Life lessons at the Berlin Wall

This month marks the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  What a wonderful metaphor for my life lessons and the beginning of my life’s mission; bearing witness to and nurturing people through times of profound change.

The story themes/life lessons are captured in ()’s

That girl in the photo is me, I was studying math in Budapest during the fall of ’89. It was a rigorous course to finish out our math majors and it required me to be all in on my studies. But, that didn’t keep us from traveling and exploring eastern Europe whenever we got a slight break in the curriculum.  We booked train tickets to see East Berlin, figuring it was a once in a life time opportunity, little did we know…. (plan but be ready for anything)

As we called home on the free/underground pay phones* (get scrappy) to update our parents of our plans, we learned that rumors of the wall falling were all over the western newspapers. Our parents were scared, we were excited – a chance to be part of history! (don’t shy away from opportunities)

As the train got closer to East Berlin, it filled with all classes, shapes and sizes of people, there were even a few chickens, and the noise level rose exponentially. We all wanted to see for ourselves the demise of Check Point Charlie and the Iron Curtain. (being part of something larger than you is meaningful)

While we planned ahead enough book train tickets to East Berlin, we hadn’t booked any rooms.  Needless to say, our 1st night was spent in McDonalds in West Berlin, each of taking a 30 min “turn” eating happy meal as slowly as we could while the others slept, heads on tables. This did have a benefit, we were the 1st people in line at the hostel when it opened the next day! (collaboration is key)

I have very few memories of the weekend but the emotions are still clear; the excitement, camaraderie, feeling of hopefulness and shared awe were overwhelming. (connections happen at the emotional level, not the fact based level)  I was hooked, I knew I wanted to find ways to replicate these feelings.

As I look back, I see how these themes have threaded through my life experiences.

Some examples …

Plan but be ready for anything – Tom and I fought infertility for 2 years. After our IVF attempt failed, we submitted our adoption paperwork and Jimmy came home 9 months later.  We prepared to get pregnant but all that really mattered, in the long run, was that we were ready to be parents.

Get scrappy – Our wedding was at a summer camp, everyone brought sleeping bags and we held the guests hostage for 2 days of camp fires, camp songs, swimming and Johnny Appleseed.  We didn’t have a event planner so, on the morning of the wedding, everyone had to pick a “chore” out of the hat for the day (set up chairs, set the tables, serve the wine, etc) Tom and I pulled “pick up the porto potty”, its my favorite memory of my wedding day and the fact that everyone was literally a part of our wedding day brought everyone closer together.

Don’t shy away from opportunities – Tom and I moved to Bangalore with 60 days notice, 3 kids under 4 and without having ever been there as the 1st family Target ever expiated. It was the best experience in our marriage and for our family, shaping who we are today with a global perspective.

Being part of something larger than you is meaningful – In May of 2004 I had the honor of attending negotiations training at Harvard. I happened to be there when Boston passed a law and granted the 1st same sex marriage licenses in the country.  The people in my class were so excited, it was all we could talk about in class. We rushed city hall at midnight and were so moved by how many people showed up to support the couples exercising their right to marry.

Collaboration is key – In starting up Target Canada, we were on tight deadlines with impossible expectations. The ONLY way to make it work was to trust the people around us.  The very best peer leadership experiences of my career where on Friday mornings when each of the functional directors came together to solve problems for the whole. It was amazing to watch the progress we made on a daily basis when we saw our problems, not individually, but as a collective commitment to solve together.

Connections happen at the emotional level, not the fact based level – During the last 2 years of my tenure at Target, we dealt with a lot of change, including layoffs. I was continually humbled by how everyone pulled together to support their peers that were impacted.  We held resume writing sessions, people wrote LinkedIN recommendations, scoured job postings … it became our mission to help each other.  In fact, one of my friends commented “I know that this is hard and devastating, but its also sort of fun. I’m making connections with people who really care about my wellbeing and success and are willing to help me land on my feet”.

As they say in Spinal Tap   ‘There’s a thin line between clever and stupid.’  I’d like to think that I’ve landed on the clever side of the line more often than not due, in part, to learning my life lessons and finding my life mission.

I truly believe I am hear to bear witness and nurture people through times of profound change.

What are your life lessons and how have they shaped your life mission?


*there were “free” pay phones, you had to know where they were located, follow a series of beeps and enter a code and …you’d get a free international call – in hindsight I’m sure it was an underground communication network but as poor college students it was a cheap way to stay in touch with our parents





Old Dogs – New Tricks

Wow, when I left the corporate sector and started my journey of moving into nonprofit, little did I realize that it would include launching my own website!

Those of you that know me know that I’m a luddite. I can speak and understand technical terms but, beyond being a simple user, I am hopeless.

Luckily we are all blessed with amazing people in our lives and my friend Jim Fellows is a great example.

He’s been coaching me and helping me launch this site and I’ve learned SO much from him. I. AM. SO. GRATEFUL!

He’s also pushed me into Instagram and Pinterest. I have yet to take the leap into Facebook (other than stalking Tom’s Facebook) or Twitter (am not concise or pithy enough), so check me out there as well.

So, who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

I just launched this site, Instagram and Pinterest and 30 days ago these weren’t even considerations for my next steps.

Welcome to the digital world Tracy…. One more admin task checked off my list 🙂 (see previous post)

Gainfully Unemployed

I am a few short weeks into be gainfully unemployed and I’m loving it! Gainfully unemployed may seem like an oxymoron so let me me explain my thought process.

After 26 years at Target, I am working on a career change; moving into nonprofit leadership. I am approaching this change from 4 dimensions; 2 of which are introspective/internal and 2 of which are outward facing/collaborative…

Administration – very much internal, not a ton of fun but absolutely necessary. I need to create a data base of networks, change over my phone, update my contacts, create a stronger digital/social media presence, update my LinkedIn, create a ‘go to market plan’ for myself, etc. This takes a TON of work and is absolutely critical in my ability to be intentional about “what” I want to do, “where” I want to land and “who” I want to work with. I’m excited to say I’m making great progress in this space (updating contacts, etc) and am learning a lot (digital/social media) but there is a ton more to do and keeping up on the the details will be never ending.

Strategic Intent – also internal but directed at motivation. I’ve spent the last year understanding “what” I want to do (COO at a children’s/family services organization that is going through big change/growth) but now I need to research “where” I will be able to add the most value (which organizations) and “who” will I be learning from/working with (leadership and culture in those organizations). In order to understand this, I need to be able to articulate my values and skills. This is harder than it seems. How do you describe your skills and values in a way that is authentic, realistic and not trite? Thankfully I have great council and friends that are helping me with this process.

Connections – external networking to learn more about the “where ” and “who” as well as share my story. I am enough of an extrovert to know that I won’t have any energy if I spend all of my time in Administration and Strategic Intent. I need to dialog, interact and learn from others. This week I’ve had the privilege of meeting with some amazing people at really impressive organizations. (YWCA, Bellis, Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, Planned Parenthood, St Olaf, Catholic Charities, ThinkIT, Boy & Girls Club, St Paul Chamber of Commerce, St Philip the Deacon, Continuum Center and The Family Partnership). I used these networking meetings to get insight into “where” I might add value and “who” are leaders that I could learn from. They’ve also been invaluable in connecting me with resources where I can dive deeper into financial/tax information (990’s), organizational structures and organizational goals, all of which will help me narrow down my target organizations. Every single person I met with this week was helpful, smart, innovative, creative, business oriented and mission driven. I feel like I’m discovering my tribe and I am so excited to continue to connect into this amazing space.

Consulting Efforts – actual work product with a few key collaborative partners. I also know myself well enough to know … I’m a driver. I need to produce. I need to add value and have tangible outcomes. Knowing this, I’ve started conversations with a few key organizations that I am passionate about … Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, The Jeremiah Program and Bellis. We are each in discussion on how I can help with a strategic project in the near term. With Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery and The Jeremiah Program, I’ll be leveraging my business architecture facilitation skills to help with strategic initiatives. With Bellis, I’ll be harnessing my organizational skills to help them create a volunteer database to assist with operational, database and event planning needs. I can’t wait to get started. While this is all probono work, I’m excited to learn more about these organizations first hand, generate some good nonTarget work product examples AND, most importantly, fill a need.

So, back to being gainfully unemployed. While I am currently not bringing in a pay check, I am more energized, engaged and excited than I have been in a long time. I am excited to start each day and have a spring in my step about the possibilities for the future. AND, I believe I’m adding value. In this definition of success, I am very much gainfully unemployed and loving every minute of it.

I’ll continue to share my journey and leanings through regular updates.

In the meantime, my mantra has become …

This … or something better … for all involved …. at the right time


What Would You Do if You Couldn’t Fail?

What would you do if you knew you COULDN’T fail? For me the answer is … pursuing a 2nd career in nonprofit.

10 years ago I set out to do some heavy duty soul searching, focused on, what I wanted to leave as a legacy at Target and as a leader. It kept coming back to … nurturing people through times of profound change.

I have been blessed to have had amazing opportunities  to serve in that capacity at Target in Minneapolis, Bangalore and Toronto.

However, I knew my end goal was to make a bigger and more direct impact on the communities I live in. So, I’ve spent the last year researching, networking and expanding my nonprofit service through board leadership and volunteerism.

While I don’t have a position secured (yet), I believe it’s time to put my beliefs in action and put myself out there so that this can happen! My last day at Target will be Monday 10/17 as I head into this scary and exciting new adventure.

My goal is to be able to make a meaningful impact in the children and family services sector in a fast growing, mid to large size organization as a VP of operations or COO and where I can leverage my unique skill set while learning from experienced leaders.

LinkedIn friends – I’m going to be leaning on you to help me do that! Send me leads, connections, advice, support and … most importantly, advocate for me as you hear of opportunities.

I wouldn’t trade 1 minute of my 26 years at Target. It’s an amazing place with amazing people, around the world.

Here’s to new adventures!


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