Keeping Quiet Won’t Kill You and Not All Failure is Bad

P1040164As an MBA student, I once found myself on a “ropes course” with a couple dozen other students from a leadership class. It’s been a long time, but as I recall, this outdoor adventure was supposed to teach us something about leadership styles. We were placed into groups of five or six and assigned specific tasks that involved overcoming obstacles in a forest, much like summer camp. The caveat was that those of us who had been identified as extroverted, thinking types on a popular personality profile were required to keep silent during the exercise unless specifically called upon for input. Instead of offering suggestions, we were supposed to be good listeners and let the more introverted, feeling types have greater opportunities to discuss the challenges and devise our plans for success. You can imagine how this played out…

As an extrovert who leans toward logical vs. magical thinking, within about 30 minutes, I wanted to kill myself and some of the other more “sensitive” folks. We stood at the base of an imposing wall in the woods for what seemed like eternity while nice people politely discussed possible ways that our team could collectively scale the barrier. I witnessed various unsuccessful attempts at boosting and human pyramid building and checked my watch. Tick tock. We were going to lose this challenge and I don’t like to lose.

What really galled me was that we had a U.S. Marine on our team. But he’d been identified as an extrovert and remained silent. I could not understand why team members weren’t asking for his advice. I assumed he’d done this kind of thing before and could easily lead us to victory. But, NO! Maybe the quiet types relished holding the mute button on the loud mouths.

Finally, after many failed slides down the wall like heartbreaking kids in gym class who need a hug, somebody asked the Marine for input. And I could have fainted dead away at his response. Something like, “You’re on the right track. Keep thinking it through.” What!? Had his crew cut nicked important grey matter? Was our class about to devolve into some CSI laboratory for science majors? Or maybe we were being videotaped for a psychology course on rage. None of the above. We made it over the wall and finished the course. I can’t remember who “won.”

A decade later, I’m beginning to understand the value of this exercise. My husband, God bless him, often requires extra time to analyze any given situation before making a decision. This includes ordering lunch at McDonald’s where the menu hasn’t changed in like 30 years! How does this require analysis? I take a deep breath and calmly chant my order: chicken nuggets, small fry, diet coke.

And our son, a rather shy introvert, will agree to most anything we say. To the point where I’m actually encouraging him to contradict me, to stand his ground, to speak up and defend his opinions because I worry he’ll be trampled by tyrants (ahem, opinionated extroverts) like me in the real world.

And as for that Marine and his comment, he displayed great wisdom. He realized something I didn’t– that he wasn’t on a battlefield that day. No lives were hanging in the balance and “winning” wasn’t the goal. I’ve come to understand the importance of repeated failure as an important learning device. And that leaders won’t be leaders for long if the team hates your guts. This means everyone must be heard and sometimes it takes longer for others to assemble and articulate their thoughts. And that’s okay.

But one thing I did understand back then and teach my kiddos every day, if an expert is available, ASK FOR HELP!



Navigating the Waters of Parenting and Technology

phoneWe gave our teenage son a smartphone. At first, I felt nearly as guilty about this decision as I did when we caved on an earlier parental conviction and gave our infant son a pacifier. As it turned out, the pacifier was no evil nemesis in our household. It was in fact a valuable and very manageable device. I’d made control of the pacifier a bigger deal in my mind than it ever was in real life.

But technology and handing over a smartphone to a kid seemed the ultimate indulgence. Over the years we’ve refused to buy iPod Touch devices for our kids because of the expense. “Would you let a 10-year-old run around with $200 in his pocket?” the hubs would ask. Our answer was no and thus, no iPod as it seemed no different and potentially worse, since it’s also like putting a potentially addictive device with access to all the evils of the world wide web into the palm of a child’s hand.

The difficulty associated with monitoring Internet usage is the main reason we chose not to replace the first version iPad we sold back to Target last year. It was just too easy for our youngest to slip away with it and later be found watching YouTube videos or Netflix. All perfectly acceptable programming as far as I could tell, but I just didn’t like hunting him down while worrying what he might encounter online. I prefer he go online in our kitchen at the desktop computer with its large monitor. No kid would dare click anything curious in that location and this brings me greater peace than trying to block websites or install special filters on a shared device.

Now back to the smartphone and what led to the green light on this piece of technology. First, it’s for our older son who is 14 and has demonstrated a high level of responsibility. Second, cell phone companies seem to price their plans in ways that discourage continued use of talk and text only phones. We were paying nearly the same monthly amount for his antiquated “dumb” phone on our plan with no added benefits. Third, he is becoming busier with sports and activities and we prefer he manage his own calendar and email, which is most easily done on a smartphone. And don’t underestimate the peace of mind the find my iPhone feature can give to protective (okay maybe stalkerish helicopter) parents.

The new phone does have parameters. In fact, we printed
Janell Burley Hofmann’s clever list of 18 smartphone rules and keep it posted on the refrigerator. Her list is terrific for continuing what should be an ongoing conversation with kids about using technology responsibly. In fact, we should all be wary of how easily our connected lives can run amok. For Relevant Magazine’s six tips on being intentional with technology, click here. Or check out my friend
Nina Badzin’s blog series about her quest to end her smartphone compulsions.

So far, so good at our house. I’m praying we’ll be as relieved about this decision as we were about the pacifier. Because as parents, we’ve come to realize that clear boundaries, consistency and open communication can often assuage our fears of over-indulgence.


Embracing the Flavorful Variety of Life

Hungry on our way home from a family ski weekend, we decided to stop for pizza. As chief passenger seat navigation assistant, it was my job to Google pizza joints in the next town and I was excited to see one of my favorite pizzerias pop up on the digital map. Pies topped with bruschetta tomatoes, fresh basil, marinated chicken, roasted asparagus, wild mushrooms and caramelized onions make my mouth water.

But those in the vehicle who don’t desire “fancy” pizza promptly squashed my food fantasy. Chants for a plain old pepperoni pizza guided our vehicle pied piper like toward a restaurant featuring thin crust pizzas clearly flavored with one main ingredient, salt. Sure, salt is tasty. And greasy cheese is moisturizer to a dry winter soul. But c’mon people. Let’s try something new once in a while.

Yet, I’m not as quick to jump aboard the variety wagon when it comes to some of the comforts I cling to. Take books for example; I strain to stray outside my habitual reading proclivities which can make book clubs both wonderful and uncomfortable because they force me to read books I wouldn’t normally choose. I’m pretty sure Mark Twain once said, “A classic is something everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to read.” But I’m not certain he said it because my book about Mark Twain is still on my shelf unread.

Jobs, movies, fashion, vacation destinations and family traditions can all be areas where people stick to what they know and eschew change or any attempt at variety. There is a certain comfort in predictability, knowing what we like and sticking with it.

But when it comes to pizza and people–especially people–might I suggest changing things up once in a while? We may be too comfortable keeping company with only those who think like us, like what we like and do things pretty much like we do. Fine and dandy. But much is to be gained when we connect with a variety of folks. We learn new things, understand different ways of seeing the world and gain insight into why some hold values unlike our own.

It doesn’t have to be a lot or even all the time. I understand the need to retreat into creature comforts and the company of those who best understand us. But occasionally branching out into the social circles of those who are younger or older, richer or poorer or of another race or religion can enrich our lives and provide opportunities for us to bless the lives of others.

I think of my late grandfather. Among the many things I admire about him was his ability to be at ease in most any situation. He was not intimidated by great wealth nor did he ever act superior around those struggling to get by. Differences in language, cultural background or sexual orientation didn’t frighten him. He traveled, took an interest in people and tried new hobbies throughout his life.

Grandpa in Bora Bora

Grandpa in Bora Bora

May the memory of my grandfather and possibly this blog post encourage you to branch out of your comfort zones. Adopt an attitude of fearlessness that comes from being comfortable in who you are–a person with much to offer–a flavorful ingredient in this most delicious pizza pie of life.


Chicks I Dig

"Jane" by Sarah Dibbern

“Jane” by Sarah Dibbern

Recently at a community leadership breakfast, while noshing bananas and sipping coffee, I listened intently to the keynote speaker explain different leadership styles he’d encountered during his career. And how he’d tried to emulate some of what he’d observed, only to discover that being himself is the best way to lead.

I agree. We must be our true selves cause phony gets sniffed out, shown up and tossed aside. But it’s also important to acknowledge where parts of our best selves come from­– from those who’ve done it first and done it better. In my life, I’ve been blessed to encounter many leaders, women in particular, who by being themselves, have made me a better leader and a better person. So sit back, sip some coffee and have a care. Cause these chicks are awesome.

Mom: Of course everybody’s mom is amazing right? Well, not everybody’s. And if your mom wasn’t very amazing, I’m truly sorry. But try to capitalize on whatever your mom got right. There must be something. My mom is not a good cook and never volunteered for the PTA. But she did teach me independence and encouraged me to follow my dreams. She always believed I could do or be anything I set my mind to, and if she believed it, I believed it. Thanks Mom.

Terry: My aunt who taught me to chew with my mouth closed, to use proper titles when addressing people and to never leave the house without lipstick!

Tracie: A department manager for a global corporation where I once worked. Never threatened by my naïve propensity to speak my mind or go over anyone’s head in search of an answer, Tracie allowed me space to learn from my own mistakes. She never insisted on any one right way to get work done. She fostered a creative environment and often shifted the spotlight away from herself onto those who worked for and with her. She liked to say, “Growth and comfort do not reside together.”

Jane: A professional church worker who, in a male dominated vocation, has taught me that women need not to wait around for men to agree on a woman’s role or worth in the mission field. She balances a healthy respect for religious and cultural traditions with a hysterical irreverence toward oppressive or graceless personalities.

Donna and Debbie: Writer/Editors who’ve opened my eyes to new opportunities and encouraged me to be fearless. Generous with time, talent and praise, they are balm for my insecurity as a writer.

Laura: An editor with the diplomacy of a United Nations peacekeeper. In the creative world of writing, this patient woman never utters public negativity about anyone or their work. But she doesn’t excuse shotty writing and offers constructive feedback that has made me a better writer and editor. She also doesn’t burn bridges and has taught me the value of occasionally keeping my big mouth shut.

Jennifer: The first of my peers to have children, this woman was made to be a mother. My kids came a few years after hers, and with no prior experience with infants, I probably would have parented much differently had I not observed Jennifer’s relaxed and easygoing style. She knows what she believes and parents accordingly, with nary a care for the nattering naybobs that drive many mothers to agonizing self-doubt. A mom who seems to truly relish the role.

I could go on but I’ll stop and encourage you to ponder those who’ve made a significant impression on you. Who is your Tracie, Jane or Jennifer and how will you honor them by becoming an impactful leader in someone else’s life?