Thursday, December 27, 2018

Being A Lifelong Learner: 2018's 12 Must-Reads

A rediscovered love of learning is one of my favorite life-changes I’ve embraced over the past couple of years. I’m closing out the year with 32 titles checked off my ever-growing to-read list. According to Audible, I’ve logged more than 325 hours of listening to audiobooks. That’s 325 hours spent making myself think and learn and grow. Time well spent, if you ask me.
Most of the books focus in some way on personal and professional growth, with a little bit of parenting thrown in. Themes of time-management, productivity and women-specific topics seem to emerge. I’ve really enjoyed taking bits and pieces from each and incorporating them in a way that makes sense to my life.
It wasn’t easy to get this list down to the Top 12. There are so many good ones on the full list. But here you go, the books that resonated most with me this year.  Enjoy! 

2018: 12 Must-Reads

Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin
What I liked about it: I really like knowing what makes people (including, or especially… myself) tick and what motivates them. Gretchen Rubin shares that people generally fall into four tendencies, and then shows ways to work your habits to your own tendency, and better understand others’ to motivate them. 

Atomic Habits, by James Clear
What I liked about it: There was so much in this one that was relevant to different pa
rts of life I’m focusing on these days: career, health and eating, running.  I connected to the idea of focusing on your current trajectory, rather than a moment in time. The idea of setting goals for direction, but focusing on systems for real progress also really resonated with me.

Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
What I liked about it: I like to take on a lot of things, and it’s hard for me to recognize how doing less can be better. This was a really good book to convince me that honing in on the right things (not just doing all the things right) is a worthy approach.  

Motivation Myth, by Jeff Haden
What I liked about it: I’m fascinated by the idea of motivation, having never been someone who has trouble finding it. A lot of practices in this book really spoke to me, such as setting big goals, then working the plan every day to reach them.  I liked the concept of setting big goals, then forgetting about the end game and focusing instead on the little steps every day that will get you there.

How Women Rise, by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith
What I liked about it: Really good, actionable take-aways, and an interesting perspective on what many women struggle with in the workplace (and beyond). I’ve referenced this many times with female co-workers, and have actively been adjusting my default habits and tendencies.

Myth of the Nice Girl, by Fran Hauser
What I liked about it: A different take on being successful as a woman – it doesn’t mean you have to give up being nice. In fact, being kind and compassionate can be a professional super-power.

Drop the Ball, by Tiffany Dufu
What I liked about it: Thought-provoking look at not doing it all. A senior leader in our team recommended this one to me, then followed up later to ask what I'd decided to drop the ball on. For me, this year it was Teacher Appreciation gifts. No Pinterest-perfect crafts, just a delivered lunch to the hard-working daycare crew. Continue to push myself to think of things not to do. It’s hard!

Grit, by Angela Duckworth
What I liked about it: I started this one the day after the 2018 Boston Marathon, where  I stood at mile 26 and watched runners trudge through the driving rain and near-freezing temps. That’s grit, alright! This book was an interesting take on what “grit” is and how it can help you persevere.

Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg 
What I liked about it: While I didn’t agree with everything, I did personally connect to the natural tendency to lean back when things get hard, or when society thinks you should. A series of career opportunities that aligned with my entrance into motherhood has shown me the value of leaning in when the time is right.

When, by Daniel Pink
What I liked about it: Fascinating look at the power of timing – I mean, really fascinating! Science-backed research, but wasn’t dry. Taught me the real value of taking breaks – yes, there is a scientific reason to let your mind and body take a rest. I also learned to schedule doctor appointments in the morning, and if I’m ever up for parole (?!), I hope my hearing is the first one after lunch.

Let Your Mind Run, by Deena Kastor
What I liked about it:  A personal memoir of running legend Deena Kastor. Really interesting to hear her journey and own struggles, and ways to overcome them. Not exclusively about running, as the theme is relatable in a lot of ways, but the theme of running thread through this story was a welcome change to my usual self-improvement topics. I listened to this one on audio and really enjoyed hearing the story in Deena’s own words.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, by Joanna Faber and Julie King
What I liked about it: Science-backed advice on navigating communicating with little people. While I can attest that there are still plenty of times that my girls don’t listen – I mean, this book isn’t magic – there were a few take-aways that we implemented in our family that really changed the dynamics. For one, we now tell the girls to “work it out” when they come to us with a problem, and it’s amazing to see how they positively react to this challenge and often come up with a better solution that we would have.  “Be a problem-solver,” is a new mantra in our house.

The rest of the books I read this year, listed more or less in order that I read them:
  • Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, by Lois Frankel
  • Start With Why, by Simon Sinek
  • You Are a Badass, by Jen Sincero
  • Immunity to Change, by Lisa Laskow Lahey and Robert Kegan
  • Good Is the New Cool, by Afdhel Aziz
  • Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
  • The One Thing, by Gary Keller
  • I Thought It Was Just Me, by Brene Brown
  • Your Brain At Work, by David Rock
  • Mindset, by Carol Dweck
  • Kick Ass, by Mel Robbins
  • The Yes Brain, by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
  • Off The Clock, by Laura Vanderkam
  • Scrum, by Jeff Sutherland
  • Wired To Eat, by Robb Wolf
  • Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek
  • Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis
  • Stretched Too Thin, by Jessica Turner
  • Give and Take, by Adam Grant
  • Turning People Into Teams, by David and Mary Sherwin

Monday, December 17, 2018

Power of the Pause

Pause: Lily and Sadie in a rare after-dinnertime activity of stickers and art. 

"Mom, why are we always trying to do things so fast?” 

Those were the words my sweet and inquisitive four-year-old daughter said to me this morning, as we walked briskly toward her classroom.

Just a moment before, we had dropped off her younger sister, with a flurry of hugs and kisses. “C’mon, Lily,” I said, as Lily meandered slowly toward her own classroom, stopping to look at something along the way. “Let’s go,” I said quickly, putting my hand gently on her shoulder and corralling her toward her classroom. 

It was a phrase I’ve said countless times. I suddenly realized that having me usher and guide her with the slightest of pushes on her shoulder was a nearly everyday occurrence.

Not much stops me in my tracks. But this question did. Because I knew she was right.

I’ve felt it lately: the pre-holiday rush, the increasing end-of-year work obligations, birthday parties, holiday shopping and, it seems, some sort of “event” scheduled for nearly every weekend.

Then I realized it wasn’t just the pre-holiday push she was referring to. It was every day. Rushing was part of our life. Our family operates at what I like to describe as 95% efficiency, planning and strategizing nearly every minute to fit in everything we want to do.

As a result, we have a wonderfully full life with fulfilling careers, dedicated time for fitness, home-cooked meals, and family-centered weekends (among all of the must-do’s of weekend errands and kid nap schedules). 
It also means that our days and weeks are a series of well-timed and planned events, squeezing in things when we have a window, or rushing to get to the next thing.

I’m often asked, with seeming admiration, how we manage to do it all. The real answer is that it takes a lot of work and precise planning for a family to be hitting on all cylinders at all times. It really is relentless. When something extra or unexpected gets added in – or as the year-end, holiday season can mean, lots of somethings get added in – it puts strain on this machine, er, family,  that usually runs at peak efficiency.

I’m sure Lily’s question this morning wasn’t meant as a commentary on our family’s full life. I’m sure she was asking why I had encouraged them to “hurry up” more than a few times that morning – while they dilly-dallied their way through brushing their teeth, or spent an extra 10 minutes figuring out which doll they would take on the three-mile ride to school drop-off.

For me, though, the question stuck with me all day – all day, as I smoothly navigated a back-to-back day of meetings, a commute, day-care pick-up, family dinner, and the usual bedtime routine.  Lily was right: we are trying to go fast all the time.

As the New Year approaches, I begin to think of what word will guide me in 2019. Perhaps it will be pause

But I need to remind myself that it’s okay to pause, to breathe, to not have a full day planned. It’s okay to say no to invitations, even when they are things you want to do. It’s okay not to rush toward the next career move or even the next meeting on your calendar. It’s okay to pause.

When I arrived at school to pick up the girls tonight, Lily and I walked to her cubbie to find her coat and backpack hanging alone on the rack. “We’re the last ones again,” she said, with a hint of pride and excitement.

For this working mom, who had been thinking about that little girl’s innocent question all day, it reinforced that maybe I do need to make some space in our schedule. To cut back a little. To be even more selective with our precious time. To pause every now and then.

I zipped Lily’s jacket, put her papers in her backpack and said, “Let’s go get your sister so we can get home to dinner.” I instinctively put my hand on her shoulder, just as I had that morning.

I caught myself. Paused. I looked around her classroom, then at her. “Did you make any of these things on these bulletin boards?” I asked. She smiled widely and nodded. “Show me,” I said.

She took my hand, and we spent a few minutes walking around her classroom. She showed me a snowman she had painted, and a flag she had colored. She showed me the easel where she likes to paint, and her favorite place to sit for lunch.

Sometimes a small pause can be a big thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

My 168 Hours: How I Survive (and Thrive)

168 hours. The number of hours in each week. How do I know? Because I know exactly how I spend mine.

A little over a year ago, I was admittedly barely hanging on. I’d returned to work after my second child. I had two kids under two. My job responsibilities had grown and I was managing a team of six. It felt like everybody needed me all the time.

Then, thanks to a post on our Working Parents Group site, I found Laura Vanderkam’s book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.

I certainly can’t do justice to Laura Vanderkam’s entire book, so I won’t try. But I’ll tell you this: Know how you want to spend your time. Then spend it that way.

Simple, right? Why is it then that there are so many things on our wish lists and to-do lists and bucket lists? 

At the beginning of this year, I set out to change that. I made a list of all the things that were part of the Whole Me – my family, my career, things I loved to do but somehow got lost in the shuffle of every day life.

There were things like date nights and quality time with my girls, aside from the cooking, cleaning and feeding that seemed to consume our routine. There were things like running, something I’d done a lot of before kids, but moved to the backburner in recent years. There were things like writing and growing my career.

Soon, a clearer picture formed of the things that are important to me.
Next, per Laura Vanderkam’s advice, I tracked my time. It was tedious – and ironically time-consuming. But it gave me another clear picture of how I spend my time. 

A few things jumped out immediately: My 70-mile roundtrip commute meant a lot of time in the car. I spent too much mindless scrolling through social media. I was not getting enough “fun” time with my kids. And,  “me” time was essentially non-existant.

That had to change. So I moved forward with a plan and with intention.
I scheduled in time to run, which meant some early mornings and partnership from my husband. I completed two half-marathons this year, and somehow made time for 190 runs so far this year.

I repurposed my commute time by downloading audiobooks for personal and professional development. 

I even joined Toastmasters, since being a confident speaker will only help in my growing career. Sometimes I practice my speeches alone in my car during my commute.

But my most favorite switch? The little ways I’ve found to infuse fun into my limited time with my young girls as a working mom.

We’ve done family walks at 6 a.m., which I suppose is an upside of having young kids who are early-risers. We’ve gone to breakfast before work and daycare drop-off.  We’ve delayed starting dinner for just 20 minutes to we can spend time doing chalk art in the driveway.

This isn’t about being a working mom or a runner. It’s about knowing what it important to you and finding ways to incorporate them into our crazy lives.

Yes, my weeks still have those same 168 hours. No one gave me extra time. I certainly did not feel like I had an extra minute when I started this life project. But adding in these things makes me feel like a weight is lifted.

Make no mistake, there are still days where I feel stretched or as if I’m trying to do too much. There are lots of days that don’t look perfect. I certainly don’t have it all figured out.

But I’ve somehow found what works for me, and if I leave you with anything today, I leave you with this: Know where your time goes and make the most of it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Whole Me: Midyear Check-Up

I really (like, really really) enjoy the opportunity, whether at work or in my personal life, to pause and reflect.  I do this weekly, reviewing highlights of the previous week and setting mini-goals and focus areas for the coming week. I mimic a similar process monthly.

It’s this pause-and-reflect approach that keeps me on track. I'm tuned into my goals and my priorities, and I can make adjustments and redirect attention along the way.

So it seems like the mid-point of the year is a good time to check in on my 2018 goals.  It’s also a good time to adjust the goals as necessary, even if it means moving the finish line when it’s in sight (or crossed).

There’s a good mix of hitting some out of the park, tracking right on pace for others, and missing the mark on some. 


1. Run a Half Marathon.

  • Status: DONE! (read about it here)
  • New Goal: Run second half marathon in 2018 in less than 2:07 (my time from my May half marathon). Signed up for half marathon in Newburyport in October
2.  Log 500 running miles this year.

  • Status: 376 miles run to date. Hitting 500 is almost guaranteed.
  • New Goal: Log 800 running miles in 2018. (*gulp!*)

3. A not-to-be-revealed-online “weight goal” that lines up with my birthday in July.

  • Status: Nowhere near close to accomplishing this one, which is no real surprise because it’s one goal that I haven’t really focused on or approached with a plan. 
  • New Goal: Adjust timeframe to Oct. 5 (anniversary date). And come up with a plan.


1.  Read/listen to 30 books.

  • Status: 19 completed 

2. Disconnect from social media for at least two full weeks. 

  • Status: Currently on social media hiatus as part of vacation week (so this post will probably not get shared until I re-enter the social media world). Plan another disconnected week for our family vacation in August. I need to be better at disconnecting, overall.

3. Write 25 blog posts.

  • Status:  While I'm pleased that I've revived this old blog, I'm lagging behind here with only seven post completed (eight after I post this one). On the upside, I have a dozen potential post ideas documented in my journal.

Family & Love

1. 10 date-nights

  • Status: 5 done, 5 to go (not including our amazing weekend away to the Rocky Mountains!)

2. Complete family photo books

  • Status: DONE! I love documenting our family adventures and seeing the completed book from last year.
  • New Goal: Upload photos monthly to make putting together 2018’s photo book a breeze.

I had some other goals documented in my journal that didn’t make my original list at the beginning of the year. I thought it best to focus on a few in each category. I checked in on those this week, too. I’m trending pretty well on those, and added a couple of others since January.


4. Log average of 10,000 steps/day each month.

  • Status: Achieved in both May and June, not in April (when I started tracking steps).

5. Run Feaster Five <45 minutes.="" span="">

  • Status: November race

6. Secure top female spot on Johnny Cake Strava segment.


4. Attend/participate in three development classes at work.

  • Status: Completed (mEQ Leadership Mindset, Agile Leadership, Business Brain)

5. Post three articles in new places (LinkedIn, etc.).

  • Status: Shared two blog posts on LinkedIn. I also joined the Working Parents Group to lead communication efforts for its Steering Committee. Have authored three articles for our internal online news site as part of this work.

Family & Love

3. One kid-free weekend away.

  • Status: DONE! (*heart* Denver…)

4. Implement “no phone hours” 8p-7a.

  • Status: Definitely a work in progress here… (this one could also fall under “Mind” but placing it here as a reminder of the importance of BEING PRESENT with my family).

These first six months have been a recipe of hard work, focus and intention that has resulted in some great things, like an uncluttered mind, a reduction in my stress level, continued success at work, improvement in fitness, and most importantly, so much love and laughter. Yes, you've been good to me so far, 2018.

Here’s to a great second half of the year, friends!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Finish What You Start

Four years ago, I had some lofty running goals. At least they were lofty for me. My running was strong – again, strong for me. I ran consistently and incorporated it into my life’s routine. I had completed two marathons and a few dozen half marathons. I completed my arbitrary mileage goals and consistently knocked out 100-mile months.  

So I wanted to focus on a new type of goal: time.  In my 2014 goals, I set out to run a sub-25 5K. Today, I can’t even recall how big of a stretch goal that was, although I’m still certain it was a big one since I remember reading articles and blog posts on how to break the sub-25 mark.

Runner’s World declared that “busting the 25-minute barrier marks you as a ‘serious’ runner. It requires commitment to more mileage and focused workouts, and can take years to achieve.”

As a middle-of-the-packer, I knew I’d have my work cut out for me.  

So I joined a local running club, and signed up for track. It was the early, cold months of 2014. Track was held at a nearby high school, where dozens of runners made their way in the dark evenings to do laps around the indoor track with support of a coach and workout plan.

Each Tuesday we were to meet at 6:30 p.m. for group drills. The first week, we did a timed mile.  On the second week, a wave of nausea came over me. It felt like extreme car sickness that just wouldn’t go away. A day or so later, I found out I was pregnant.

I knew women could run through pregnancy, and I had every intention of doing so. But I wondered if running hard – like I’d need to push myself in track – was wise for a newly forming baby.  Plus I just couldn’t shake that nausea. I skipped a week of track. Then another.

I decided to skip the rest of the session, in favor of reading everything I could about growing a healthy baby, and following most of it. The decision on whether to focus on a sub-5K or the baby was an easy one.
I jumped in fully to being a mom-to-be.

In October 2014, we welcomed a healthy baby girl, Lily, who forever changed our world for the better.  A little less than two years later, her sister, Sadie, joined the crew, showing us that our hearts’ capacity for love could grow when we didn’t think we could love any more than we already did.

In those early days and months, I dabbled in running but shelved the idea of “big” running goals while I muddled my way through new motherhood, then through the working mother world. My running goals became simpler: find ways to incorporate running into this new crazy life, run a Mother’s Day 3K on my first Mother’s Day, and enjoy the short window of life where I could push my new little ones in a jogging stroller while they slept.

As I set out my 2018, I knew I wanted to incorporate running into my life again in a more intentional and focused way. I bought a new Garmin, and set a goal to run a half-marathon and a longer-term goal to complete 500 miles this year. Both would require consistency and focus. Just what I needed.

I followed the local running club on Facebook to keep up with the local scene. A post about early-morning spring track caught my eye.

This could be my chance to finish what I started.

I’m a finisher by nature. If I do something, I do it fully. And on time.

So bailing on track four years ago has stuck in my mind. Not quite a failure, but definitely unfinished business. I knew evening track was out of the question. Adding anything into the intensity that is the after-work hours is unthinkable. But early mornings? Maybe.

Just how early are we talking? The coach’s instructions called for runners to arrive by 5 a.m. to warm up on their own. Group warm-up would start a 5:15 a.m., followed by the day’s track workout. I’d be home before 6:45 a.m., just in time to jump into the morning routine at home.

I set my alarm for 4:15 a.m. on a Tuesday in early May. 4:15 a.m.?? Who does this? A better question would be, why am I doing this? I wasn’t training for anything. I quickly learned that I was like most of the other 15 or so people who showed up at sunrise each week.

We were mostly women, none of us really training for anything in particular. Most were like me, just wanting to improve, to push ourselves, to run with others, and to learn.

Day 1 started with brief introductions, led by Coach Sharon, followed by a timed mile. My mile ended at 7:48, which I felt pleased with. We were grouped by like-abilities, and I ended up in the Purple Group. The workouts varied weekly, and we sometimes did laps focused on form and breathing. I felt myself improving and learning. I pushed myself to hit the time targets.

Most importantly, I felt AMAZING after they were done. I felt so energized and accomplished. I felt strong. My head was clear. My legs were just the right kind of tired. Between the warm-up and workout, I usually logged 4-5 miles, at paces above my average. All before 6:30 a.m.

The eight weeks passed quickly, in total and the minutes of each weekly session. I noted that it didn’t rain on a single Tuesday in May or June, except maybe the Tuesday track I missed in favor of a trip to Colorado.

My non-track runs were improving. My paces improved. I felt strong and steady.
On the final week, we ran another timed mile. I hoped for marked improvement, given how I’d been feeling and running. As I passed by the timer’s clock (yes, there is an actual clock), I noted my time: 7:47. I had improved by one second. One second?!

At first I started to question why I’d gotten up so early and put in the energy each week. The thoughts were fleeting, though, as I remembered how much my running had improved, overall.  I couldn’t let one day of testing reflect the effort and performance.

But it wasn’t just about improving. It was about finishing what I started, even if it took me four years.

I had barely started my internal celebration when I saw the announcement that summer early morning track would be starting in two weeks.

So I signed up, committing to a summer of weekly 4:15 a.m. wake-up calls. After all, I may have been checked the track program off my to-do list, but that sub-25 5K is still lingering out there…

Monday, June 18, 2018

Chasing Johnny Cake

Last week, I crossed an unexpected goal off my list: Getting the top female spot on the “Johnny Cake segment” in my neighborhood.

Just what is the Johnny Cake segment, and more importantly, why was I chasing it?

At the start of the year, I joined Strava, finally convinced by my cyclist husband to abandon my beloved and long-used RunKeeper. I was skeptical. What would Strava give me that RunKeeper didn’t? He tried to sell me on its tracking features, most of which RunKeeper already gave me. He tried to sell me on the “segments” feature, which ranks you against other Strava users on designated sections of roads.

I wasn’t convinced of the value of segments. “I only compete against myself,” I told him at the time.

But I signed up anyway. And,surprise, surprise, my competitive spirit was awoken soon after I discovered a designated segment – Johnny Cake – on my go-to running loop.

I didn’t set out for the top spot. When I first ran the segment on January 14, I logged a 5:56 for the half-mile section. It landed me firmly in the fifth (of five) spot for women on the segment.  I didn’t think much of the ranking – or even the segment itself – and instead focused on running consistently and just plain making time for it.

The top spot was 3:53. A full two minutes from my current time. Two minutes in a half-mile stretch is an eternity.

But soon, I somehow worked myself up to the third-place spot. I saw steady improvement in my running, and started working Johnny Cake into more runs. I chipped away at my time, even if it didn’t move me up the leaderboard. 

I moved into second.  First place still felt so far, far out of reach. I chipped away –
sometimes a second at a time – to bring me closer to the top spot. It still seemed so far away.

Then I got it. On a day that didn’t feel particularly fast or remarkable, I checked my segment on the Strava app as I cooled down on a cul-de-sac near my house. 3:52. I had gotten it. I had shaved five more seconds off my segment time. I DID IT!

Here are six things I learned while Chasing Johnny Cake:

Persistence pays off. 
Call it persistence or focus or relentlessness, dedication, consistency, or plain ol’ competitive stubbornness. I just kept trying. In fact, it took me 40 times to get the top spot. Yes, I ran that same ridiculous half-mile section of road 40 times since January 14. Quite literally, I had to show up on the segment. Over and over and over.

Use the right tools. 
I don’t actually know how to run “fast.”  I’ve always been told, to run fast, you need to train fast. But other than just move my feet faster, I wasn’t exactly sure how to do that. So  I signed up for a morning track program through a local running club. It’s organized by a certified coach who gives us time targets and makes us work – hard! – at the 5 a.m. track session. Run fast to run fast started to make sense. I found my non-track runs gradually becoming faster. I learned I could sprint Johnny Cake, just like I did when I needed to on 800s in track workouts. (Just imagine what I could do if I pulled other tools out of the toolbox - like nutrition, hydration, etc.!)

Success is not a linear process.  
Some days I could knock 10 or 15 second off my segment time. Other days, I ran slower than the previous run. Sometimes my slower days would last for two or three or four consecutive runs.  It would have been easy to be discouraged, especially for a person like me who likes to see continued improvement each time. I reminded myself of how far I had come since that first January 14 run, and found Strava’s trend line to be particularly motivating on those slower days.

Know the playing field, and take shortcuts when it makes sense. 
Over those 40 runs, and especially as the top spot became within reach, I studied the road. It had two curves and a couple of very small, rolling hills. I discovered, as I closed in on the top spot, that I could cut the corners close. It meant running on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, but if I ran early enough, traffic wasn’t an issue. I decided I’d go ‘all out’ on the downhill sections, and push hard for the final uphill that ended the segment.  Those small adjustments could have meant the seconds I needed to grab the top spot.

Shoot for targets you don’t think you can hit.  
Back in January, I didn’t even consider that the top spot could be within reach. Enough said.

Chasing Johnny Cake was a new kind of running for me, a new kind of goal. My running goals have always been tied to mileage. This one focused on time.

But it wasn’t just about the time. I mean, I’m still not a “fast” runner, and most of my running friends could easily knock me out of the top spot on their first try. (Please don’t try, friends.)

Having a time goal meant that I’d have to do more than just show up, to slog through the miles, to just go through the motions, one foot in front of the other. I’d need a plan. I’d need to run differently. To think differently.

Who knew a half-mile section of road in my neighborhood could teach me so much.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Taking Time To Celebrate

I ran a half marathon last weekend. It wasn’t my first. It wasn’t my fastest. But it was probably the one I’m the most proud of. 

It was the first half marathon I’ve done since becoming a mom.

It’s not the physical feat that I’m most proud of, but yes, I feel good about that, too. After all, having two kids in two years, at the age of 39 and 41, sure does take a toll on your body. 

Rather, it is the mental commitment, the time management and relentless prioritization and, most importantly, the supportive partnership from Jeff that it took to get me across the finish line that makes me most proud.

I signed up for a half marathon at the end of last year, when I was formulating this year’s “big things” I wanted to celebrate at the end of 2018. I chose a half marathon because you really can’t just fake it. There’s no showing up without putting in the time and training. 

It meant I would need a plan. It meant I would need to run when I didn’t want to – when it was raining, or cold. Or when I felt like I just didn’t have time.

Let’s be real, I don’t “have time” to add half marathon training into my crazy life. I have two kids under four, a full-time Career (yes, capital C – as Laura Vanderkam says), a 70-mile roundtrip daily commute, a husband I like talking to and spending time with, parents and in-laws to see, a commitment to healthy cooking… and …and …and…  There is always something to do.

Like everything, it’s about making time.  It’s about getting my butt out of bed to squeeze in miles before the kiddos got up. It’s about strategizing with Jeff about how and when to fit in the training miles with all of the other must-do’s in our limited weekend hours. It’s about Jeff taking the girls grocery shopping so Momma can run. (Marry someone who wants you to achieve your goals, my friends.)

I guess, reflecting back on it, I’m most proud of making time for this. For me.

Since January, when I officially started my return to running, I’ve somehow found 43+ hours for running. That’s just over three hours a week. I’ve somehow squeezed in 71 runs and am now approaching the 275-mile mark. I’ve averaged 19 miles per week over an average of four runs a week.

In January, I certainly didn’t feel like I had an extra 43 hours for anything. 

On race day, Jeff and the girls cheered from the finish line. Lily ran to me with a big sign she had made. (It was a dinosaur, if you were wondering.) She hugged me. Sadie clapped. Both girls chowed down on post-race food. (I never realized how kid-friendly the post-race buffet can be – fruit snacks, bananas, granola bars.) Lily wore my medal proudly.

It was the best finish I’d had yet. Not in terms of time or how I felt (boy, those last two miles were hard!), but in terms of almost everything else.

Full transparency: I almost didn’t write this post. I felt like it could come off to be bragging or boastful. That’s certainly not my intent. If anything, I hope that stories like these can be motivating or inspiring. I know reflecting like this gives me extra motivation and reminds me what it possible when I commit to something fully. 

It reminds me that you don’t need to lose yourself entirely after becoming a mom. It reminds me that it’s okay – and good, in fact – to prioritize my own health, time and goals. 

This post is only partially about running. For you, it could be art or knitting or rock-climbing. Whatever makes you feel happy, fulfilled and proud.

In the final minutes of the audiobook I just finished this week, Kick Ass With Mel Robbins, she gave me the final push I needed to write this. She says, paraphrased, celebration is essential to a happy life. 

Take time to celebrate your accomplishments, large or small, together or to yourself. Just be sure to celebrate.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Toastmaster Ice Breaker Speech: Where Are You From?

Earlier this year I joined Toastmasters. Public speaking is something I want to get better at - and what better way than joining an organization that gives me (okay, forces me) to practice and improve. 

Toastmasters is structured and organized - just the way I like things. I received new member materials shortly before my first speech was on the docket. The guide brings participants through a series of speeches with different goals, ranging from voice control to use of visual aids to research. Each speech is evaluated by a fellow participant, with additional input from all audience members.

In addition to the ones outlines for each speech, I have a couple of personal goals for my public speaking: get more comfortable with "the room" (don't hide behind a podium!), cut down on "crutch words" (like um and uh), work on my voice (volume, projection, etc.), and learn the value of practice, practice, practice.

A couple of weeks ago, I signed myself up for my first speech: The Ice Breaker. The speech goals were simple - provide a way to introduce yourself to the group, stay within the 4-6 minute timeframe (yes, you are timed) and get a baseline for your speaking abilities.

I drafted the speech below and filed it away on my computer for a couple of days. Speech Day was quickly approaching and I was having a hard time finding time to practice. So I got creative. Each day on my commute to and from work, I'd say the speech aloud 4-5 times per trip. As I did so, I became more comfortable with the way the words rolled off my tongue. I found places where I was likely to trip up - and reworded as necessary. 

At first, I felt ridiculous. I mean, I was giving a speech about myself, to myself - in my car, by myself. Then I started feeling better about the upcoming challenge. I'd found the balance between memorizing and being familiar enough with the content to deliver it without notes or stumbles.

Speech Day rolled around, and I was nervous. I barely heard a word that the speaker before me said. My stomach flip-flopped. I took deep breaths as I was introduced - and took my place in front of the podium.

Here is the speech I delivered (more or less - since I was familiar enough with the content I was able to improvise here and there).

ICEBREAKER SPEECH: Where Are You From? (4-6 minutes)

This speech is about ME. But I am going to start by asking a question about YOU. 

Where are you from??? 

See, you all answered this question so easily. I’m envious.

For me, this question is one of the hardest ones I get – and, unfortunately for me, one of the most frequent that’s asked when you meet someone new. 

So, where am I from?  Let’s see … I’m from Toronto, Canada. And New Brunswick. And Maine – three hours north of Bangor. And Chicago. And New Hampshire – Dover, Rochester, Barrington, Goffstown and Manchester. Now I live in Massachusetts.  

People often ask me whether I'm a military kid. I'm not. I’m what I consider a “corporate kid” – someone whose father worked hard and climbed the corporate ladder, moving his family to chase the next great opportunity.  

As a kid, I hated moving. I hated walking into a new classroom to a roomful of strangers. I hated starting over. I was confused, when as a 10-year-old, my teacher marked my spelling test wrong when I added “u’s” to words like neighbor … and color. 

But looking back, I’m grateful for my experiences. It taught me to adapt. It taught me to be curious about the people and community around me. It taught me to navigate “newness” in all ways. It taught me – in hindsight – to face things that scare you. (It also taught me to negotiate … I convinced my dad for a kitten, a puppy and even a horse as part of various childhood moves!) 

My parents moved to New Hampshire just as I was finishing my freshman year at the University of Illinois. I recall them asking me whether I was going to transfer to UNH. I recall saying – or maybe I just thought it – “No guys, it’s YOU that’s moving this time, not me.”

But when I graduated college … more years ago than I want to admit … I was drawn home. I settled in New Hampshire with my parents. I started my own life and career, moving around a bit, but always sticking close to home. 

Nine years ago, I met a guy with roots deeper than this Corporate Kid could ever understand – the kind who lived in the same house his entire life … the kind who used the same barber that he did in middle school … the kind who probably considered it a “big move” when his parents downsized from their house in Nashua to a neighborhood in Litchfield

Five years ago, we got married. Four years ago we bought a house. Three years ago we had our first daughter, Lily, followed by her younger sister, Sadie, a year and a half ago.

I find ourselves talking about the school down the street that our girls will attend. We talk about expensive home improvement projects we want to do. We find ourselves not pursuing job opportunities that would take us away from our aging parents. 

Somehow this Corporate Kid has found herself putting down roots. I know I’m not “from” here. (You native New Englanders are sure to remind me of that!) But it’s as close as I’m probably going to get.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Leaning In: Growing a Family and a Career

As someone who believes strongly in women’s rights, I’m embarrassingly late to the Lean In party.

But finally, and thankfully, I finished Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg’s sometimes polarizing personal perspective on women in the workplace.  It outlines what she sees as ways women are held back (oftentimes by ourselves), a personal call to change the conversation around equality, to stay in the workforce, and to “lean in” when we are tempted most to “lean back.”

I was struck by how connected I felt to Sandberg, sometimes laughing aloud at the similarities. Like her, I’ve been called Bossy.  Still today, my family’s nickname for me is Little Miss Bossy.

I love my career and the personal and professional satisfaction it brings me. I have a loving and supportive partner who encourages me in all ways possible. It was almost too coincidental that, like her, my favorite childhood book was Are You My Mother?

Of course, we have plenty of differences, too.  I’m not a high-level executive at Facebook or Google, after all.  But I am a working woman – one with a Career (with a capital C, as Laura Vanderkam described in 168 Hours). More importantly, I’m a mom.

For anyone who knows me, it’s probably not surprising to know that I take being a mom really seriously. I mean, let’s face it, I take everything really seriously. Anything I take on, I do fully. So when it comes to what I see as the most important thing I’ll ever do – being someone’s mother – don’t get in my way.

Perhaps that’s why, despite my pro-women, statement-making pink-hat tendencies, even I have internal debate on whether to lean in or lean back.

Thankfully, I’ve had a few people in my corner to give me the nudge I needed, just when I needed it most.

Two days after returning to work from my first maternity leave in 2015, I received an email from a senior vice president in our group. It was picking up on a conversation we had 12 weeks earlier, when he floated the idea of me joining his team – in a way that only a man would suggest a job change to a woman just days away from giving birth to her first child.  

I was interested, for sure, but in no way was ready to even think about a new job. I knew my whole life would be changing. And I didn’t want another thing to think about while I tried to navigate the challenging and exhausting days of new motherhood.  I answered with the non-committal, “I’d be interested in learning more.”

Honestly, I barely thought about that conversation in the 12 whirlwind weeks that was maternity leave. As I re-entered the working world – thankful to be using my brain for things other than baby feeding schedules – I was ready to dive back into my routine.

But he didn’t forget about following up. Yes, he wanted to touch base at the end of my first week to continue the conversation. The meeting invite popped up on my calendar for three days after my return, as he described, again in only a way a man would, “to give me time to settle back” into work. That comment still makes me laugh, since three years into working motherhood, I’m still not sure I’m “settled back in” … or ever will be.

Despite every fiber of my being telling me to lean back – why would I add another new and challenging thing to my already challenging life?? – I moved forward and accepted the new role, one that didn’t come with a set of instructions or a clearly outlined path to success.

But that’s what I loved about it. It was a blank slate. Something I could create and shape and grow.  And I grew along with it.

It took time. A lot of time. And so, so much mind-space. It took so much leaning in. At times, I wondered if it would have been better to have settled back into my old role, which was becoming increasingly comfortable and routine with time.  But I jumped in with both feet, not surprisingly both at work and at home. I worked hard to become the best mom I could be, and worked hard to bring value to my new role.

Less than two years later, a similar scene played out. I was just a few weeks from Baby #2’s birth, when a role on the team was opening, one that would mean expanded responsibility, managing a team and some regional travel.

Of course I was interested, but like last time my instinct was to lean back. I knew from experience how hard taking on something new at work would be while adding something (or someone!) new at home. And, this time I’d have two kids under two. I was downright scared about how I’d balance and manage (and maybe survive) it all.

Yet I forged ahead, leaning in and accepting the new challenge, working to fill three vacancies on my new team before the little one’s arrival. (Baby reminded me not to be lulled into believing I’m in control and can plan life out, making her surprise appearance five weeks early – leaving me scrambling to tie up loose ends at work  and relinquishing control of the hiring process from my hospital bed while my teeny baby was being cared for in the adjacent NICU.)

Once again, I returned to work. Once again, in a bit of a daze, facing new challenges, unchartered territory, and a road ahead that I knew would require a lot of thought and effort to navigate and pave effectively. (Effectively = the way I wanted it.)

I dug in. No, I leaned in – before I even knew what it meant to lean in. And again, I embraced and loved the challenge.

Last year, I joked with my manager that I wanted 2017 to be a Year of Nothing – no big life changes, no big work changes. I kind of meant it. In the past four years, I’ve gotten married, moved to a new state, bought a house, had two children. I am on my third role in five years at the firm, increasing responsibility and visibility (and, thankfully, job satisfaction and Engagement with a Capital E) with each step. 

As quickly as I joked with my manager about the Year of Nothing, I followed up with assurances that I’m open to new things and to doing whatever the team needs to move forward successfully. It probably didn’t need to be said, but I said it anyway. Lean in, explicitly, friends.

Six months ago, despite my best effort toward a Year of Nothing, responsibilities shifted yet again – and again I faced new responsibilities and new work challenges. At times it can seem overwhelming, and at times my mind wonders if it’s time to lean back.  Am I trying to do too much? Can I build a career and build a family at the same time? Should I?

But, I find myself continually energized by new and interesting work. I'm want to see and move toward the possibilities ahead - and to show my daughters what strong, independent women look like (even if it's not always pretty!). I know that I was right to lean in. Again and again.

Without mentors and my champions encouraging me, knowingly or not, to lean in – when all I wanted to do is lean back – I never would taken on these challenges, to push myself and to learn so much about myself. And I would have missed out on some of my best professional experiences … so far...