and its scary as hell. Cancer bites.

~ On my way back from Billy’s taekwondo tournament in Iowa, I landed myself smack in the middle of a ground blizzard and was stranded in Owatonna for 3 days with 2 middle school boys. It took me 3 hours to drive 70 miles before I pulled the plug and found a hotel. I was fine while driving but once I stopped, I couldn’t stop shaking. Thank god for the incredible staff that weekend. They kept everyone safe, fed and informed.

~ Kay competed at state on beam and killed it.  Followed by the Sadies Hawkin’s dance. I missed both because of above blizzard.  It hurts my heart to not be there for these milestones. 

~ Jimmy announced, with 72 hour notice, that he was dedicating his life to Jesus and was going to be baptized. I missed this, as well, due to said blizzard.  It also created a long conversation about his faith journey vs my spiritual journey. Needless to say, I support his journey but we are not on the same page when it comes to Christian doctrine.

~ I started seeing a therapist to help me deal with my anxiety around Kay’s anxiety.  Its been a god send. I love Kate (my therapist), she really gets me and has great suggestions. But, its also hard because I have to face my own fears of inadequacy and control. Yuck.

~ Our new puppy arrived. He’s a doll. Smart, curious, friendly and LOVES to play with Nikki. He is also NOT potty trained (yet) and hates to be left alone (imagine a squeaky toy barking for hours straight in his kennel).  Puppies are a lot of work.

I have a bit going on. And, it doesn’t look like its letting up.  My friends battle with cancer is the long game, it’ll be years before they feel “free” of cancer. Billy has MN state for taekwondo this weekend. Jimmy is studying for the ACT and needs to start a list of colleges to tour this spring. I need to get the puppy potty trained. Kays struggles with school are real and we have time set up with both her school social worker and counselor in an effort to understand our options. I’m implementing some of the ideas my therapist has given me on my role as a parent, how to break down my expectations into micro baby steps and leaning on Tom to help balance our messaging with the kids. 

In case you are thinking, wow, this blog is just a bitch fest. I really don’t mean it to be!  I am so grateful that I AM able to help my friends. That I found a therapist who is really helping me. That I have a son that I get to spend quality time with “on the road”. That I have another son that wants to have deep meaningful conversations with me. That my daughter is resilient and can show up and kick butt in the sport she loves. That my husband supports me trying new parenting approaches and that he’s willing to try and change as well. That my sweet Nikki is such a good role model to the new puppy – Maui. That I have a warm home, am physically able to be active and outside everyday, have wonderful food to eat and a job I love. That my friends went to the baptism to support Jimmy and sent video of Kay at state so that I almost felt like I was there.

So, this blog is really about resiliency, gratitude and the real, hot mess that is life.  Life isn’t always (ever?) easy, but its always worth it.  And, its my life. I love it.  Every crazy, exhausting, frustrating, wonderful, glorious minute of it.  

Life ….I want to squeeze every last drop out of it. I want to be present for all the good and all the bad. I want to give it my all, every day. I want to know that I can rest and that others will support me. I want to be needed and loved. I want to give and love. I don’t want to leave anything left undone or unsaid.  I want to celebrate the mundane. I want to learn from my mistakes and honor my successes.

In the end, as Ken Blanchard says, I hope my epitaph reads …. “All Used Up” and that I would have earned it.

Mid Blog Crisis

We’ve all heard of mid-live crisis’s, I’m in the middle of a mid blog crisis.

When I started this website and blog, I was at the very beginning of a HUGE life change. I was consciously moving from a 26 year career in a corporate role into a brand new career in nonprofit. I knew that I didn’t have all the experience and skills that I needed to be successful in this new career, but I also knew that I had talents and learnings that I could apply in my new sector.

However, I was baffled about how to get that message across in a resume or on my LinkedIn. Fortunately, I have a good friend (Jim Fellows) who is a branding, marketing and website guru. He pushed me to create this website to share all of who I am and give context and depth to the question “why do you want to move into the nonprofit world?”.

It was hugely successful! This site became my calling card. I invited people to read it in advance of my networking meetings and shared my journey of being in job transition through my blog updates. It was so fun to see what I was experiencing help other people in their job search as well as help people get to know me fairly quickly. I knew my audience (fellow job seekers, nonprofit leader and potential hiring organizations) and I had my message (making a career change is hard work but also incredibly rewarding and fun if you enjoy the process).

Now, I’ve been in my new role 18 months, my website is over 2 years old and I’m wondering…what next? What is my purpose for this website and blog now? How can I continue to use it to share my experiences but who’s my audience? What’s my message? I do feel inspired to continue to write and share my journey. But I’m stuck and I’m sure that my blog posts have been lacking a consistent theme or message. And, I’m sure its not as impactful as it was in the past.

A bit of the magic is missing. I want to get the magic back but I don’t have any answers. So…I started to ask a few key trusted friends. What do you see as valuable in my posts? Who do you think is my audience? How can I continue to share my journey in a way that feels authentic and creative?

And, I got some great ideas including….

~ Could my be a platform to raise up emerging women leaders; be a “real” example (warning?) of how to integrate your personal and leadership journey ? Having learned the hard way, I’d love it if my experiences helped someone else do more, move faster or be more confident. (humbling advice from Jim Fellows)

~ Could my blog focus on my evolution as a nonprofit and community leader and wife/mother; what am I learning as I grow? There is a ton of material here since I am learning everyday and its definitely cathartic to reflect on and write about what I am learning. (great coaching from Karen Kodzik)

~ Could I allow myself the luxury to follow where my interest leads and not worry too much about whether it will resonate with an audience? As I write about the answers I’ve found for myself, then others can decide if there’s a message there for them. (wonderful insight – and phrasing – from Angela Lawson)

What do you think?  What would you do?  Looking to learn from others and…help me get the magic back!

2019 Goals

I’m not one for big New Year resolutions mainly because of the hype, the pressure and the low rate of success. All things that I instinctively balk at. And, I like the thought that I can change at any time, I don’t need to wait for a New Year.

However, moving from one year into another is a great time of reflection for me. What did I accomplish? What did I learn? Where did I mess up?  How I do and be better?

Last year, I choose a word of the year (actually two words because I couldn’t decide) Enough and Yet.  They both represented me embracing a growth mindset while giving myself a break and tackling some of my perfectionist leanings.  And, I think they really did help me frame and describe 2018.  In my job, I’m still learning (I don’t know it all, yet) but also know that I have a lot to offer (I am enough).  At home, while there is still a long list of things we want to do as a family and haven’t – yet … beach vacation, college visits, ACT, drivers test. I am reminded that there is more than enough … time, money, love, support … to do it all, in the right time.

This year, I’m also reflecting on the New Year being the 1/2 way point of my 50th year.  This is a big year, a turning point for who I still want to become. I see it as a year to be courageous and do things that have scared me, are monumental or that I’ve put off.  This year will symbolically set the pace for my “50’s”.  Part of me is worried that I don’t have big enough goals. But another part of me would be happy if I make it through the daily madness of 3 teenagers and their fun but hectic schedules.   

Here are my goals, in no particular order…

~ Cut my hair.  Short.  – CHECK!  Right before the holidays, I had it cut modeled after Joy in Inside Out.  I love her hair but cutting it that short was a bold step.  Like a lot of people, I worried that I didn’t have a small enough body or good enough skin to pull off a short hair cut. Plus, considering how grey I am, would it make me look older than I am?  So far, I’m loving it. Its easy and I think its sassy, although I do still avoid a full length mirror.  Next up, going all the way and coloring the front part blue. This is my fun, but scary, goal.

~ Ride the MS150 for the 25th time – I am so excited for the ride this year (June 2018).  I will be my 25th ride meaning … I’ll have done the ride 1/2 my life. I’m really proud of the commitment and perseverance it takes to do this ride each year and … its a whole lot of fun! I’m thinking about making t-shirts or something to wear on the ride to celebrate this accomplishment. (the MS150 is a 150 mile bike ride from Duluth to St Paul – join me!)  This is my wellness goal.  

~ Examine my control issues – Having a daughter with anxiety is forcing me (yes, forcing me – I am going down this path kicking and screaming) to examine my own anxiety and how I manage it.  I have been remembering the panic attacks I had during tests in college and realizing that the psoriasis that I experience is a direct result of stress. I have highly developed coping skills (daily 1 hour walks, a clean email inbox and an obsessive need to have a clutter free house) that work for me but … may be contributing to the stress and anxiety of others, most importantly, my daughter.  My control issues really come down to anxiety.  If I am in control, then I don’t need to be anxious. However (spoiler alert), this is purely a façade.  I need to figure out how to feel my way through the anxiety so that I can find ways to help myself and my daughter.  This is going to be my stretch goal, the goal that I may not attain this year but will work hard at. 

Which brings me back to Joy from Inside Out.  When I looked up her character profile, here is what I learned “Joy is the engine. She keeps everyone moving and happy. She represents the parts of Riley that are starting to change and become more complicated, and she is reluctant to let that change happen. She may be the most positive, but in many ways, she is the least flexible”.  

Yikes, that hits a little close to home. No wonder I like her haircut.

Wish me luck!  What are your goals for 2019?

Help! Recognizing, Asking and Giving Help…

I’ve been thinking a lot about help lately. Why do I have a hard time recognizing when I need help? Why its so hard to actually ask for help but also why do I love to help others. It seems contradictory doesn’t it? I want to help others but I don’t want help myself. I have a feeling that I am not alone in this paradox. Why is it so hard and why do I put so much pressure on myself around recognizing the need for help and then actually asking for it?

I’ve had 2 recent experiences of offering help that have forced me to look at how I accept help myself.

My daughter struggles with anxiety. She started high school this year and it came with some pretty big academic changes. Rather than having class every other day, she now has the same class each day. Where homework didn’t “count” in juniorhigh, it now has points assigned to it and … if you hand it in late, you lose points. Needless to say, when you add anxiety into a change in expectation, its not pretty. She is struggling in school to get her homework turned in and has some serious test anxietywhich results in not finishing her tests in the time allotted. This creates a constant spiral of trying to “get caught up”. When I see her grades, its clear she needs help. However, she hates to ask for help. If I had a quarter for every time I heard “I’ve got this!”, I’d be rich. Our dynamic made me think about how I am modeling recognizing when I need help. Do I just put my head down and try to plow through or do I lift up my head and ask for help from those around me? Do I understand when I am getting stressedand change course before its unmanageable or do I let it fester and take it out on Tom and the kids? It’s clear I have much to learn in this space.

A dear friend was just diagnosed with a fast moving cancer. I had the opportunity to be with her in the hospital as she recovered from a procedure and then also visit her at home the day after discharge. During this process, I offered to set up a CaringBridge site and/or get her signed up for meals with Open Arms. My offer was not welcomed warmly and I was surprised! Why wouldn’t they (she and her wife) want to take those cumbersome tasks off their plate ?! (ie: Keeping up communication via text and email to all their friends/family. Cooking nutritious food 3 times a day.) I was floored. Then I started thinking about how I would react in the same situation. I would probably try to keep going as normally as possible. I’d want to control the message going to my friends/family. I’d want to be left alone to get strong for others so that they wouldn’t feel sorry for me. I would feel like I was losing control of my life and would be grasping for straws to appear strong and “normal”.

In both cases, I want to help. Desperately. I want to help my daughter understand that it takes courage to recognize when you need help. Since I cant do anything to cure my friends cancer, I want to make it as easy for her as possible. I want to help. I want to heal. I want to do something. Anything. To make it better for both of them. And, when I think about helping, I don’t think they are “less than” or “not capable” or “weak”. I see them as someone I love that I want to do whatever I can for.  And, while I cant “make” someone take my help, I can put myself in their shoes and remember what it feels like to need help and to be nervous or afraid to ask.

This is a good lesson for me. People want to help. They want to make a difference. And, they do it because it makes them feel like they are contributing & making a difference. I mean, holy cow, we live in the land of 10,000 nonprofits, each and every one designed to help. There are people who spend years and countless time and money going into professions that help (1st responders, health care, mental health, etc). And, they are all doing it from love, not judgement.

So, my lesson in this… the next time I’m struggling or am overwhelmed or think I have to do it all myself … I’m going to step back, look up and give someone else the gift of helping me. Because, I know, being able to help some is a true gift from the heart. I want to be able to not only give that gift, but also receive that gift.

Especially at this time of year.

The miracle of a year…A love letter to my team.

Recently my leadership team went to a 3 day leadership planning session “up north” in lake country.  The goal of our time together was to reflect on the last year and plan for the next year.  The bonus was that we’d get to spend time together connecting, sharing ideas and (hopefully) having fun.  I was anxious and excited for our time together.

As bit of context, last year, we had a similar 3 day session, only last year our goal was to break down barriers, build trust and figure out how to engage in healthy conflict. The bonus was that we’d get to know each other at a deeper level, be vulnerable and grow as a team.  EVERYONE was anxious and I know for a fact that I was the only one that was excited.

To be honest, last years session was brutal; there were tears, defensiveness, shame and pure emotional exhaustion. And, there was also connection, honesty, empathy and pure silly fun (bonfire burning). It was truly the turning point for our team, our culture and my role as their leader.

This years session was intellectually challenging; there was frustration, persistence, productivity and mental exhaustion.  And, we built on the connections, authenticity and pure silly fun (poop emoji’s) that we started last year. It was the building block for our future as an organization and my teams role as leaders.

Which 3 day session would you have wanted to go on? 😉

Unfortunately it’s not an either or answer. We couldn’t have had the productive dialog and planning without the connection.  We couldn’t have shared in each others accomplishments without honoring each others strengths and struggles.  We couldn’t have put the organization and people we support at the forefront of our decisions without having confidence in each other as leaders.

It made me realize….  Even though, on a day to day basis, I don’t always see the progress, it IS there.  Despite the challenges we faced (hospice and death of a few well loved clients, a very real direct care staff shortage, undeniably low wages and accelerating changes in regulatory and licensing requirements) we WERE making progress.  Progress in how we delivered our services, progress in our we treated our team, progress in shifting the culture to one of more transparency and authenticity.  What does that look like?

~ Opening a new model for supporting kids with mental health challenges in the metro area with a 4 bedroom transition home. This will (hopefully) prevent hospitalization or rehabilitation and get kids home and stabilized more quickly.

~ Being the 1st social services organization to partner with DEED on an apprenticeship program for our direct care staff. This is HUGE!  We have an accredited program that no one else in MN has (yet).

~ Flattening our organizational structure, balancing workload and creating cross training in key areas.  This has helped reduce stress and increase our ability to be flexible with how the work gets done.

~ Hosting our 1st Residential Leadership Summit (next week) with our mid-level leaders so that they can experience what we did a year ago (so proud of my senior leadership team for planning and facilitating this summit next week!  They have never done anything like this before, it’s daunting and they are killing it!)

~ Creating a Senior Leadership culture that understands and supports what each other does.  How did we measure that?  Simple, at the session this year we asked each leader to leave the room, one at a time. Then, the rest of the leaders discussed the accomplishments that leader and their team had in the last year. We invited the leader back, shared with them our recognition and validated if we had captured their accomplishments accurately. It was amazing!  The team was not only aware of each others work, but they were proud of each others work. What a feeling!

This is an important reminder for me.  I can get dragged down by the day to day challenges. And, sometimes I think I need to do it all myself. Plus, its hard for me to trust that the seeds I am planting as a leader are germinating when I can’t see physical proof.  I need to lift my head up more often, look around and celebrate our progress.  This is my motivation going into next year and I CAN’T.WAIT. to see what we accomplish this year!

A huge squeezy hug and thanks to my team for being brave in going on this journey with me and showing me that persistence and grit does pay off.




The Polarity Paradox

Over the last year, my team has been engaged in some pretty deep and intensive leadership training.  Our latest was Polarity Management.

Polarity Management was developed by Barry Johnson in 1975 as an alternative to traditional problem solving approaches.  In essence (and as Bert Parlee explains) ….

“The Polarity Management model and set of principles are a user-friendly way to deal with all polarities in life. Polarities are ongoing, chronic issues that are unavoidable and unsolvable.

Attempting to address them with traditional problem solving skills only makes things worse. There is significant competitive advantage for those leaders, teams, or organizations that can distinguish between a problem to solve and a polarity to manage and are effective with both“.

In our western education system, we are taught and very skilled at yes or no, either/or problem solving. The issue is that not all problems are solvable, some just need to be managed with grace, care and dexterity.  The example that they give is breathing.  Breathing is not a binary operation.  You don’t just breath in.  You don’t just breath out. You need to maintain a balance of both or its literally life or death.

As I’ve been processing through this training, I’m realizing…All the really big, most important and most impactful problems we have, in the world, are polarity issues.  But, we treat them like puzzles we can solve or fights we can win and then move on.  Not so.  In fact, the more I think about this, the more I realize that these polarities are all around me, every day and in every situation. No wonder everyone is so frustrated right now (myself included!). And our current way of trying to solve them (argue, fight, blame) is NOT working. I believe they need to be addressed with love, compassion, grace and peace.

Some examples from my own life….

Parenting – the ultimate polarity. What works for one kid, doesn’t work for the next. (at least not in my house). Kay is a great example. She is independent, hates to be told what to do and very self sufficient. However, she’s 15 years old and her frontal lobe has not developed fully and her rational, problem solving skills are weak.  As a parent I see it as my job to help her be a good adult; learning social norms, setting high exceptions for herself and others, knowing her values and living them. As a 15 year old girl, she sees her job as making friends, having fun, doing what she likes and figuring out where her boundaries are.  Not a good combination and not one that I can solve.  I have tried natural consequences, repercussions, setting rules, star charts, free range parenting … you name it. Anything and everything I think might help “solve” this dynamic and help her get motivated to learn responsibility and a bit of adulting before she’s out on her own. She sees this as nagging, Tiger Mom, helicopter parenting, irritating and overall completely ineffective. We are at a stalemate.  Its not my way or her way. Its not either ‘be a kid’ or ‘be an adult’.  I need to figure out to let her enjoy being a kid, discover who she is AND know that there are basic expectations to being a functioning adult all while being told I’m “annoying” and that she “doesn’t care”. (I saw an Instagram post recently that said – Be kind to everyone, you never know if they are parenting a teenager.  So true, I almost cried).  I am trying to do this with love and compassion. Remembering what its like to be her age, showing her affection the way she wants to receive it (not how I want to give it) and a steady mantra of “this too shall pass”.

Politics – another deep seated polarity, especially with the current political environment. I think part of our issue as a country right now is that we want action, answers and results and we want them ‘OUR’ way.   There is no room for the opinions of the people across the aisle and there is very little (at least in the media) appetite for dialogue, listening, finding common ground and building bridges. This one is really hard for me. As a liberal, I have some deeply held beliefs at that everyone deserves to be loved, heard, get access to better opportunities and have their story honored. I know that significant historic sea change hasn’t happened through negotiation but through visible, uncomfortable and often aggressive behavior. However, I also believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, respectful dialogue, challenging ideas vs attacking the person, innocent until proven guilty and that there is more than one way to solve our nations problems.  This is a daily juggling act as I see updates on social media and engage in my (daily) debates with my conservative son.  I’m trying hard to hold all these values simultaneously but, it’s exhausting.  I believe that peace is possible, even if its just in the moment between 2 people. I look for that in every conversation/debate/disagreement that I have with family and friends.  It helps remind me that there aren’t different sides, just different perspectives.

Leadership – like parenting, for me, leadership is about bringing out the best in people while challenging them to develop their skills. I want to invite people to the edge of their comfort zone and then nurturing them to grow into who they could be as leaders. I try to set high standards and then remove roadblocks and provide tools to get there. I love to empower people to chase their ideas but also know that there are times I need to be more directive and specific.  And, to make it even more complicated, like parenting, none of the people are the same, they all need me to do this differently.  I’ll admit, I have a default leadership style that I overuse. I’ve been given feedback that I can be too collaborative (when they just want me to make the damn decision) and can draw guardrails further apart than they would draw them for themselves (undermining their confidence when I was actually trying to bolster their confidence).  And, considering I spend more time with my team than I do with my family, my actions here matter greatly.  These dynamics are things that I pay attention to daily, sometimes well and many times not up to my own standards. However, I do think my good intentions, love for my team and respect for them as individuals does come through. The greatest compliment that I get is … “Wow, you really ARE like this…no pretense, totally consistent and very authentic. You show up, everyday, exactly as the person you told us you would.”

So, what do we do?  Going back to the beginning and why its such a great example.  Breathe. Deeply.  Slowly.  Then Breathe again.  Love. Find peace in the moment. See the other person as a full human being. Respect everyone.

These issues aren’t going away.  They can’t be solved in a 4 hour brainstorming session or at a innovation conference. These issues are polarities we need to manage, (hopefully) doing it with love, authenticity, grace and humility.

Tell me.  How do YOU manage these polarities?  (Really, I’m looking for ideas!!)





Why we do what we do….

It’s that crazy time of year when the kids go back to school, Tom starts back to work full time and my whole schedule gets flipped on its head.  It also my busiest month of the year for work conferences and nonprofit board charity events.  I feel like I need to use every single minute of every single day very wisely in order to get it all done.  And, many days, (most days?) my only focus is getting what I need to do done before I fall in bed exhausted.

When I am this hectic, its easy to forget the “why” behind what I do and I get overwhelmed by the “what”.  That just adds to my exhaustion.  Fortunately, the universe conspired to remind me just when I need it most.

So, what are those reminders and what’s my “why”?  I’ll give you a few examples …

~ At the end of August, our Mount Olivet Rolling Acres Glee Club and dance troupe celebrated the end of their season with a performance at McPhail. I have met B on a number of occasions, but I have NEVER seen him like this. Normally he’s quiet, reserved and watches everything that’s happening around him.  Not at this performance. Bob was in rare form.   He was dancing, on stage, with unbridled joy.  Jumping and twisting with a HUGE smile on his face.  However, he was still B, still watching what was happening around him when he noticed that one of his friends, A, wasn’t participating.  A had a bit of stage fright and was standing very still with his back to the audience.  B went over to him, took his hands and danced with him.  It was pure magic.  You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for days.

~ Family dinners at our house are sacred.  Everyone (aka: the kids) puts down their phones and we eat together. Every night. Even if dinner doesn’t happen until 9pm, we sit down and eat.  Even if its just for 10 minutes, before homework, dishes, laundry, lunches for the next day, etc… we eat together as a family.   While most of these are your typical rushed family dinners, occasionally they are something much more.  Last week, was one of those times. We were having Korean (the kids favorite) and the kids were rehashing the 1st day of school.  They were excited about their friends and classes, teasing each other about their sports teams, talking about mutual friends they have and sharing their “crushes”.  The kids were carrying the conversation, having fun together and the happiness was palpable.  Tom and I just sat back and enjoyed every minute of it.

Seeing people be their best selves.  Providing a safe space for others to be brave and fully present. Making a connection, in the moment. These are all my “why”’s and they all grow out of love and gratitude.

That’s the trick, isn’t it?  When things are overwhelming ….to remember the “why”.  Its simple, but not always easy. However, I also know its my biggest source of energy and motivation.

What’s your “why”?  How does it fuel you?