Making My Exit

I have done some difficult things over the years.

I gave birth to a child…without the comfort of an epidural.  Then, as now, when the Older One made up his mind to do something, he did it full-force–no letting anyone stop him, no taking the easy way. By the time, I was far enough into labor to get the blessed relief of modern medicine, my son was moving too fast for the drugs to be safely administered. Fortunately for both of us, time and unconditional love heals all wounds, making the memory of seeing my beautiful baby for the first time far more prominent than that of the excruciating pain preceding his arrival.

Fourteen years later, I traveled to the other side of the globe to meet my daughter.  I fell in love with her at first sight…then left her in the care of strangers for five months while a Russian court pondered my fitness to be her momma. Last night, she told me she was glad she was a part of my family. I squeezed her tight and thanked her for waiting for me.

I have lived more than half my life with Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune disease that causes extremely painful inflammation of the digestive system, chronic nausea and uncontrollable diarrhea. As treatment for the disease, I have undergone seven surgeries.

Yes, I have done some difficult things. Today, however, I may have done one of the hardest. When the alarm went off this morning, I knew I was destined for a challenging day. It was, after all, the dawn of a new year–my birthday, and a milestone one at that.

I sighed as I threw off the blankets, squared my shoulders and went about the morning routine–shower, coffee, and argue with the increasingly obstinate Young One about whether the sparkles on her t-shirt are cool or embarrassing. (I happen to love the sparkle, but I’m afraid she is leaning toward a more tough-girl chic that abhors the bling I find so endearing.)

I drove to work with Katy Perry blaring through my speakers telling me to roar… Roar…ROAR and that I have the eye of the tiger…the fire, dancing through the fire, ’cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar louder, louder than a lion!

Yes, my girl Katy inspired me this morning, and as I walked through the parking lot, my stride was strong, and I knew I had a purpose.

muffins

An overwhelmingly sweet batch of muffins from a great group of people who made a hard day better.

I walked through the door of my office suite, beamed a cheery “hello” to the accounts payable manager who held the door open and wished me a happy b-day, and I strode with a swagger through the door of my office. Waiting for me on my desk was a giant tin of mini-muffins tied with green and gold ribbons and adorned with a card exclaiming, “Happy Birthday! We’ll miss you!”

Today, I did have the eye of the tiger, and I was determined to not go down without a fight. Not only was it my birthday, it was also my final day of work at a job that had become increasingly frustrating, disappointing and demeaning. I took one last look at the card, and heard Katy singing, “You hear my voice? You hear that sound. Like the sound of thunder. Gonna shake your ground,” and I knew I had one last job to do…the Exit Interview.

Three weeks ago, I returned to work after seven weeks of medical leave.  My last surgery had been particularly difficult and while my surgeon considered the surgery a success, I was still in considerable pain. But I am a driven woman, and I needed to get back to work. I was looking forward to catching up with my boss on the progress of several important projects, but when we finally connected on a conference call, I learned that while I was out being an IBD patient, my job was being relocated to a state several hundreds of miles south.  I was more than welcome to go with it, he said, but be prepared to make a lot less money.

Think about it, he said. Go home. Take pain meds. Think.

So I thought…about promises made and not kept…about unprofessional behavior…about derogatory comments…about insensitivity and lack of compassion.  I thought, and then I said, “No, thank you.”

Now, it was my turn tell my HR manager why I couldn’t accept the offer of relocation with less pay. The exit interview…my last chance to claim my legacy and make a statement.

I had spent the night before contemplating which would have a greater impact…a loud, raging diatribe on the inappropriate behavior of senior leadership or a quiet, yet forceful commentary on lost growth opportunities for the business if the current culture is allowed to continue unchecked.

At the end of the day, no matter how angry and hurt I am at my perceived injustices, the people whom I leave behind…the ones who hold doors open for me, wish me a happy birthday and think to leave me muffins on a bittersweet departure day…deserve my professionalism.  They deserve my hallmark calm and objectivity.

For them, I will lay aside my emotions and make a case for change.  I will present data instead of hurt feelings. I will speak eloquently of inclusivity and the benefit of empowerment. As difficult as it is, I will make my exit an example of professionalism, and maybe…just maybe my legacy will be one of change.

I am sad that today, I end more than 20 years as a leader, but I am proud of the way I chose to make my exit. I have made many great connections and many friends along the way, and I hope that my professionalism will make a difference.

What is the most difficult decision you’ve had to make?

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Learning the Lessons We Teach Our Children

My youngest child has the power to bring me to my knees with one whiny proclamation: “I can’t do it!”

Try Hard

You can do it!

This is usually followed by a stomp of the foot, a defensive crossing of the arms, and a pouty, ”humph” that sets my pulse pounding and my teeth gritting.

“Don’t say, ‘can’t’,” I fire back. “Try harder!”

I remember teaching this to my oldest child too, right along with ”Don’t give up” and ”Don’t bite your friends.” Over the course of the last 18 years, he has shown me on countless occasions that he has learned those lessons, and as frustrating as it is to hear the word “can’t” from a preschooler again, I’m pretty sure the almost-five-year-old will learn them too.

Now, however, I am wondering if I have followed my own advice. After a particularly insulting incident, I found myself fantasizing about the end of this current conflict. In my anger-fueled fantasy I lay out all the reasons I have been wronged and proclaim, ”I am raising my daughter to be a strong, independent woman who lives up to her potential, and I will not accept anything less for myself!” I turn from the room, slam the door and am greeted on the other side by the thunderous applause of everyone I have ever known and worked with.

But the question that haunts me now that I have come back to reality is have I really learned those lessons, and can I be the example I intend to be for my daughter? This realization calls for a refresher course on life’s earliest lessons.

1. Don’t Say Can’t – The reason “can’t” falls so easily from the Young Ones’ lips is because it so much easier than the alternative. To the not-quite-five demographic, hearing the words “you can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be” are words of magic. The theory of just say you want it, and it will be yours is a lie. To get “it” or be “it” or do “it” requires hard work, so don’t say “can’t”; say “I will try harder.” If you can’t make the pedals on the bike move forward, push harder. Can’t form the letters of your name exactly right? Practice more. Can’t get people to attend your meetings? Give them an agenda, so they don’t think you were just playing with the schedule meeting function in the email system.

2. Don’t Be a Quitter – This is really “Don’t Say Can’t Part II”. A friend recently shared a meme on Facebook (those funny/inspiring/politically charged pictures meant to be liked and shared  by every user of every social network on the world wide web) that showed a woman’s chiseled six-pack abs and the words, “Remember the girl who quit?…Nobody else does either.” I was sucked into the viral frenzy. Not only did I “like” it, I shared it with the rest of my friends, printed it and hung it on the whiteboard in my office. Quitting is admitting you can’t, and since you are not allowed to say “can’t” (see #1), it is impossible to quit. Quitting empowers those who strive to make us lesser than we intend for ourselves to be. Why empower someone else, when we should be empowering ourselves?

3. Learn to Make Friends – In preschool, making friends is easy. If you are willing to share your toys and don’t bite the other kids, you can have a posse equal to that of the hottest celebrities. It gets harder as we get older, and in the business world, we don’t so much “make friends” as we “network”. When I’m in need of anything work-related, I immediately scroll through my mental Rolodex of business associates, peers and mentors, looking for the ones with the greatest potential to help and advise me…and give a great reference should one be needed.

4. Do What I Tell You – This is the cause for most rebellion in children, but it is a necessary lesson because as those children enter the work force, if they don’t do what they are told in a manner that is expected of them, they will most likely be fired. However, in most cases, doing what you are told is not enough. You must do more and do it at a higher level than your peers. This is how you get promoted and how you ultimately achieve the fifth and most important of all life lessons….

5. DEMAND RESPECT – You have worked hard, never quit, networked with important people and achieved great results. NEVER let anyone take that away from you. Setbacks happen. Bosses change. Expectations are re-set. When this happens, go back to the beginning. Try harder. Never give up. Call on your friends for support and your mentors for advice. Then do what needs to be done…for you. Don’t let someone tell you you are less than who you are. Tell them who you are and why their disrespect is misplaced. Don’t whisper it. Say it loud for everyone to hear. You are a strong, independent woman who lives up to her potential, and you demand no less than RESPECT.

I will demand respect from those I work with, those I live with and those I love. I cannot accept less because that is not who I am, and that is not who I want my daughter to be.

Teach your children well…,and follow your own advice.

Stiletto Momma

Observations From The Boardroom

I take it as a point of pride and a testiment to my business acumen that I am invited to participate in my company’s quarterly board meeting reviews.  Someone in the chain of command believes the work I do on a daily basis is significant enough to warrant review and discussion with business leaders across the company as well as the CEO himself.  It is a great boost to the ego, and if all goes well, it offers an injection of self-confidence that lasts at least until the next conference call or project meeting.

But as much as I enjoy being invited to these elite board meetings, I hate the fact that I am the only woman in the room.

Stilettos

My torture device of choice.

Until not that long ago, I worked for a Fortune 100 company that saw the need for diversity in the work place to be a priority almost on par with the need to aggressively drive up our stock price. I rarely attended a meeting where I didn’t see someone else in the room who looked like me. In many cases, that person who looked like me was the most senior leader in her business. These were the women I aspired to be. Like them, I wanted to be one of the women invited to the board meeting.

When I interviewed with my new company, I commented to the executive recruiter I was working with that I was concerned because everyone I interviewed with was white and male. He  assured me that generating a more diverse workforce was one of the company’s initiatives. Needless to say, a few more people have been hired into leadership positions since me–all of them male. So, as I sat in the boardroom last week and looked around to see one man after the next take a seat at the table, I began to make some observations on what it is like to be the only girl in the club.

1. The Suit – At the proclamation that the board meeting attire was “business” (as opposed to “business casual”), a collective groan was heard down the hall. “I hate wearing a wearing a jacket all day,” one collegue complained. To me, the attire declaration went almost unnoticed.  On most days in the office, you’ll find my clothing choice to include a jacket or a “completor piece”, as my friends on TLC’s What Not To Wear describe how a jacket or sweater is used to to elevate an outfit to a different level.  That elevation is exactly the inequality I have felt for years.  In order for a woman to be taken as professionally as her male counterpart, she must routinely dress herself at a higher level. I learned this lesson while at that diverse Fortune 100 company, as most of those women I admired were always seen wearing a suit or jacket even when not presenting to senior leadership. The men, on the other hand, wear their golf shirts and button-downs as their daily uniform.

2. Torture Devices – As I walked down the hall to the boardroom, I met up with a sales vice president.  He took in my business attire (a truly sharp, brand new, tan pant suit over a silk tank in a tasteful reptile print with coordinating accessories), and said, “You didn’t wear a tie? That’s not fair!”  My response?  “No. No tie for me, but I am wearing four-inch pointy toe pumps. Would you like to trade?”  For the dinner following the meeting, my boss respectfully told everyone, myself included, “No tie for dinner.”  It was very nice of him to consider his team’s comfort at dinner.  We really can’t expect the guys to have to deal with a little adversity while they eat.  I, however, kept my four-inch pointy toe shoes on my aching feet throughout the entire meal!

3. Bio-Breaks – Board meetings at my company are all-day events with two miserly breaks distributed throughout the day.  The only thing that saves me from some serious bladder issues is the fact that our CEO is a chain smoker whose need for a cigarette happens just about as often as my need for a trip to the little girl’s room.  The guys it seems, can sit there four hours straight without a care in the world.  On the plus side, the smoking area and the restrooms are in the same general direction, so I was able to get some extra face-time with the CEO on the way out the door, while the men stayed behind loosening their ties.

4. Language – Prior to my first board meeting appearance last year, I was prepped by my peers to expect our CEO to launch several “F-Bombs” during the course of the meeting.  I don’t think their warning was a concern for my gentle nature so much as a statement of things to come.  When the first meeting ended without a single utterance of anything that would be considered colorful, I commented about the lack of four-letter words.  One collegue quickly joined the conversation to declare that the only reason our illustrious CEO was so tame was because I was in the room, and he probably didn’t want to offend a woman.  There may be some truth to that, as I have participated in four board meetings now and have yet to be a victim of his notorious F-Bomb attacks.

Regardless of the lack of estrogen in the boardroom, I don’t regret my decision to leave the Fortune 100 company for the smaller, less diverse employer.  While I am one of only a handful of women who work in my office, I don’t feel discriminated against, just a little lonely to not have another female to make these observations with while sitting in that boardroom.

Hopefully, one day soon, I will be able to add someone to my team, and I intend to make sure that person looks like me.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your observations from the boardroom.

Be comfortable in your pointy toe pumps!

Stiletto Momma