OHBD 2015

OHBD 2015

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What Load Balancers and a Power Outage Taught Me about Myself and Transitions

One summer, I was sitting in Greece breathing a huge sigh of relief that our whole family including two pets safely arrived on the first leg of a momentous trip.  I had created some goals for my time there. I have so much I want to accomplish each day.  And I found I follow through if I make it official and write it down.  My goals for these trips are different than my regular life ones.  Some are small like, walk every day or do yoga with my daughter.  Others are more aspirational like; create another painting with the kids.  And yet others are just fun, like try out at least 5 recipes to add to our next cookbook.
I took stock as I sat there on the end of two full days with only a tiny dent in my “to dos” – all of which I really wanted to accomplish.  I had close to zero energy and motivation to do anything about it.  It dawned on me that my big life change required me to take a different approach, a re-balancing.  I try to make my life like the suitcases I packed to the gills to fit in our car with 5 people and two pets.  I tucked t-shirts, underwear and socks in every crevice, not wanting to waste any space.  I want to live my life that way too; filled to the brim with things that matter to me; time with friends and family, giving back, my work, my garden, my writing, the list goes on.  But it takes me effort and focus to find ways to fit it all in again when my foundation shifts as it did with our relocation to Europe.

I was reminded of a work call some years ago about a technical issue where load balancers were discussed.  Apparently, because of an unexpected event we reached near peak capacity and some load balancers “fell over” which led to downstream effects.  There was a discussion by techie types that you needed to always have excess capacity to handle an expected spike, which they had in this case.  But the spike was much bigger than planned for; so they were adjusting for the future.
The discussion stayed with me over the years.  I don’t want to waste “excess capacity” waiting for the occasional spike.  So I load up my life to nearly its full potential.  But the unfortunate result is when I have a spike, like last year’s international assignment and move, my personal load balancers fall over.  It takes me some time to get everything working back as it was before and that is okay, even good.

Time is so precious; I don’t want to waste it.  But I also want to leave time to breath and just be.  This is a constant tug of war inside me that is most exposed during times of transition.  One evening during that summer, our handyman, who honestly is less handy than you would expect but he is pretty much the only game in town, was fixing our hot water heater.  Suddenly the house went dark. Apparently his screwdriver slipped and he cut off our power.  Much about that explanation didn’t make sense to me either.
Good times in Greece
My daughter and I were on the coach watching TV; I was catching up on some writing and emails.  When the electricity went off, we headed out to the patio where the last few rays of the setting sun over the Mediterranean highlighted the night sky.  We just snuggled together with her sweet head on my lap as I stroked her beautiful curls.  It was priceless and perfect; all else could wait. This was a moment to savor – and just be. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Need Vocation, Bliss and Purpose - in Measure

I had a few friends express some dissatisfaction with the current state of their life without a clear sense of why they felt it.  I asked them questions about how they viewed their current professional role, the state of their personal life, what they did for fun, and what gave them a sense of purpose.  I always want to provide helpful advice.  Well if I am perfectly honest, what I really want to do is fix it for them.  But I have come to understand that isn’t often possible or even wanted.

After having a similar conversation a couple of times, I came to a self-realization which is what frequently happens as I try to sort through an issue with someone else.  For me to have life feel balanced, I need to keep three pieces in rough equivalent proportion.  I have always had ambitions to do something that mattered and put my talents to work in a professional environment.   I also need creative outlets that give me joy whether it be cooking, gardening, writing, music or painting.  And I find the "creating" process often helps me break down complex challenges I am wrestling with.  Finally, I want to know my life has some larger purpose outside myself – that at the end I left the world a little better place than I found it – or at least I tried.  When I invest in each of those areas in some equal measure it gives me peace.  This picture of my daughter sleeping in my arms as we are bouncing along dirt roads in her native Ethiopia is the epitome for me.

I envy my husband.  He found all three very early in life.  He always loved basketball.  He started as a player, then moved into coaching and teaching, and finally into running a basketball program and helping our boys.  He is a gifted teacher of math and basketball and through his efforts he changed many young lives who often come back to share how he helped them on their path.  His vocation, his joy and his purpose were all wrapped in a neat package. He knew what he wanted to do and has enjoyed how the natural progression of life revealed the next iteration. 

I was never sure of what I wanted to be.  I liked to do so many things.  I won awards growing up for poetry, dog training, short stories, a crime poster, fundraising for MS, piano, art and academics.  Notably lacking were any prizes for sporting achievement which were never my strong suit. After a failed attempt to become a doctor, I pursued being a lawyer.  But I will admit, not for some great love of the law.  I looked at what I was good at and enjoyed – writing, speaking, philosophy and psychology -- and it seems like a good choice. Over the years, my career evolved from being a litigator at a large firm, to going in house, to becoming a commercial lawyer, a marketing lawyer and then moving into a business role. 

I gardened throughout my life as much for the therapeutic aspects as the beauty that were the results.  I experimented with cooking which led to writing a cookbook with my son.  A few years back, I also started writing again, dabbling in painting and getting involved in not for profits, both sitting on a board and actively fundraising. 
But I found when I feel most at peace and in balance, and also when I have the most success, is when I have activities in three buckets. I titled them vocation, bliss and purpose.  When talking to my friends, I often found they neglected a bucket.  For one, it was the purpose bucket and for another it was bliss. 

I gained a powerful reminder too.  This balancing effort is a dynamic process. It requires focus and dedication.  Only in checking in with myself and being willing to adjust and evolve as my life changes, can I maintain my preferred state of being.

Previous published on my blog on Working Mother

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Kid Speaks Out Against Bullying: A Lesson for Us All

Damian at twelve reflecting and Leyla posing
One of the great joys of motherhood for me is when I learn profound or simple truths from my children.

They can come in so many forms; a reminder to smell the roses by seeing the exquisite joy on the face of my daughter as a four year old as she put her hand in a fountain or the realization of the vast human potential as my teenager considers his path.

My middle son’s lessons often come through his poetry which can simply express deep concepts.   When he was twelve, he shared a poem he wrote against bullying (and gave me permission to publish).

What struck me was he captured not only the pain of the bullied but also the pain of the bully. Treating others in that way is a sign of something else amiss inside – feelings of worthlessness or unresolved hurt and anger.  It can happen in a school as well as in workplace or even in a home.

By understanding the why behind what we do and bringing it out in the open, rather than burying it, we all have the chance to take away its power and make a positive change.

Asking for helping or finding someone to listen can be a key first step to break a destructive pattern. Every day is a new opportunity to make a different decision; adults as well as children.

But to do so, we have to take the message seriously as the last line implores.

"Stop Bullying"
I don’t know why I cry
In the darkness, without light
Is it because the demons inside
Or the ones at school
I don’t get why they break the rules
Why do these people
Pick on kids weak or
Keep their identities unknown
But know their cowardice does grow
You were not this way at birth
Know that you are of a worth
You may think you aren’t
But know that you are.
You are not just par
You are a birdie, you’re an eagle
Fly high like a seagull
Swoop down, change your plans
Be good, be a man
There is nothing bad
Within in your body
But there is a poison hidden
The more bad you do, it quickens
We must rid us of this evil curse
Before it can get any worse
For those people giving hurt
Know that you are being heard
Don’t be physical to express your words
Don’t have dark secrets unshared
There are people who care
Find one and share your problems
Then you may start to wobble
And then you burst into tears
But know that person still can hear
And know that you are getting thru
No longer does your anger brood
And to those people receiving pain
Know that the bully can explain
Problems with his life
But tell someone of your strife
Don’t just sit alone, a stray
Please don’t play that silent game
All alone, no one there
But like the bullies, people care
You need help with this curse
It has been afflicted on you
But if you tell, it will be released soon
This has to do with everyone
And please don’t take this poem for fun 

By Damian Angelidis

A version of this post previously published at my blog on Working Mother.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Teaching Your Kids to Problem Solve

A few years back, I called home on my return from a business trip.  My husband laughingly asked me to talk to my middle son about advice he received from his 5 year old sister.  His voice had no laughter in it as he indignantly shared, “She told me solve my own problems!” And then he added for the benefit of everyone in earshot of the phone, “She heard that from mom!!”

As I hung up, I thought about that advice, which I know I give on a relatively frequent basis.  I love to help out my kids (and just about anyone else who will let me, if I am completely candid). I am a fixer.  In fact, nothing makes me happier than solving something for someone.   And my kids, pictured here at my daughter’s 5th birthday party, are dearer to me than anyone on the planet. 

When we were living in Luxembourg, my elder son had his phone and wallet stolen.  I could see he felt violated, frustrated and a more than a little heart broken. We discussed how he would need to either replace or get by without the stolen items for a period.  I had a truly sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I could not make this right for him.  I was so sorely tempted to just say I would buy everything for him again.
But I knew this was a valuable life lesson I should not deprive him of because of my need to fix stuff.  He had not been as careful as he should have been with valuable property.  Part of me hated he had to lose his innocence and trust so early.  But another part was glad the lesson came in a reasonably, manageable package.

I found life can be hard and often bumpy. Often I needed to rely on myself and problem-solve my way out of tough situations – some of my own making.  I want my children to have that capacity as well.  I will not always be there for them which is a painful realization. A very challenging part of my job is teaching them to take care of themselves and letting them learn some things through experience.  I find it much less satisfying as a mother, at least in the moment, but frankly more important for my kids.  My role is to prepare them for the rest of their lives.  My teenager is on the brink which is a bittersweet reminder for me most days.

That evening after returning late from the police station to report the items stolen, I sat down with my son.  I told him how truly sorry I was this happened to him but I hoped it would be a valuable lessonthrough figuring out what to do.  I appreciated that you didn’t just get mad at me.”  I was touched and realized there is more than one way to help.  Sometimes just being available and supportive is enough:  one lesson learned by my son and another learned by this mom.
.  He responded with uncharacteristic seriousness and said, “Thanks for supporting me.

A version of this post previously published on my blog Mom, Mayhem Missions and More on Working Mother.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Balancing is Like Juggling: Dropping Things is Part of Perfecting the Art

I find when I am distracted or need to focus on something new, I can no longer maintain my hard won balancing act.  When I went through an international move – new country, new role, new home, new most everything.  I found myself often frustrated I couldn't seem to accomplish what I was able to before.  Writing only happened occasionally.  My motivation to exercise and eat right seems to have fled or at least gone into hibernation.

When I found a moment for a bit of yoga at home, some clarity appeared while I studiously maintained a "down dog."  I could hear the voice of my amazing instructor who I have not seen in too long, echoing in my head – “be kind to your body, be kind to yourself.”  I realized I had unrealistic expectations of myself (okay probably of others too).  I need to admit when big changes happen something has to give.  I wasn’t a failure. But like the juggler, I needed to find a new rhythm to work in the additional objects or juggle the existing ones in a new environment.  Easier said than done for me.  I feel accomplished when I can cross stuff off a list whether on paper or in my head.  But I am trying to re-program my thinking. 

My three kids started a new school at the same time -- an international one.  It was a big change for all – for my teenager because high school is a tough place to start over, for my pre-teen because so is middle school, and for my youngest because this was her first real school experience (which she was pretty excited about as you can see).

Leyla's first day of school at ISL
My husband was out of town that week and not optimistic about the overall outcome with me in charge.  But I assured him I was up for it (although I was less certain in my own mind).  I reviewed my calendar and pushed off what I could.  And I scheduled calls I could take outside of the office for more time sensitive matters. My office time, I limited to interviews and critical efforts.  Despite this preparation, the week was still insane. 

Day one, I had to drive the boys to the bus stop because we had not timed the "getting ready" part of the morning right.  How was I to know that styling your hair to go just that way took so long and it was a bigger priority than an on time arrival?  I also apparently did not communicate well about changing an interview time so I was scrambling to make it happen in the office at the end of the day.  The boys took the city bus after school and met me at stop closest to my work. We took a page from the Indy pit-stop crews with our handover of their sister, and her stuff, who had ridden in the car with me.  I ran into work to be almost on time.  And they took their sister home on the next city bus. 

After the interview, I get a panicked call from my eldest.  He could not find the rental house keys (they had gotten in through the garage).  I walked outside to the bus stop hoping desperately I would find them lying on the sidewalk.  But no such luck.  I then told my son he needed to retrace his steps and do his best to find them.  I could hear the tears threatening in his voice but I wanted him to take responsibility and problem solve.  I then had a couple priority work calls with the US.  After they were completed, my cell phone rang again.  I took a deep breath before answering as I saw it was my son.  His voice, in stark contrast to earlier, was buoyant and exuberant as he exclaimed, “I found them, Mom!!”  He then described how he got back on the bus and followed his path in reverse. He found the keys on top of a trashcan where he had left them before boarding.  I think he took extra pleasure from the fact I had looked in that area and not seen them.  He also shared how good it felt to have solved the issue by himself

Day Two, I nearly missed picking up my daughter.  School was 90 minutes for her this first week which I discovered is not enough time to do anything. Although I had tried, and this forced me to drive crazy rushed back to school.  Of course, I hit all the reds lights and was stuck behind a few novice parallel parkers who blocked the road seemingly forever.  Seeing my daughter as one of the two last kids in her class triggered my “mommy guilt”, but she seemed oblivious as she happily chatted with her new classmate and teacher.
Parc Merl Luxembourg
My sons texted me at times during the week when they didn’t have someone to talk to and felt awkward at school. Each evening, we went to an amazing local park – Parc Merl – where there was something for every age from basketball hoops, slides, and merry-go-rounds.  My eldest was invited to a new friend’s house Friday night which ended the week on a high note for him.  I took the younger two for a shopping trip downtown since I had seen a Dutch shop I enjoyed frequenting when I lived in Holland.  I should have known the store was closed when we found a parking spot in front.  I suggested a walk in the neighborhood as a consolation and ended up having to explain to my eleven year old son what a “Gentlemen’s club” is about. Another "benefit" of a new town you never know where you will end up. We found a dodgy McDonald's which the kids loved and me a bit less. But their gigantic smiles made up for everything else.  It wasn’t what we planned but they loved it any way.

When I reflected back on the week, I felt I had been there for my three during an important transition. I also witnessed each of my beloved children "grow up" a little as they adjusted to a new normal too.  I didn't let any big work balls drop (I did go in on Sunday to catch up when my husband returned.) 

This was a good start for me to learn balancing like juggling means things will drop sometimes – or I have to be willing to let them go, knowing I can pick them up later at the right time.  I try to be kind to myself and to say that is good enough.

A version previously published on my Working Mothers blog Mom, Mayhem, Missions and More.