Once Upon a Yeti: Lessons in Community, Awareness, and Finding your Way Home

Just over 18 years ago, a young teacher named Michelle, who recently moved to Florida, introduced her friend, Erika, to her neighbor, Kevin, a sales guy for a brand-new energy drink called Red Bull that at the time no one had heard of.

Several years later, Michelle was giving a toast at Erika and Kevin’s wedding. By that point, her and her husband, Brett, had moved back to Indiana where they bought a house and started a family vowing to always remain in touch with Kevin and Erika.

Fast forward many years of a promise kept to May 2020. Thanksgivings, Spring Breaks, an epic Nashville trip, countless phone calls, texts, emails, Tiktoks, and a few months of a global pandemic later, Michelle and Brett needed a break and looked to their friends for help. Taking a leap of faith, they decided to quarantine in a rental house in Florida.

At this point, I can’t bring myself to speak in third person anymore so forgive this transition. I’m the Erika in this story (duh).

We were thrilled to have our dear friends with us and after all safety precautions were taken, we immediately set about boating as much as possible. If you have lived in Florida, or anywhere on earth for that matter, you know that you rarely travel anywhere without a cup, preferably an insulated one.

The boat is no exception. You need something to keep your beer cold obviously.

Enter the Yeti.

In true form of loving my friends, I made sure Brett had a Yeti to take on the boat. In my haste and trustworthiness of his ability to take care of things, I lent him my favorite Yeti.

The day was awesome. Weather was perfect. Perfect, in fact, for several refills of the Yeti and by the time we got back to the marina and packed up the cars to head home, we were pretty tired and ready for a nap. It was only after we got home, had rested, and started unpacking coolers that we realized the Yeti I had lent Brett was MIA.

It is not unusual to lose things while boating. In fact, it happens frequently which is evident by the lost and found in the ship store at the marina. For weeks, we hunted through the new arrivals hoping against hope the Yeti would magically appear. Alas, it did not.

Brett felt terrible, btw, and bought me a new Yeti and of course he was forgiven, but that Yeti meant something to me. It was not just any Yeti.

At this point in the story, there is another set of characters I need to introduce: Bryan and Cheryl. Bryan and Kevin have known each other since high school.  

Cheryl and I became fast friends and over the years as our families grew closer (our oldest children are just seven days apart), we began several traditions which include Thanksmas (a fantastic made-up holiday we celebrate each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas) and a yearly vacation to Captiva.

The Yeti Brett lost was one of a set that Bryan and Cheryl had commissioned for each of the adults of the families who vacation in Captiva every year. The tumbler, navy blue, with a tarpon on one side and “Captive 2019” on the other, represented memories that could not be replicated. In 2019, we rented a house on North Captiva Island which is accessible only by boat. This trip required a tremendous amount of planning and execution, and it was a trip we’re not likely to repeat any time soon.

After some sound bowl healing and finding comfort in the cold drinks provided by other less memorable Yetis, I came to grips with my loss.

Fast forward again to a few weeks ago, while hanging out at the House of Beer in downtown Dunedin, Kevin, happened to be chatting with some people he knew from high school. They were with some friends of theirs, and one of them had a navy Yeti, which she had in a koozie for reasons still not clear to me, but whatever.

Peaking out from the koozie was a tarpon head. Kevin did a double take.

Net sales of Yeti in the first nine months of this year are over $700M. The chances of someone else owning a navy-blue Yeti with a tarpon on it are fairly high. But something told Kevin to check it out. He casually reached out his hand, gently pulled down the edge of the koozie with the tip of finger, closed one eye, and held his breath.

Then, he nearly dropped his beer. For there, staring back at him were the words “Captiva 2019”.

“No way,” he said to which this person he had just met responded with serious confusion and slight trepidation over some dude freaking out over her Yeti.

From across the bar, I heard him yelling for me. Thinking someone needed some type of medical assistance (of which I am totally not qualified to provide), I ran over to find him holding this Yeti, my Yeti, which had disappeared months ago never to be seen again and was suddenly there in all its glory having found its way back home to us.

We stood there like idiots for a while, staring at this ridiculous cup as if it were a new baby or a soldier blessing us with a surprise visit home.

Finally, after we came to our senses, we offered to buy the Yeti from its new family. But after we shared pictures from our vacation to prove its origins (thank you Google Photos!), it was gladly passed back to us. We learned that another couple found it at the marina probably within minutes of us losing it. The couple at the bar spotted the Yeti at their house during a recent party. They dug the cool tarpon, so they snagged it. Then on their way out to door to the bar that night, they brought it with them. Only for Kevin to pull up quick to retrieve it. (What song?)

So what are the lessons here? So glad you asked.

Love where you live: communities are driven by the people who make them their home. There is a whole mess of Dunedin Highschool graduates that still live here. Why? Because it’s a freaking awesome place to live. Kevin knows someone everywhere we go and while at times living in a microcosm of high school can be annoying AF, being a part of a tight community is comforting and cool. Know your neighbors, say ‘hi’ to people, be friendly enough to chat up an old friend you’ve kept in touch with so you can steal back your Yeti from his buddy’s wife.

Awareness is key: Would I have seen this Yeti hiding under a koozie in the hand of stranger? Unlikely. But ol’ eagle eye Kevin did. And while his awareness seems to be lacking around anything that involves finding an item in the refrigerator that is right in front of his face, his attention to detail in this case was spot on! Having awareness of your surroundings can save your life, awareness of your audience can propel your career, and awareness of your community can make a material difference in your life.

All good things find their way home: Kevin made me promise not to talk about manifesting or willing goodness to come to you because he doesn’t want everyone to think I am a weirdo, granola hippy chick. (Pssst…I am.) So, I won’t say that is what happened. (Pssst…it’s what happened.) Instead, I’ll say this: In life there are many opportunities that find us, many that slip through our fingers, and many that we might miss entirely. But the ones that matter, will find their way home.

Florida Daydreaming: How to survive and make a difference in 2020: Be a Sandbar

A shoal is created when breaking waves slowly and methodically reclaim sand from the beach and deposit it over time in a new location. The sand builds, millions of grains at a time, growing like a mountain until it rises from the bed of the body of water and breaks the surface.

It can take years to create a shoal, also known as a sandbar. Some sandbars are created by a particularly powerful hurricane seemingly overnight. Many are destroyed that way as well.

Sandbars can be temporary hang outs, perfect for skim boarding and lounging the weekend away, while others give birth to vast ecosystems of fish, safe harbors to manatees, nurseries for sharks, and if they are large and enduring, sanctuaries for birds to nest.

As they grow, sandbars create their own currents, manipulating the flow of water around them. If a sandbar is parallel to the beach, they are often cut by tidal inlets and are connected by underwater tidal deltas providing the water, and the life it brings with it, new pathways and refuge. They can convert irregular shorelines to nearly straight with their immense force against the waves that break over them. They can change the direction of waves, causing them to refract, like light passing through a prism.

The ocean accommodates the sandbars’ intrusion. It is, in fact, a natural cycle of the earth, to build and shift and flex and heal and build again.

There is a new sandbar just east of Caladesi Island that we have watched grow over the last several years. It’s big enough now that it’s starting to attract a crowd; the word is out on this contemporary perfect oasis. Kayakers and paddle boarders flock there. Boaters throw their anchors and let the current dictate where they will float. Manatees cruise the small channel that flows between the shoal and the island. Birds gather on the tiny piece of land that is now perpetually dry and covered in tender foliage. There’s probably a family of sharks taking refuge around this thing, but I am in denial about that. When a piece of seaweed touches my leg, I react as if it were a shark anyway.

Every time we visit this sandbar, I am reminded of how lucky we are to witness and experience it at this point in its lifetime. It is pristine, at its peak, life flourishing around it, fresh and new and growing strong. We learn from it each time we’re there. How the tides effect the current, when the best skim boarding times are, where the sand dollars live, when to move the boats so they aren’t accidentally beached.

The formation of this sandbar means that sand from surrounding beaches is being borrowed; its genesis a result of the contribution of other land masses. This naturally occurring gifting will continue in perpetuity. Even if a storm washes the sandbar away, a new one would begin to form wherever the waves direct it.

I know there is no human equivalent to photosynthesis (duh), but I’m pretty sure my body does this with the ocean nonetheless. Sunshine is an energy source for my soul. I am never satiated. I wilt and droop and am miserable without it. I do not handle winter very well. Thankfully, I live in a place where “Winter” is a famous dolphin and there’s like three weeks of weather that can be considered nippl–I mean, chilly.

As society seems to implode around us, I find myself seeking comfort more and more outside. I carry the burdens of the day in my heart and sacrifice them to the wind, letting the sun melt them away. I seek escape from the fear, suffering, and destruction. But it has reminded me that just as destruction and change and rebuilding are natural cycles of the earth, they are natural cycles of human life as well. History also teaches us this.

For every moment of violence, every clash, every unrest, every desperate moment there is something good, something new that comes from it; something is rebuilt in its place.

There are some trees, like Mediterranean conifers, that do not spontaneously resprout; they can only survive through proliferous seed germination. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you Google that. These trees are dependent on an outside force, in this case heat, to force their cones to burst open so they can regenerate. They literally have to be set on fire in order for their species to survive. To these seeds, a bolt of lightning, a volcanic explosion, or even a careless cigarette butt is like the finger of God.

There is no doubt that recent events have created a tinderbox of emotions, one lick from a matchstick away from imminent disaster. In many places, this is already unfolding; it had been simmering for years, like a pot of water on the verge of boiling, about to spill over the edge, just a few grains of sand away from breaking the surface.

Change and reckoning are not easy things to navigate. They are breeding ground for fear, confusion, misinformation, pandering and manipulation, stress, anxiety, and anger. It is even more difficult for us because we are programmed to engage, for better or worse, through social media platforms whose algorithms are proven again and again to be purposefully incendiary. We are provoked into action by memes, the worst of us spilled out to live on the Internet forever in the form of videos, images, click bait headlines, vicious tweets, and regrettable Facebook posts.

And the more we consume and engage, the greater its power to influence us grows. (Hello, remarketing!)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not a ‘fake news’ jerkbag who buries her head in the sand. I believe in the foundation of our press which is to provide us with information. This is absolutely crucial. Informed people make informed decisions that lead to positive change. As Mahatma Gandhi reminds us, “Freedom of the press is a precious privilege that no country can forego.”

Plus, I’m totally posting this blog on the very platforms I’m calling out!

But I am also not an idiot. Half the shit you see in the media is just that: shit. We are not consuming the news. We are being fed a contrived set of skewed perspectives systematically engineered to show up on our phones. That’s why it’s called a ‘feed’. Think about that for a minute.

While turmoil can be a natural part of evolution, it is amplified by the media, often negatively, purely for the purposes of entertainment, or to be more specific, revenue generated from that entertainment. While I was earning my master’s degree in Mass Communications, I learned in an ethics class exactly how much human life was worth to the media. The race, nationality, religion, or sexual orientation of the person or group determined how many had to die in order for the story to be considered newsworthy. The statistics were staggering, and while this was many years ago, today I feel like this convoluted logic remains. Except now the measure of newsworthiness is rooted in how much hate, how much emotion, how much vitriol can each story generate. And it is drowning out all the good and brightness the world has to offer us like thick, dark clouds smudging out the sun. It is also drowning out the purposeful and natural evolution of our society.

We are in dangerous waters right now; a fuming, roiling ocean churns around us. Waves are, from a purely fluid dynamics standpoint, a constant fluxing wall of force whose sole purpose is to come crashing down once it reaches its crest in order to release its energy. We are battling these waves right now and navigating how to react to the energy they bring.

But when I put my phone down, the seas seem to calm, and I get a much clearer view. I see the lifeboats that have been dispatched. I see the “helpers”. I see the communities coming together, the friends, families and coworkers supporting each other, the organizations and companies providing relief and driving change, the younger generation rising up to fight the good fight and an older generation standing behind them with pride. I see the tearing down of hate to make way for humanity. I see the good.

I am not ignorant to the ugliness and danger. I am not naïve. I know it’s there. I live with it every day. I live in Florida, for goodness sake. Every craptacular thing happens here, usually first and worse than anywhere else. But it is in my nature to both think positively and have a healthy dose of skepticism regarding every piece of content I read. This is how I survive. (This might indeed be my privilege talking, and I recognize that as well, so feel free to call me out.) 

Consider this: hurricane season every year. Hurricane season plays out like the fantasy life of every weather person from Texas to Maine, but especially in Florida, because no matter what, it’s hitting here first. It’s not that weather reporters are wanton people, hardly at all. It’s that a category 5 storm barreling down on you with the certainty of impending catastrophe is absolutely the story you’re going to follow. Hurricanes=ratings. If there is two inches of rain and a wind gust of 6 mph happening, you’re going to hear about it, repeatedly and in incredibly frightening detail. No doubt hurricanes are serious; the wise Floridan is prepared with supplies and a plan, and they also avoid the news during hurricane season.

Between coronavirus, social justice protests, murder hornets (who thankfully disappeared quickly), upcoming elections, and now the Sahara Desert dust storm (what in the fresh hell, seriously?), the insanity of 2020 is culminating like, well, a hurricane. People are literally losing their minds over a piece of cloth that covers their mouths for the 20 minutes they are at the grocery store. It is the perfect storm to leverage an agenda.

I have no idea what the rest of this year or the rest of this fledgling decade will bring us, but I hope it will bring us reformation, a new beginning, growth.

I hope history will look back on us with respect for those who fought for change, admiration for those who survived and those who helped us heal mentally and physically, and disdain for those who incited fear for capitalization purposes. I hope history forgives us, but doesn’t forget.

For my own part, while it might sound like all I’m trying to do it escape to a sandbar (some truth in that TBH), I’m actually trying to do what I can to BE the sandbar. To change the direction of the waves by using my voice, to straighten a crooked shoreline by leading by example, to provide a place of peace, to take up space and change the environment around me—and to encourage others to do the same.

#Bethesandbar, people. 

That’s What You Get

This weekend, I had one of those perfect moments. You know those moments, when everything is exactly the way you like it. The weather is perfect, not too hot, but bright and sunny (which only lasts the first three weeks of May here in Florida). There’s a breeze, the birds are chirping like a Disney movie, the sun sets at 8:00pm in brilliant pink and orange, and the mosquitos haven’t invaded yet. The kids are playing nicely (but not too loudly), working together to build a fort (but not with the good towels) and no one is asking you what’s for dinner because you have no earthly idea nor do you give AF what is for dinner. Your favorite song comes on Pandora (the good, peppy version from Chill House Radio not the forlorn, miserable version you listened to in college) and by some miracle of Jesus, the last White Claw you pull from the fridge is not Black Cherry. That kind of moment.

Those moments are the best and if you’re lucky, they happen often. They also make the not-so-fun moments more bearable. And if you have kids, you might have several of those.

My kids argue a lot. And by a lot, I mean they spend every waking hour engaging in a perpetual tit-for-tat epic battle royale nightmare that drives me to the brink of my sanity. If they could fight in their sleep, they would. I have no doubt they dream about arguing with each other. Had I known that I would spend so much time listening to my kids yell, “That’s what you get!” after bonking the other on the head with the nearest object, I would have moved out so I could quarantine somewhere else. Like Alaska.

These boys argue about EVERYTHING. Who gets to sit where in the car, at the table, at the counter, on the couch. Who ate the last ice cream, the last slice of bread, the box of Cheezits. Who farted in the other’s room. What movie to watch on Netflix. How much syrup to put on a pancake.

We own no less than an acre of Legos. And yet somehow, one of them will inevitably attempt to use the one and only piece the other desperately needs. Every. Freaking. Time.  Like how on earth in that mountain of Legos did they even find that one piece? That’s skill.

We have tried separating them. Punishing them. Yelling at them. Leaving the house and letting them survive on their own. Just kidding.

Once I made them clean each other’s room. That was brilliant, actually. They hated that. But then they argued about who cleaned up better.

If your kids argue like mine, my heart goes out to you. If you’re sitting there saying, “All kids fight, honey, you’ll be fine”, to you I say: shut your mouth when you’re talking to me!

I’m fully aware that I am being punished for the sins of my husband and his brother. They fought like crazy. So much so, their mother tells me, she was often brought to tears. I have been there. And I know that when she wished the same miserable fate upon her son that he inflicted on her, she didn’t intend that his wife would also suffer. And yet here I am. Suffering through my third Tito’s. On a Tuesday.

I recently read an article written by a Harvard Business School professor, Arthur C. Brooks, who teaches a course on happiness. He laid out three key equations to obtaining eternal bliss:

  • Subjective well-being = genes + circumstances + habits
  • Habits = faith + family + work
  • Satisfaction = what you have ÷ what you want

This last equation has stuck in my brain like peanut butter on the roof of my mouth. Kinda annoying, but I can’t stop eating it.

“The fewer wants there are screaming inside your brain and dividing your attention, the more peace and satisfaction will be left for what you already have.”

At the beginning of this quarantine, I had big wants, big dreams. I’d have a banging bikini body. I’d write a book. Maybe even start my own podcast cooking show. The possibilities were endless!


Three months in and with reality closing in on me like a wet tent in a monsoon, my wants are now much smaller. I just want to hug my parents. Have a drink with my friends. And for the love of Christ, I would sacrifice my left foot to not hear kids scream, “That’s what you get!” 127 times a day.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. I still have this want. Honestly, I hope it never goes away. But lately, instead of stressing over how I have failed at that dream, I’m starting to realize, I can simply not want it as much, or better yet, want it in a different way.

Jen Sincero teaches in her book, You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, that all we really need to do to manifest happiness is open your heart to the universe and it will come to you.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine suggested we co-teach a yoga and writing workshop together. TBH, my first reaction was: Nope. I did not feel qualified to take on such a thing. I can barely crank out a blog every two months must less teach someone to write. It felt so…bold, so brazen of me to even consider doing this.

Being the yoga teacher she is, my friend calmly reminded me: I was qualified. I have a degree in English Education and another one in Journalism. I work in Marketing. I write all the time. And no one is better qualified than me to teach from my own experience.

It occurred to me that this gift was also exactly what Sincero told us would happen if we informed the universe we were ready for an opportunity to fulfill a want.

I started writing a curriculum and within days had built out a four-week course. I loved every minute I spent working on the exercises, researching the tactics, writing sample poems, weaving in the yoga practice. I found myself believing in my friend’s vision.

I reached out to others for feedback, pinged LinkedIn influencers I admired for their guidance, and I intentionally, purposefully have kept my wants small. If this venture turns out to be a giant flop, I will have succeeded in trying, in pushing myself to be uncomfortable, in leveraging an opportunity, and in enjoying a process that I very much missed.

Writing, for me, is an outlet to peace, just as yoga is to my friend. The beauty of yoga and writing is where it can take you: a place of healing, a place of power, a place of peace.

These things are exactly what many of us need right now. A release. A spark. A perfect moment.

I’m opening myself to the universe and keeping my wants small so that every opportunity that comes my way will be, in itself, a huge reward. I hope in some small way to help others find those happy moments by looking inward and expressing those thoughts through writing and moving your body. I hope to put goodness out there and receive goodness in return, because as my boys have taught me, whatever you put out there, that’s what you get.

Pizza Science: Nailing your Purpose

Richard Branson advises people to ask themselves two simple questions when trying to find their life’s purpose:

What do you love?

What do you dislike?

Seems simple enough.

If you love creating bespoke artisan pizzas and sweating your ass off in front of a scorching 800-degree wood-burning oven on wheels, your purpose might be owning and managing the next best pizza truck on the planet. And if you’re Josh and Dena Leigh of Dunedin, Florida, you already knew that.

The story of Corvo Bianco Woodfire Cookery actually began many, many years ago and you can read all about that here. The Leighs love for food and family, and bringing that love to their community, is the foundation of their business. (Veterans, active duty, and first responders get a 10% discount.) Ingredients are locally sourced and responsibly imported, and everything is made to order. My mouth is watering just thinking about the “Ronni” right now. Fresh mozzarella, savory spinach, salty black olives…but I digress.

Back to the first question Branson suggests we ask ourselves: What do you love?

From a pizza truck perspective, it might seem like the answer is obvious: pizza, cooking, sweating immensely.

But to succeed at this business, not surprisingly, there are other things you must also love: meticulously defining your strategy, testing your product ad nauseum, torturing data, pushing yourself to extremes, taking huge risks, and putting your pride on the line.

These things cannot live in your dislike bucket either. Neither can fear, uncomfortableness, precision, repetition, or scrupulous data entry. You must love those things also.

Making pizzas is not a business, it is a science. Just like giving killer main stage presentations, closing huge deals, and nailing marketing campaigns. Acing these things requires practice, keen observation, data analysis, tremendous dedication, and the perfect touch of bravado.

We may not all own our own business, but we do own our destiny. Your ‘product’ might not be pizza, but it might public speaking or marketing or configurations. You might not be selling 37 Fahgettabouits an hour, but you are selling yourself every day, all day.

So what can a pizza truck operation teach us about our purpose?

Practice makes perfect: Prior to their first interaction with the public, Josh and Dena spent countless hours making and remaking discs of pizza dough, testing it in the intense humidity of Florida, experimenting with ratios of flour to water, thickness, chew, and cooking times. (Reminiscent of the Friends episode where Monica tries to recreate Phoebe’s grandmother’s recipe. Except way more successful!)

Each variable could alter their course dramatically (remember batch 16 that Ross could not handle?). With each round they honed their craft until the perfect, just-right-chew, exquisitely charred, pristine pizza crust was ready for prime time.

Practices allows us to work seamlessly, without our brain having to step in every 5 minutes and sort shit out. Practice transforms an idea into a skill, a skill into a talent, and a talent into a well-oiled machine.

Practice allows you to present without visual triggers, close a deal without selling your customer to death, write copy that captures your audience the first time, build a product that actually makes sense. Practice gives us foresight. It gives us the ability to anticipate a need and fill it quickly. It makes us agile, it gives us Teflon-like strength.

Practice makes us perfect.

Replication like a boss: The organization factor required to run a food truck is immense. Not only must you create a perfect product, you must replicate it infinitely. Replication is easy if done by a programmed contraption, but handmade, Neapolitan pizzas aren’t mastered that way, and neither is your purpose.  

How do you repeat something endlessly? Organizing your system like it’s your job. Because it is.

Dena arranged and rearranged her pizza ingredients, dough boxes, corn meal, and pizza pans in 568 different patterns until she found the system that worked. And by worked, I mean everything was in reach, ingredients were in the right order, everything flowed like it was set to her own personal badass sound track.

Repeatable perfection equates to happy customers horking down their identically delicious “Kevies” day after day.  

For those of you that have a morning routine or a managed schedule, you already know the benefits of a system. Self-management drives success. Organization parallels governance. And when you control the system, you control the outcomes.

Precision is key: Another huge factor in repeatability is precision. A product must be scalable and do to that requires precision. As we all know, customers are an insatiable, immediate-gratification seeking bunch. They have to be served exactly what they want very quickly. This is true for any industry.

The time between ordering and receiving a handmade, cooked-to-order Corvo Bianco pizza hovers under three minutes.   

This was achieved, again, by testing, timing, adjusting and also mastering the art of controlling the temperature of an oven heated by hand-fed wood.

Think about that for a second. Controlling the temperature of an oven heated by gas or by electricity is easy. You set it and forget it (if you will forgive my plagiarism of that phrase!) But you cannot do that with fire. And you cannot do that with customers, pipeline, audiences, executives, channel partners, the market or any other source of energy that is not designed to be controlled.

Josh built and rebuilt his fires, constantly monitoring the heat, removing a log, adding a log, edging the pizzas around the embers searching for the perfect pattern, rotating methodically so every bite of every pie was flawless. He calculated how much wood he’d need to maintain business for an hour, five hours, or until 2am on an especially busy night.

In business, we do this all the time. We pull levers until we find the combination that solves a pain point, closes deals, gets the leads, smashes the competition, creates a buzz, trends. And then we try to repeat that again and again. You can do this with your own purpose. What makes you tick? What gathers a crowd at your door? How can you capitalize on this?

The Leighs scaled their business by turning a dream into a goal (three minutes to perfect pizza) and then practicing their repeatable process until they made it a reality.

If you’re looking to define your purpose, start with those Branson questions: What do you love? and What do you dislike? Build upon or create your system, refine it, enhance it, make it perfect.

Then get out there and kill it.

A Flower Called Heather: Grief in the Workplace

My parents have conflicting stories on where my name came from. My dad insists I’m named after a tiny purple flower that blankets the fields of Germany called “die Erika” or “das Heidekraut” (“Heather” in English). My mom, however, maintains that my dad named me after some chick who sold brats and wieners on the side of the autobahn.

I think I like the flower story better.

BTW if you want a hilarious definition of your name, throw it in Urban Dictionary. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It’s funny how we grow into our names, how we ‘look’ like our names. (Unless you have ever met someone who does not look like their name at all and it is sooooooooooo weird!)

Anyway, none of the above really has anything to do with what I intended this blog to be about …except the tiny purple flower called Heather.

This blog is about profound loss. Loss that is so deep, so unfathomable it crushes your heart just to hear about it.

Now why on earth would I be writing about such unimaginable grief?

Because there is always a lesson, always a common ground amongst strangers, always a sliver of light that is worth sharing. Loss is something we will all experience and having empathy for others is crucial to the success of our business and personal lives.

Our jobs are enormous parts of our life and often define elements of who we are. A leader. An artist. A salesman. A teacher.

We spend a great deal of time with our coworkers. They become like family in many cases. For goodness sake, ‘work husbands’ are a REAL thing for crying out loud! More about that in another blog…

Grief shows up at the workplace every day. In the form of a lost pet, a lost parent or spouse, divorce, financial woes, addiction, accidents, tragedies. It’s very difficult to keep those things at home.

How we react as co-workers both on the grieving and comforting ends can make a material impact on the team, the company, and the individuals who need comforting the most.

We have all been faced or will be faced with moments that test us, drive us to the brink of every emotion imaginable, force us to reckon with our demons or be someone’s rock as they reckon with theirs.

Sometimes we fail in how we handle these moments. And sometimes, from an outsider’s perspective, we make all the right moves.

In the fall of 2018, a colleague of mine lost his adult daughter to cancer at the age of 29. She was his only child. And her name was Heather.

Can you even imagine? Unfortunately, some of you can. The grips of grief are no stranger to your heart.

Watching my colleague go through this was at once both excruciating and heartbreakingly inspiring. I have never been through cancer treatment nor watched someone succumb to it, and I can only imagine it is like a 1,000 deaths all rolled into one. Every failed treatment, every miserable side effect, every glimmer of hope dimmed by the next day’s setbacks, every moment spent watching the deterioration of a life.

Through all this, he showed me how to handle an unbearable situation with decorum and grace. He also comforted those around him. While I was weeping over my keyboard, his update emails reminded us that, sometimes, bad things happen to good people. That hating this tragedy wouldn’t make it go away. That anger and resentment had no place in our hearts.There was only room for love.

I think about how I might react if I was going through a similar situation. Would I be calm? Pragmatic? I doubt it. I’d be incensed. Enraged. Throwing shit. Breaking things. Screaming. Crumpling under the sheer unfairness of it all, the immense weight of my insufferable anguish over losing my child.

And maybe those things happened to my colleague as well, in the privacy of his home, in a quiet moment at the hospital, in his car on a lonely stretch of highway.

It has been almost a year since Heather passed away. To my colleague, I imagine it is still quite raw, and if time heals all wounds it would take an eternity to remedy his soul.

I continue to learn how best to be a support throughout this experience. These are some of my takeaways.

Let them hold their space. My yoga instructor girlfriend taught me this concept. Often our immediate reaction when someone is grieving is to try to make it better. We hug them, we tell them it will be OK, we say things like, “At least he is no longer suffering.” or “Things happen for a reason.” We do these things because witnessing someone’s pain is difficult. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts us. But we must resist this temptation to try to make it all better and instead, let our friends, our colleagues, those who are hurting…hurt. Let them sit with their suffering. Let them hold their space with the weight of their grief in their hands. Because this is part of the healing process for them, no matter how painful it is for us.

Step in at work. During a crisis, the last thing your colleague needs to think about is work. If you are in a senior position, reach out to his/her reports and see where you can help guide, answer questions, and report to higher ups who still need to keep the business running. Be a gate keeper, deflect requests to your colleague by encouraging teammates to come to you and others in the company who can give approvals, make decisions, and push projects along.

Listen. Sometimes that’s really all someone needs. Someone to listen to them talk about their situation without judging, without trying to solve it; just being an ear over a coffee or cocktail (thankfully I am always down to assist here!).

Speak. This is especially hard for me. I pretty much start crying anytime my colleague says something like, “Heather loved Boston.” The -ed of every verb pierces me like a knife. But it’s not about me, it’s about a memory that is good and wonderful and deserves to be spoken about. Talking about it normalizes the situation and feeling ‘normal’ is a comforting thing.

Help them get back to ‘normal’. Being able to focus on something other than the painful situation they are experiencing can be a huge relief. We may think someone needs more time to recover or we still want to take care of things for them so they can rest or be at home, but when someone is ready to get back into the swing of things, help them do that as seamlessly as you can. Get them up to speed on important announcements and changes, update them on big projects, even fill them in on the good gossip they may have missed (because it is SO good!). Assimilating them back into the office mix provides a needed distraction in a familiar routine.  

Mind your dates. Mark anniversaries of tragedies or scheduled treatment (if you know them) on your calendar to remind yourself and others to be extra cognizant of those days. Be mindful of holidays that may be especially painful (Mother’s Day is the freaking worst). Be aware that on a random Tuesday your coworker may be in a foul mood because it’s a birthday or anniversary of someone or something that is hard for them to be reminded of. Basically, as the saying goes, always be kind because you never know the battles someone is fighting.

Keep an open heart. Be compassionate. Show empathy.Share your kindness freelyand open your heart to others because one day you may need the open heart of someone else. 

Want to help someone with cancer? Considering donating to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre or the American Cancer Society. Visit This is Living with Cancer for patient and caregiver resources.

A Million Dollar Smile

My oldest son has reached the miserable age most parents dread the most: middle school. He’ll be starting 6th grade in the fall (a fact I have not yet come to terms with btw). He’s growing taller, his voice is sometimes oddly deep and startles me, he smells like a freaking dude. And just last week, he crossed a milestone of epic proportion in any adolescent’s life: getting braces.

If you had braces as a kid, you know how much they suck. The shredded cheeks, the perpetually dry lips, the endless teeth brushing and the sheer torture of attempting to floss. Your mouth hurts constantly, your speech is impaired, it’s hard to sleep. The only comfort is that most of your friends are just as miserable as you are. Sometimes you even find a smidge of joy in coordinating the color of those tiny rubber bands holding all that metal together in your mouth.

Like anyone who has ever loved a child, it hurts me to see him so uncomfortable. It’s a part of life to deal with discomfort, especially if you want a better outcome on the other side. There is no reward in life that comes without some type of pain. #lifelesson

So in my infinite, tender-hearted wisdom, I decided to do something that I thought would make the next year or so a bit easier for my son. I also got braces. Even though I had them as a kid, I had lapsed significantly on my retainer use (a fact my parents still like to remind me of. Sorry Mom and Dad.)

I thought this would be a challenge we’d tackle together! We’d both suffer through it and in the end his new ‘million dollar’ smile as he calls it would make him even more handsome, and my new smile might win me a new sale or two. This would be great! A family adventure!

What I’ve learned is: I am a dumbass.

In the event you are considering getting your teeth straighter, I thought I would share some tips to manage through the experience. (Note: I am on week four of Invisalign. Will update in another month or so.)

  • Do not do it.
  • Ok. Fine, do it anyway. But immediately invest in a Waterpik if you do not already have one. You will be brushing your teeth 27 times a day. Not really, but after every single meal or snack or drink (other than water), you have to clean your clean before snapping back in those plastic trays that literally seal any remaining food particles against your teeth for 22 hours a day.
  • Buy new pants. You will lose weight because the prospect of removing the trays, eating tenderly on wobbly, ouchy teeth, and then cleaning them for the 15th time will become so overwhelming, you’ll just say ‘Forget it!’ to at least a few meals.
  • Break your sipping casually on your coffee/tea/smoothie habit. With just 2-4 hours a day of permissible ‘free’ time from these things, you’ll be scalding your throat trying to gulp down your coffee every morning. I know, four hours seems like a lot of time in a day to eat and clean teeth but it goes by quicker than you think. God forbid you have a 2 ½ hour work lunch one day—you’ll have skipped breakfast and will be horking down your dinner to make up for it!
  • It’s more than just the trays. What they don’t tell you in those fun commercials is that your doctor will have to glue tiny brackets to multiple teeth to give the trays something to hold on to as they force your smile into alignment.  
  • Cancel all important conference calls, presentations, and speaking engagements for the first week. Why? Because you will have a lisp. And not a slight lisp, but a full-on, drunken slur that will have people questioning if you got into your liquor cabinet before the planning meeting.
  • Prepare to drink obscene amounts of water and consequently be near a rest room. Remember the cotton mouth scene in Me, Myself, and Irene? That will be you. Except without the schizophrenia.
  • Start saving now. Between insurance, paying up front, and a family discount, we were able to save a nice chunk, but when I told my husband how much it would cost to straighten two mouths, he nearly punched me in the teeth. Just kidding. But seriously, it ain’t cheap.
  • It hurts. The movement of your teeth with these things is quite aggressive. The first few days with a new set of trays results in a nearly constant, dull ache. Just when they start to feel better, it’s time for a new set. Yay! Carry Advil with you all the time.
  • Adjust your routine. These things stain so if red wine or Old Fashions are your go-to imbibe on the weekends…prepare yourself to switch to vodka and La Croix (hey, if it’s good enough for Post Malone, it’s good enough for you!). Switching to a clear drink allows you to keep your trays in while you enjoy your beverage (use a straw for best results)*. Just make sure you brush your teeth well that night! *Please note: your doctor will tell you this is terrible advice. It might be, but good grief, we gotta live!
  • Change your trays on Sunday night. One, so you can sleep through the worst of the uncomfortableness. And, two, if they do get stained from whatever you were drinking on Saturday, who cares?
  • Carry your tray case, a tooth brush, and toothpaste with you so you can remove and clean on the go. The first few times you try to wrench these things out of your mouth in public are awkward, but it gets easier after a while!
  • Remind yourself that in a year or so, you will have straight teeth. That year is gonna pass anyway. Might as well do something for yourself!

Tactical Tips for Career Advancement

I’m a big fan of going back to basics when the need arises. So often we forget the simplest skills are the foundation of success.

Back in February, I had the privilege of presenting these tactical tips at a Women of the Channel event in Tampa. (Check out their full agenda of events here.)

I got great feedback both from those earlier in their career (these were things they could implement immediately upon returning to their desks) and those more seasoned (great tips to share with your more junior staff).

For those of us who are more tenured, if you are bored to tears reading this, first congratulations on knowing what you are doing! And secondly, remember, you are obligated to share your wisdom because empowered people empower others.

Define the end goal: Everything you do should lead to your end goal. The places you network, the relationships you build, the roles you take, even the people you email. It can be intimating to define your end goal and to be frank, I struggle with this myself sometimes. Remember that your end goal is not necessarily a title or a specific role. To help define your end goal, ask yourself these questions:

  • What brings me joy?
  • What inspires me?
  • What scares me?

If creating art brings you joy, your end goal may be “Creative Leader at Cool Company” or CEO of your own design firm. If helping others, hitting quota, and being on stage inspire you, your end goal may be “SVP Sales at Big Company” or inspirational speaker. Remember my previous blog calling out the War of Art? Stephen Pressfield tells us that those things that scare us the most do so because deep down we know they are symbols of our destiny. Are you scared of publishing your writing because someone might comment on it (gasp!)? Do it. Do it today.

The path to success is wonky: Some people start their career on the bottom rung of very straight ladder and progressively move up in very neat line. I may know exactly two people whose career actually followed this path. Rather, the vast majority of successful people I know, myself included, have a wonky, squirrely, zig-zaggy, occasional-step-backwards kind of path.

So many times in your career (and in life) you will be faced with opportunities. Some will seem so far off your presumed beaten path that you may fear they could derail your trajectory. But remember, our paths are like an extremely wide road. While the goal remains like a beacon of light guiding us to the end, we have a lot of leeway to get there. In fact, taking a perceived detour may actually get you there faster. To riff one of my favorite bands, CCR, as long as you can see the light, you won’t lose your way home. 

Networking like a boss: I got my job at Veeam because I knew someone who already worked there. I reached out to him, he remembered he liked me, he recommended me, I got the job. This is, essentially, the ultimate reward of building and utilizing your network. I constantly have people reach out to me either looking for a new role for themselves or for recommendations on people to hire. I imagine you do, too, so you know how freaking important networking is!

Networking can be heartburn-inducing for some people. If you can work the room like a pro already, awesome, skip this section. But for me, even as an ‘outgoing’ person, I often have to force myself to take the first and very crucial step of networking:

  1. Get your body there. That’s right. SHOW UP to a networking event. Even better, enlist a buddy and hold each other accountable for showing up and conversing with others. My go-to networking buddy is Michelle Curtis.
  2. Ok great. You’re there. Your buddy’s there. Now remember, it’s not about you. It’s about what you can give to others, how can you help them, what do you have to offer. And it will all magically, naturally, karma-ly come back to you tenfold if you embrace this idea. People, by human nature, enjoy talking about themselves, because it’s a subject we know, right! Especially executives…and not because they’re arrogant jerk bags (for the most part) but because look how often they are in fact asked to talk about themselves! When it’s not about you, the pressure is off. At no point will you be asking someone to help you. Instead, you will be offering your guidance and contacts to others and BOOM that is how a connection is made which later will develop into an opportunity, I promise you.
  3. Start the conversation, then zip it. Last year I met JJ DiGeronimo, an inspirational speaker and writer with a passion for technology. I was inspired after hearing her story and after the event, I got enough courage to approach her. I introduced myself, started the conversation and then shut up. I absorbed everything she said. I literally took notes as she spoke. I left the event inspired to be more bold in reaching my goals. A few weeks later, she reached out to me to check on my progress and let me tell you how much that meant to me, and frankly, pushed me to get my shit together! First, how often does a well-known speaker actually take the time to reach out to a random fangirl like me?! Secondly, if she was going to check back up on me, I better have something to report on. Since the event last year, I have been promoted, appointed co-chair of Veeam’s women’s advancement group, lobbied to get more speaking spots at events, and used my influence to encourage Veeam to sponsor two WOTC events. All of that was inspired by one 15-minute conversation at a networking event.

Never under estimate the power of effective networking.

Email etiquette: This may be the most basic advice you have heard all week but I cannot tell you how often I receive an email that does not follow even the most basic etiquette.

  • First, for the love of everything holy, use a greeting. Think of your reader. It can come across as aggressive if you open your email with just their name or launch directly into your request.  Stumped for something appropriate? Try “Hi”.
  • End your email with some type of closing like “Thanks” or “Regards” or even “Cheers” if you’re hipster enough.
  • Have an email signature with your name and title and phone number. You don’t have to have 16 lines of crap, but remember, not everyone you email knows who you are.
  • Know your audience. For everyone, keep it brief. For execs, keep it extra brief. For colleagues of other cultures, take that into account: avoid emojis, abbreviations, and terminology that might not be familiar.
  • Respond in a timely manner or delegate to another team member but also know what emails need a response before others—like the one from your boss’ boss!
  • Avoid ‘Reply All’ like the freaking plague.
  • If you find yourself in an email conversation, pick up the phone. You will accomplish more in a ten-minute conversation than 87 emails where things can easily be misconstrued.
  • Finally, use OOO wisely. Don’t tell us about your beach vacation so we can hate you, just let us know you have limited access to email. In a world where we all travel and work in different time zones, it’s understood that there are times you cannot respond to email right away so sometimes an OOO may not even be necessary.

Presentation skills: From now until the end of time, people will be asked to make presentations so mastering this skill is essential. Having a presence in front of others and being able to explain ideas is also key for networking and ensuring you have a seat at the table.

  • Know your audience. Sales want to see numbers, executives like ‘big animal pictures’, technical teams like graphic configurations that show rather than tell, marketing likes charts and graphs. If you communicate to your audience in the way they best receive information, your message will be better understood and appreciated.
  • Get feedback from others on your deck. This avoids those really awkward questions during your presentation like, “Where did you that data? Looks like last years.”
  • Less words, more pictures. This helps capture attention and helps to not fatigue your audience.
  • Speak up: But if you’re using a mic, don’t garble and yell into it, dear Lord. And beware your sleeve, hair, necklace, horrendous but oddly sexy messy manbun brushing over or clacking against your mic if it’s clipped to your jacket.
  • Watch the clock: Stick to yourallotted time. Time yourself at home. Remember presenting to your stuffed animals when you were a kid? No one? Oh dear, just me then…anyway…it pays to practice!
  • Take a breath: Give your audience a second to take you in, anticipate what you will say before you launch into your presentation. This also helps you relax.

Know your numbers: Know your shit. Know your business. Avoid fluff and marketing jargon. When you’re networking with internal leadership or strangers, you should be able to demonstrate some basic knowledge of your company and your business. You won’t get promoted to a sales manager if you don’t know your Q2 quota, right? If you aren’t sure about your business, take steps to learn it. A few years ago, our tax director spent about two hours presenting to a group of Veeam women on our assets and liabilities, expenses, cash flow, and P&L. It did wonders for my financial acumen, which is crucial if you want to be taken seriously. I now know what EBITDA means and while I may never actually use it in a sentence in my life, understanding general financial terms helped me not be left out of conversations.

Know your product: Know what your company sells. When I was a regional marketing manager, I insisted my team, including myself, could give the Veeam product presentation to partners, both in the event one of our partner managers couldn’t make a meeting and to demonstrate to the partner that we all knew what we were selling. You cannot sell or promote what you do not understand. And again, it’s tough to get promoted if you cannot articulate what your company actually does.

Know your roadmap: Partners and customers ask this all the time, they want to know where you are going….so know this. Memorize it. When you demonstrate you have a firm grip on where your company is going and (most importantly!) how you play a part in that, you will be recognized as a leader.

A word on mentoring: Looking for a mentor?

  • Choose wisely. Not every VP is the right mentor for you even if they have the job you covet. And don’t underestimate the value of a mentor younger than you or equal to you in terms of seniority.
  • Have a couple. This is like a college dating scene, right, not marriage….everyone can offer you something that someone cannot!
  • Have a courageous ask for your mentor. This ask must move you closer to your end goal.
  • Meet regularly and have an agenda of topics. Don’t meet just to meet and if you find yourself blowing off meetings with your mentor, reevaluate the relationship.
  • Check in on that ask. Are you closer to your goal? Is this person helping you?

If you are the mentor, set some requirements to make sure you aren’t just a therapist and it’s the best use of your time as well. This arrangement should benefit you, too!

Finally, always be selling…. YOURSELF. Always be your best. Even in our most humble moments there is an opportunity to shine. Say yes to opportunities. While it’s stressful as hell to ‘build the plane while you’re flying it’ as they say, so often that is exactly what companies are looking for in leadership. Don’t get too complacent, that’s when you stop growing and ask for guidance when you think you need it. And most importantly, stay true to yourself. You will be the most confident when you are loyal to your style, your nature, your gifts, and your skills.

All the Lies I Tell Myself

It’s been a long time since I have written something. Well that is not entirely true. I write all the time…but decline to share any of it. The pieces I write lately feel common, contrived, just kinda blah, a little meh. They leave me unsatisfied like a weak drink (such a waste of calories, man) or getting this close to you knowing whatting and then out of nowhere the feeling goes away (I’m talking about sneezing, you dirty birds! haha I’m totally not.)

My thought process was, if I felt that way about my writing, who on earth would want to read it?

To get myself back on track, a colleague recommended I read the book The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. Pressfield tells us that we are obligated to share our talents and skills with the world in the event that talent or skill can help someone. His book is chock full of awesome advice on beating the ‘resistance’, as he calls it, that oppresses us daily, but this particular snippet was especially poignant to me.

People (like more than two so that counts, right?) have reached out asking me “Where is your writing?” They missed it. They took something from it. They wanted more of it.

Maybe if I embraced this idea that I was obligated to others, it would help me get over this resistance I have manifested that has kept me from sharing my writing?

I started to think about that resistance, where it came from, where it lived, where it was rooted. After some soul searching over the course of several long international flights and one too-short girls’ night, it finally occurred to me the origin of my resistance: the lies I tell myself.

If you tell yourself something long enough, you start to believe it. Whether it is good or whether it is bad, it will become your truth and it will project on all your ambitions. If it is good, it will make them grow. If it is bad, it will, hinder them, stifle them, even snuff them out if you let it.

This is very basic stuff, I know! We all know our inner voice should be one of kindness and compassion and encouragement. I don’t know when I allowed the crappy side of my inner voice to get louder. It’s like one day, there she was, just chattering away like a squawking parrot on my shoulder and I haven’t been able to shake her since.

So I’m sharing my lies with you in the hopes that saying them out loud will help them go away.

Lie #1: The most egregious of my self-destructive fabrications is the constant need to remind myself that any success I have is both temporary and the result of outside forces (i.e., karma, sponsors, timing, etc) rather than my own effort. Every raise, every promotion, every speaking opportunity, every family success I experience, I give the credit to others. Meanwhile, the anxiety that these things will vanish at any minute grows in my chest like a knot, increasingly getting tighter.

Ironically, I am literally living my best life these days! It’s the freaking blue bird of happiness has made a nest in my ridiculously well-behaved hair for goodness sake. Which makes this perpetual waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop mindset especially obnoxious because it’s preventing me from enjoying the fruits of my labor. And WTF is the purpose of succeeding if you don’t enjoy everything you have worked for?

I think I do this to myself as a defense mechanism; I never want to be caught off guard, never surprised by ugliness. It’s also important to me to remain humble, to be grateful for the support of others (and perfect timing!), but I’m realizing it cannot be at the expense of my own worth. I have been missing that balance.

They say the first step to healing is admittance, so here goes:

I work my ass off and I deserve all the good things that come to me.

There, I said it.

Lie #2: I don’t know what I’m doing. To be fair, at any given moment there is a 50% chance I may not actually know what I am doing…but in every case, I will apply the MTSU (make that shit up) method and it will be based on experience, intuition, and knowledge that I do in fact possess. My boss tells me this is his tactic and a tactic of every successful leader he’s known.

So, I have concluded that not knowing what you’re doing but making an educated guess anyway is actually knowing exactly what you’re doing! #problemsolved

Lie #3: I’m not good in the spotlight. Indeed, I get heartburn every time I present to a group. When I’m called on during a meeting to share my thoughts, I practically choke, my mind suddenly blank, the brilliant thought I just had having taken off for an early vacation. Before I step on stage, I have to talk myself through a panic attack, will myself not to throw up on the podium.

I envy people with the charisma, the charm, the do-not-skip-a-beat timing that holds the crowd’s focus, keeps us engaged, and leaves us rewarded for our attention.  I wish I had that presence.

Pressfield has a theory on embracing the things that scare us the most. He says that often those things that conjure up the most fear in us are probably the exact thing we should be doing because innately we know we’d actually kill it.

#IRL, once I get past the anxiety, once I swallow back that gag-worth feeling, in the instant before I open my mouth to share my thoughts with the audience before me, another feeling overcomes the fear: I got this.

And I totally do. I make jokes. I remember my points. I make an impact…and I can’t wait to do it all over again.

Lie #4: On both a personal and professional level, I have struggled for years with one particularly exhausting lie: I owe everyone my time.

Every email deserved a response. Every call needed to be returned. Every invitation needed a ‘yes’ RSVP. And every friend, co-worker, and acquaintance, even those whose presence did not bring me joy, still deserved my time. Why? Because I thought this attention would make me more respected, liked, and admired.

When, in fact, the opposite is true. By giving everyone your time, you get sucked into other people’s drama, overwhelmed by endless email chains, take on projects outside your scope, volunteer for way too many PTA/Scout/sport-related activities and neglect yourself in the meantime. This serves no one well.

Recently, I read You are a Badass by Jen Sincero who reminds us, “It’s about respecting yourself, instead of catering to your insecure need to be liked.” #whoa

She also notes:

  • Do not waste your precious time giving one single crap about what anybody else thing of you.
  • Surround yourself with people who think the way you want to think.
  • Give painful people the heave-ho (even if it breaks your heart).

Great stuff and truths to live by.

Lie #5: All the other terrible bullshit bologna I tell myself. I’m fat. I’m look like crap. I’m short (unfortunately actually true LOL). I don’t run enough (I have bad knees!) I drink too much (Really?). I’m a bad mom (seriously, just put on your shoes for the love of Jehovah!) I have bad skin (pimples make you look younger right?). My teeth are crooked. I should eat more kale (No. More. Kale.). I’m too emotional (which I have already analyzed here). I shouldn’t have said that. What did I say that?? Blah blah blah…that train of endless negativity is wearing me out!

Sincero writes to all us badasses out there: “Never apologize for who you are. It lets the whole world down.”

I need to try harder to live this mantra. And thank you to those of you who have called me out on this.

Recommended reading: The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield and You are a Badass, How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero

5 Not-So-Subtle Ways You’re Being Sponsored

We all know that having a sponsor is one of the most crucial aspects of career development. A sponsor is your voice when you’re not in the room, your advocate when HR is judging you solely on your resume, and a bridge into executive offices and new opportunities.

At nearly every networking event I go to, someone always asks me, “How do I get a sponsor?”. Indeed, it is a challenge and takes time, but it’s not nearly as difficult (or as formal) as some think and, in fact, it’s highly likely you already have people sponsoring you (or indicating their willingness to sponsor you) and you don’t even notice.

Here’s some not-so-subtle ways you’re already being sponsored.

They torture you with exercises. Recently, while agonizing over a spreadsheet of numbers and formulas and scenarios I could hardly understand, my boss told me, “Do you know why I torture you with exercises like this? So you learn how to do it yourself and if I’m not in the room, you can answer a question.” A previous manager would always assign me the biggest pain-in-my-ass projects that didn’t fit anywhere else. I thought he was just dumping them on me, but instead it was those projects he would ask me to present on and roll up to executives. If you’re being assigned tedious tasks, given difficult challenges, and handed projects no one else wants it’s highly possible you’re being tested, groomed, and set up to showcase those accomplishments and knowledge down the road.

They say your name a lot. Next time you’re talking to a manager or someone in a position of influence, note how often they say your name. If they say it more than a twice, it can show that they 1. actually know who you are and what value you bring and 2. have likely said it before or will say it again at their next meeting. A trick to get someone to say and repeat your name is to say and repeat theirs. Say it when you greet them and say it again when you’re closing the conversation with the ever-important recap of what you just talked about. “It was wonderful to catch up with you, Peter, and talk to you about my goals for our channel organization to drive revenue in second half 2018.”

They SPAM you with FYIs. There may be nothing more annoying than an FYI email, but if you find that a superior is consistently sending you information, looping you into email chains, and inviting you to meetings, it possible you are being included so your voice can be heard. There is no greater power than access to information. Read those emails, notice who’s on them and who’s making the decisions and why they made those decisions. So often a decision made by one team affects another so start using some information from that email you were just added to influence a decision on your next call.

They put you on the spot.  Every time someone starts a sentence with ‘Not to put you on the spot but….’, I get massive heartburn because I’m about to be put on the spot. Managers that do this to you every time you get on a call with 100 people are assholes, but if someone does this to you when it’s just the two of you or in a small group of other managers or executives may be testing your ability to think fast while giving you an opportunity to share your thoughts on something important. Another sign that someone is willing to help you move up the corporate food chain is their insistence of you being uncomfortable. And by this I mean, they push you to take a new role that frightens you, they encourage you to present on the next champion call, or they assign you ‘stretch goals’ that test your endurance and drive.

They tell you. I used to miss this one all the time. A manager would tell me they were talking to another manager and mentioned me, or they told an executive I had handled a project well, or they shared with another team a best practice I developed. These seem like small things, but soon enough your boss may casually let you know he was chatting with the CEO and told him what a great job you were doing and that, my friends, is a very big thing.


Picture credit: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2014/04/21/scenes-from-marathon-route/coGjAQNBHFkjga6fBnFWUI/story.html?pic=3

How to Fail Like a Champ

Last month during a family ski trip, I totally ate it at the busiest lift in front of like 3,000 people. I fell so hard, I turned into a cartoon. My 7-year-old, suffering from acute mountain sickness no less, managed to master this thing, but that “magic carpet” (BS!) took me down like the invisible ninja.

In the 8th grade I had braces, wore glasses, had excessively curly/frizzy hair, and just enough chub to make my face look as round as a dinner plate. This same year, for reasons known only to God, I decided to experiment with makeup, get a boy to like me, make friends at a new school, and be really good at math. None of those things worked out well for me. At all.

Once, in a hurry, I mistakenly grabbed a travel size bottle of nose spray and only after my eyes began shriveling up in my head did I realize they weren’t eye drops.

I have said, “That’s the dumbest idea I have ever heard.” out loud and then realized I was not on mute and then three agonizing milliseconds later thankful as hell that for once being automatically muted on Skype for Business actually just saved my life.

When I was 21 years old, I was interning as a high school English teacher. One Saturday night while partying the night away wearing three scraps of fabric sewn together pretending to be a shirt, I turned around, a drink in one hand and a smoke in the other…and came face-to-face with one of my students. #awkward

I interviewed with a guy who asked me if I knew how to make a ‘really good cup of tea’ because his sister apparently did a great job and that’s what he was used to. I asked him if he was freaking serious, expect I didn’t say freaking. I didn’t get that job.

I had the same boyfriend throughout college. When we broke up, it was like I forgot how to secure and maintain a relationship. So I ended up just going on a series of bad dates until my girlfriend finally introduced me to my now husband. #arrangedmarriagesuccessstory

I have cried at work. In front of people. Like snotting, choking, ugly crying.

I signed up for a 5K (note: I can’t run) and while I did finish, I was so sore afterward that I could not sit on the toilet without yelping in pain and/or nearly falling into it. Also, I ran this 5K at an industry event so every other woman at this event who was in the bathroom at the same time was aware of my struggles.

Once during a meeting (a long, long time ago), a manager I could not stand called me out negatively and I completely came unglued. I didn’t work there very long after that meeting.

My youngest kid has had more dental work than some hockey teams because I let him eat his weight in fruit snacks for years before putting the two together.

I work with a guy who is so dreamy that every time he talks to me, I have to concentrate really hard on every word he’s saying because I know I will have to form an actual response when he inevitably asks me a question related to whatever the heck he’s talking about.

I once wore a pair of heels all day long until my feet were shredded because they were leopard print pony hair Cole Haan and I thought they were hot AF.

Sometimes I purposefully hide things that belong to my husband just to screw with him. If we ever get a divorce, this will be the reason. #marriageisfun

I recently sat in a meeting with our CEO simultaneously petrified he would ask me a question and terrified he wouldn’t hear me speak. I spent the whole meeting waiting for the right time to say something smart. Sadly, I’m afraid that point didn’t happen.

I flirt relentlessly. With everyone. Even when I’m not trying. Even when I’m standing there not saying a word. I literally cannot help it. I’m gonna laugh at your jokes and touch your forearm. I apologize in advance, but seriously, don’t take it too personal.

I had a boss who was a nightmare snake-on-wheels. I prayed every night he would be fired. One day he was. This isn’t really a #fail, let’s be honest.

I have made bad sales calls, spent marketing dollars are garbage lists, and given terrible advice to people I cared about.

I’ve said stupid things, done stupider things, and woefully overestimated my ability to handle situations like last night when I lost all semblance of control trying to get my kids to brush their teeth. (What in the actual hell?! Spit in your own damn sink!)

I’ve been passed over for a promotion, rejected for jobs, and blatantly ignored without a second glance.

I have been weak and selfish and greedy.

I’ve tried to be a good friend and failed. I’ve tried to be a good employee and failed there, too. Let’s not even get started on my track record as a wife and mother, people (see hiding things and teeth brushing incidents above).

I have failed over and over again.

And remarkably, almost always, received forgiveness in return. A second chance, a helping hand, encouraging words, a kick in the ass. Whatever I needed to push me forward, get me back up on my feet, pointed in the right direction. And I always learned something from those fail experiences.

If you’re ever feeling like a flop, take heart, learn the lesson, accept the bump in the road. Look around and you’ll see someone there to pick you up. Take their hand and #carryon.