Every single one of us is terrified. We’re all going to make a choice to let the fear in, let it take over, let it do it’s thing, but only for five seconds. That’s all we’re going to give it.
I don’t know about you, but when I watch a TV show, I imagine myself inside of the action. I’ve jumped out of a plane like Sidney Bristow (Alias). I’ve manufactured blue meth in an underground lab (Breaking Bad). I’ve strutted down the streets of Manhattan in pink Christian Louboutins (Sex and the City). And I’ve been a plane crash survivor on an island with a mysterious monster (Lost).
Isn’t that the point of fantasy? It pulls us outside of our mundane; we play out a different role in an unfamiliar set of circumstances.
This ain’t no fantasy
We’re all living in a reality we never wanted or could have imagined (except for those of us training for this by reading post-apocalyptic fiction for the last 10 years). Covid-19, or coronavirus, has completely changed life as we know it and as we like it.
We’re all struggling. We’re terrified about our health and the health of our loved ones. We’re afraid for our economic well-being. We’re wondering how we’re going to pass the time inside of self-imposed quarantines. We’re also betting on whether we’ll have any Facebook friends at the end of this.
And if we’re parents and managers, it’s not our own health we need to shepherd. Our children, employees, direct reports, colleagues—everyone is counting on US.
How do we model mental health at this time?
All of the schedules, and family activities and walks, and puzzles and games, are inspired by a terrifying need: To hold on to anything that feels familiar or solid. Think of a boiling ocean and a tiny raft. You’re trying to keep your balance while other people are clinging to YOU. How could you not be nauseous and terrified?
Experience tells me you need to feel it
I once had a life-threatening illness (it’s a long story; I’ll tell you about it later). I was struggling to keep any positive energy and was falling apart about once every hour. I had two little girls (four and two) and I was losing my grip. Seriously. I felt like I was going insane.
I was talking to my sister and she said, “Remember that time in LOST when Jack tells Kate about a surgery he screwed up and how he managed his fear? He told her you have to count to five and then you have to keep going. You get to count to five every single time you’re overwhelmed, and then you have to keep doing what you’re doing. You get five seconds—one, two, three, four, five. And then you keep moving ahead.”
What Jack actually said was, “The terror was just so crazy. It was so real. I knew I had to deal with it. So I just made a choice. I let the fear in, let it take over, let it do it’s thing, but only for five seconds. That’s all I was going to give it.”
That’s all we’re going to give it. Then we’re going to count.
Falling apart is okay; limit it
It’s okay to fall apart. We’re all totally freaked out. This is uncharted territory. The terror is real.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, when the waves are crashing on you, when the ground is unsteady beneath your feet, you have five seconds. Count them—one, two, three, four, five. Then keep going. Because if you let your mental health fall apart, you can’t be the person that your employees and your children need to lean on in this tiny raft.
I hope you have what you need for physical comfort. I hope you’re not alone and you have people in your life who are asking how you are. I’m sure you’re checking in with them. Most importantly, check in with yourself. If you’re feeling IT, let it move through you. For five seconds. One, two, three, four, five.
How do you handle full on chaos in every part of your life and not go mad?
I didn’t post last week.
When someone asked me why, I said, “I didn’t feel like a good parent or a good boss.” And she said, “So write about that.”
While I was living in Manhattan, my cousin once told me, “You can have a great apartment, a great relationship or a great job, but you can’t have all three at the same time.” Nothing is truer about being a working parent. You can have it all. But you can’t hold it all at the same time. Inevitably, if things aren’t in crisis, they are in flux.
Why was my week hard? Well, all three children needed me in very different ways. I felt pulled to give them my full attention. At work, I was giving an important webinar and felt distracted by researching and delivering that information to my work community with excellence. (Irony: Webinar topic was how to create better healthcare content for moms and kids.)
To top it all off, a direct report was frustrated with the way I had communicated an assignment. I was annoyed at myself about it. On the inside, I felt spent, exhausted and hungry for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk.
What did I do?
(Spoiler alert: I did not eat the ice cream.)
Do you need to look back to move forward?
Instead of eating the ice cream, which would have been fine, but probably not solved my emotional turmoil, I looked behind me. Hard. I tried to figure out where I went wrong. I dissected conversations and events. During a walk in the woods yesterday with my husband (Go outside! You’ll feel so much better.) I said “I think it’s only valuable to look behind you if there are patterns. Sometimes there are just bad weeks. And I’m not really sure I could have done anything differently, because sometimes there’s only one way and that’s the hard way. It’s moving forward that I need to focus on now.”
So, it was a bad week. I wasn’t the greatest boss in the world. I wasn’t the greatest parent. But I did my best to show up as my best self. I spent time thinking about how to be better and decided not to sweat it so much. Sometimes, like an evil stork, all of the chaos shows up at your doorstep and you just need to deal.
I hope you have a great apartment, a great relationship and a great job. But if one of those things feels like it’s sinking, remember, you still have them. You just may not be able to hold all three right now. That’s okay. You’ll figure it out.
And if you want to eat ice cream, go ahead. It may be just what you need, right now.
Your energy is a limited resource. Think of it as a thimble that only gets refilled when you take care of yourself and minimize drama in your life.
When I was a little girl, my older sister, who was 7 years older, watched the soap opera General Hospital. Guess who else watched General Hospital? Good guess.
I’m not sure if it was my youngest personality, or my natural penchant for drama, but I was hooked! Luke and Laura. The Quartermaines. Holly and Robert. Robert and Anna. I mean, there was a character named Robert Scorpio. Who gets paid to think this stuff up? Where do I get that job?
The problem was, by watching soap operas, I developed this idea that drama was necessary. I needed to have a dramatic life. I looked forward to drama. I wanted to know all of the things going on with everyone. I loved it when there was boy/girl drama. The more melodramatic, the better.
I was blessed with an extraordinary amount of energy (what I would give to get some of it back now). With that energy came the desire to do more and more. Funny thing about more and more: It creates more and more drama. A lot of it melodramatic.
Then, as what happens when life is going in the right direction, I got older. I got tired. I had a full-time job. Then I had 3 kids. Then I was building a business. There’s a lot of drama in building a business, let me promise you. There’s also a lot of drama when you’re raising 3 children. I don’t just mean the clean-up vomit from the ceiling kind of drama. I mean the, how do you negotiate with your partner on the best way to manage raising these children?
Your energy is a limited resource
I realized my energy was limited. In fact, so limited, that if I spent time on manufactured drama, I wouldn’t have the energy to deal with the drama that life is so good at manufacturing—all on its own.
My energy is encompassed in a thimble. If I’m lucky, and I get enough sleep, and take care of myself, that thimble gets filled up every day. But it also gets depleted throughout the day. If you only had a thimble of water, would you drink it every second? Or would you sip it slowly, to make it last?
I have 2 teenage daughters, and trust me, there’s a lot of drama in this house. Sometimes I get caught up in it. I also realize that if I get exhausted by every dramatic moment, I won’t have any energy left in my thimble to deal with my husband, friends, business, or my direct reports, or my clients, or myself. I won’t be able to exercise or plan meals that nourish my body in the healthiest way.
When you begin to think of your energy inside of one tiny thimble, you start to make smart choices on how to spend it. I’m not saying there isn’t a dramatic moment now and then. But pulling as much drama as possible out of situations is the better way to go. It’s the healthiest way to go.
That’s why psychologists tell you to stay away from emotional vampires. They suck all of the energy out of your thimble. You don’t get any to tend to you own needs.
Watch your thimble
I recently had to tell someone I’m close to something difficult. Everyone told me to pick up the phone and call. But I didn’t want to call. I knew speaking in person, and making a bigger deal of it, would make that situation more dramatic than it had to be. Some may say that I chickened out. But to me, the thimble was already low. I couldn’t risk depleting it even more.
Try thinking of your energy as a thimble. You’ll be surprised how your behavior changes at work, at home—and most importantly, with yourself.
This one time at work (that’s a joke for those of you that remember American Pie), I was talking to Emily, who at the time was my VP at my company. She was offering me data about how much our project managers are working. We were noticing that very small things were slipping, and Emily wanted to let me know that she thought I should throw more resources at project management—maybe even hire some extra help.
The deeper we got into it, the more my frustration grew because some of the data didn’t point in that direction. In fact, if anything, the data pointed to the fact that the project managers needed to spend more time on certain phases of their projects.
Emily’s job as their manager was to remove obstacles for them and report to me about what was happening in the field. But her reaction seemed stronger than the proof, so I prompted her, “Why do you feel so strongly about getting them additional help when the data doesn’t really point in that direction?” She said, very clearly, “I remember being a project manager and feeling really overwhelmed and not being sure that I was right that I didn’t have enough time to get things done.”
Once what Emily was feeling was in the light of day, which is what happens to the truth when it’s spoken, we could tackle it. I said, “Emily what do you hear yourself saying?” Her response, “I’m pulling from my own experience.” Exactly! Emily was putting herself in their shoes, which is a wonderful thing to do as a manager. But we have to be careful, both as parents and as managers, about letting our own experiences dictate the way we make decisions. Do we want the people we show up for carry our baggage?
I struggled with my weight (I still do). I also struggled with friendships as a child (that thankfully, I do not struggle with anymore). I wanted very much for these issues to be different for my children. And I did everything I could from a macro perspective—I picked a great guy to be their father, together we picked a wonderful community to raise them, and so on. But the hardest thing was the micro perspective—I had to sit on my hands, or bite my tongue when it came to eating too much candy or watching them pick certain friends.
I had to own my own experiences around these issues so I could parent in a way that I had defined as successful for myself. I believe this may be the hardest thing I have ever done and continue to do. This is true in management as well: I know that when I’m getting emotional then old stuff is coming up for me at work. I need to figure out what it’s about so I don’t let it cloud my judgement.
When you feel triggered or frustrated or you don’t understand why you’re having an emotional reaction, take a break. Take a walk. Ask for time to think about it more. No good manager will say—“You cannot take time to think about this!” And you can always say to your children, “Mommy needs a time out so she can think this through”, or “Daddy isn’t sure what to say and I want to say the right thing so I need some time.” Think about what a gift you’re modeling–you don’t need to know right away.
If it’s old stuff, then talk about it with a friend or a therapist. Or journal about it. No matter how painful it may be to hold it, working through it will get you to a clearer place, where you will understand your own reaction to the issue at hand.
And the truth is, as Steve Almond says, “Sometimes we need to look backward to move forward.” Understanding why we behave the way we behave is our stuff, and getting it out in the open helps us move past it. So carry your own bag, understanding it’s your bag and shouldn’t have to be carried by others.
“If now isn’t a good time for the truth, I don’t see when we’ll get to it.” -Nikki Giovanni
To be the parents and managers we need to be, the first thing we need is an understanding of ourselves and the impact and effect we have on others. We need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable truth of how we show up in the world. And if the uncomfortable truth for you is that you suspect you’re a little bit selfish, well then, that’s okay.
Try breathing without oxygen
When you travel as much as I do, you pretty much memorize the safety directions on an airplane. Except on Southwest. Southwest is the best airline to travel if you’re looking for a laugh. The flight attendants like to lighten the mood with the “safety features” speech and often insert their own playful, sarcastic, one-liners.
One time I was coming back from Los Angeles, with both of my daughters, and the flight attendant said, “If you’re traveling with one child, put your own mask on first. If you’re traveling with 2 ask yourself which one has the most promise.” Tzophia, who was around 7 at the time, looked at me with her big blue eyes—”which one has the most promise? “, she was thinking. It was so clear from her concern.
When my kids were really little, babies really, my mom used to encourage me to make time for myself. That’s challenging when you’re taking care of two little babies and trying to grow a business. But when I used to run out of energy and I would cry about how crazy my life was, my mom would say, “You know in those airline videos they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first. Why do they tell you to do that?”
Because without oxygen you can’t breathe. And if you can’t breathe, you can’t help anyone around you. So both as a parent and as a manager, you MUST build time for yourself into your schedule. Exercise, meditation, a walk with your spouse, coffee with a good friend—whatever it is. I used to do those logic puzzles you find in puzzle magazines to decompress when I flew. That was my oxygen (yes, I’m that nerdy). Now I do jigsaw puzzles as a form of meditation because honestly, sitting on the floor with my legs crossed just does NOT do it for me. And I refuse to be guilted into thinking I’m a bad person because I don’t meditate.
Don’t wait to explode or get resentful
Here’s the amazing thing: Every time I took time away from my business or my kids to exercise or get together with a friend or get my nails done, I reminded myself that I was replenishing my soul so that I could give more to my family and my employees. And my business grew, and I was a better mom.
So schedule it in your calendar. Ask someone who loves you to hold you accountable and make yourself a promise—you’re going to put your own oxygen mask on first. Because if you don’t, you’re not going to be able to give the people that count on you your best.
“Whatever game you show them, that’s the game they’ll play.” Lt. Cedric Daniels, The Wire
There’s only one reason to read this blog.
Are you capable of change?
If you’re not, put it down now. I’m sorry if you landed here by accident—pass the URL to a friend.
All things change when we do. And chances are, if you started reading this blog, you’re feeling overwhelmed by your job as a parent, a manager or both. You’re not alone. In 2016, 56 percent of American working parents say they feel that work-life balance is difficult, according to a Pew Research Center study. (How do the other 44 percent feel, and can I get in the boat with them?)
The challenge of parenting is like the Greek myth of Sisyphus who kept rolling a rock uphill, watching it slide down, and rolling it up again. How often do you feel that way as a parent? You climb one mountain with your little people, and then behold! Another one in the distance, with the same rock. Except now, you’re exhausted.
This is how many of my friends and colleagues, in so many different industries—retail, marketing, healthcare, hospitality, food services, financial services—you name it—describe what management feels like. The word I hear over and over again?
Babysitting is different from parenting, in that babysitters get paid. They also get to leave. And managers may get paid (not enough!), but they don’t really get to leave. Work is a constant in most people’s minds. It’s where you spend 40, if not significantly more hours of your week. It’s also something that many of us use to gather self-esteem and understand our places in the universe.
Now I’m not a psychologist, although I do play one at almost every dinner table I’m at. I’ve had a ridiculous amount of therapy, which helps. My professional degree is in communications—I wrote my master’s thesis comparing Save the Last Dance and Dirty Dancing and the evolution of sexual identity politics in the United States (seriously—go look it up. But not right now.). I am a parent of three children who have serious doubts about my writing a semi-parenting blog.
So I’m not exactly “qualified” to write this blog. Except no one on earth is more qualified to write it than I am, because I’m actually doing it. And the reason I’m doing it is that I built a multi-million dollar business from my house while I brought up a young family. And what I can tell you, with every fiber of my being, is that management is like parenting and parenting is like management. When you master the core skills of each, you’ll be more effective at both.
Behavior is a Choice
In his brilliant book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson gives a crisp definition of adulting: Maturity is becoming more selective about the fcks we’re willing to give. Choosing how to show up at work and as a parent is maturity. So often we believe the winds of destiny define who we are: who we were born to, where we grew up, how we were educated. And those things matter—but once you are an adult, they can’t matter that much anymore. You can choose who you want to be. And so can your employees. It’s your job to model to your children that every behavior is a choice. Moods are a choice. The way we act is a choice.
Changing the way you think about this crucial part of your life will change everything.
The most important choice
This blog is dedicated to the idea that we have a choice to work on ourselves so we can show up better as parents and managers. My father-in-law was an educator for more than 30 years. I once asked him, “What would you do differently if you could do parenting over again?” Without missing a beat he said, “I would have worked on myself more.”
“What would you do differently if you could do parenting over again?”…”I would have worked on myself more.”
Think about that for a second. [Second].
An experienced educator understood that at the heart of every choice was who he was, not who surrounded him.
What does it mean to know who you are? It means to understand your values—the principles that you use to make choices. It’s a lifelong journey to understand which values truly belong to you, and which ones aren’t voices from your mental judging panel that should be fired. What old stories are you telling yourself about what you do value?
Time to decide what you really value if you’re going to be effective as a boss, a parent or both.
Working on yourself isn’t just about going to individual therapy. There’s group therapy. There’s self-help books. There’s classes. There’s training programs both in parenting and in management that can help you understand who you are and how you want to approach the people you work with.
Fill your toolbox with the right tools to manage and grow the people you love and care about. And then? Fill their toolboxes.
Filling the toolbox
I was struggling to deal with a situation with my daughter. I was talking to my friend, Sharon Mazel, who writes all those books, “What to Expect when you’re Expecting.” She said to me (as the mom of 4 girls), “Your job as a parent is to help them fill their toolbox. How they use those tools is up to them.”
This blog is about giving you the tools you can use to help both your children and your employees build and shape tools that will help them become the best they can be. They will add these tools to their toolboxes.
Those tools may sit in those toolboxes and get rusty. They may never use them. But you can’t force them to use them. Nor can you force them to use a hammer when they should use a screwdriver. But you can point out to them which tool might be best for the job in the future, and hope that the next time, they will make the right choice.
And that means we have to be brave enough to correct the people around us that we parent and manage. We may have to change to value conflict as a path toward greater intimacy, not something that separates us.
Conflict as a path toward greater intimacy
Our responsibility is to help nurture people to become the best that they can be. Sometimes that means that we have to give people constructive criticism that may hurt their feelings. You may even make them cry. (Don’t ever say, “Please don’t cry.” Just let people cry. Only assholes say, “Don’t cry.”)
You may even make them cry. (Don’t ever say, “Please don’t cry.” Just let people cry. Only assholes say, “Don’t cry.”)
Because of that constructive criticism, people may be angry with us. Most of the time, they don’t just get over it. It may take them a long time to quiet that hurt. But that’s part of the job.
And most of the time, when we talk things out with sensitivity and guidance, when we make constructive criticism a way to show how much we care, then we create better relationships. And better relationships create better people. And if you’re practicing these skills at home and at work? You’ll feel less like you’re rolling a rock up a mountain.
Are parents and leaders really the same?
The goal of this blog is to explore life lessons that apply to parents and managers. But are they really the same?
Let’s look at this chart:
To do those things, we need to know where we’re going and who we want to create at the end of this process. A successful parent waves goodbye to a child who wants to become independent—a successful boss shepherds an employee into leadership. Let’s find out how.
This blog is separated into 3 parts:
Nurture Each Other
Each of the blog posts will be categorized by one of those tags. That way we can learn the fundamentals of Parenting like a Boss; Bossing like a Parent: Take care of you, take care of them, take care of each other.