Silence

I exhaust me.

Especially this time of year. So I need the meditative practice I began five years ago. It’s called Centering Prayer, and it’s been a life saver when my brain wants to begin ten things, right now!, or when I’m constantly re-enacting little life dramas that need to be quieted. Each year I make the pilgrimage to St. Mary’s Retreat House in Sewanee, Tennessee, high atop a mountain with nothing but views of the open sky and a few cows who graze peacefully nearby. I join fifteen or twenty others looking for the same thing as me: Silence. Solitude. Stillness. We sit in a circle in a prayer room in quiet, listening prayer. Centering Prayer is about listening, not blabbering away to God about all your aches and pains. This practice helps you to hear what’s important.

While this is a silent retreat—no talking with one another until departure day, there is always a new insight when I’m there. Here’s the one from last weekend. We start out as a speck, one of God’s bright ideas. We’re our own little Big Bang. We’re born innocent and pure and blissfully happy, feeling only love. Then the world invades. It hits us and bruises us and for some, crushes them. All the other little big bangs take our innocence away.

The irony is that we’re built for community. We’re not meant to live as solitary souls.
In moments of Centering Prayer we’re all united in one cause- restful, divine communion, so you only feel goodness and love. There are no masks. No pain. And with every sit together, the circle gets closer, tighter, more fiercely bound together in some indescribable way. In Centering Prayer, we’re all innocent again.

At our last session together before departing, each of us spoke of what we were going back to this holiday season. So many had stories that pulled at my heart. A young woman spoke of recently losing her sibling to suicide, and how she was going to support her parents this Christmas. A man spoke of losing his wife a few years back. He still wore his wedding ring. Another shared worries of rampant family addiction. So much pain. Yet in the circle, there is healing. We rise above the world’s dark edges. In Centering Prayer, we know we’re not alone.

There are many meditative practices out there. Some do it in yoga, others in a church, some quietly at home. Some, like me, come to a mountain top. It all works.

I hope your holidays are filled of peace and that 2016 shines brightly for you.

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A Leadership Conference in Italy

I recently travelled to Italy to attend a small conference of senior level women. Our goal was to strategize ways we might join together to topple the barriers impeding organizational progress around diversity. We all agreed to honor the Chatham Rules so I can’t share who precisely attended, but we had heavy hitters from all aspects of industry, women running worldwide, multibillion-dollar portfolios of businesses.

The kind of fight we have all waged to earn senior roles takes extraordinary effort. As I looked around the room, some seemed a little battle weary, but the overall impression was this: these are the elite. Most were in excellent physical shape regardless of age, as elite athletes always are. To be your all- around best you need robust health and top notch conditioning, because navigating career success, while thrilling, is an endurance game. I also noticed clothing choices which were tasteful and elegant. (Note to self: get some shoes that actually go with your outfit). And the brainpower—the brainpower was breathtaking.

I had fun learning some new terms. “Grass ceilings” are all the moments on the proverbial golf course that women aren’t a part of, those that help men to network and get promoted. “Permalance” are free lancers permanently on loan to companies, particularly start-ups. “Overpass” is the preferred metaphor to “off ramps,” those programs and connections organizations offer to employees needing a work break due to caregiving, who want to stay connected then dive back in after this life phase passes.

Elite leaders have opinions—many of them. Building consensus was a challenge for our moderators, as was managing our collective ADD. It’s hard to tackle topics around diverse leadership without getting impatient and irritated, given the stats haven’t improved in any real way for 30 years. Isn’t there some new, eureka strategy that we’ll uncover to change everything? Alas, like most complex issues, there is not one big answer. It’s a collective of many “small” things that, together, will spell change. It’s the blocking and tackling around many initiatives, which, pulled together, form a cohesive plan for change.

I left hopeful. We were a group with enough gravitas to really effect change, and many of us were also connected to other influential individuals, who we could ask for help to support us. I left hopeful, too, because after identifying the factors and creating strategies, there’s now a smaller task force whose charge is to write an action plan. Finally, I am hopeful because we agreed that our newest generation of workers, the millennials, have a lot to offer to help open up the pipelines for the broadest forms of diverse leadership. My millennial son is only a sample of one, but he is drawn to dating partners focused on career, and he works for a woman too. Baby boomer girls fought so hard to become senior leaders, and it may just be a non-issue for millennials. One can hope.

I left reinforced, since many of the things we identified and put on our solutions lists I, too, had identified in my book. But mostly I left happy to have made new friends, like-minded women who have the heart to make a difference.

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All the Light We Cannot See

I am reading this gorgeous book, All the Light We Cannot See, and the title fits well with my last few weeks of book touring. When I think of light, two things come to mind: laughter and inspiration. I had to laugh when I learned my CNN interview was the lead-in to a Monica Lewinsky story. Somehow I never saw myself paired with her. Then a few days later, I sat in a TV studio, awaiting my big moment on a morning talk show. The first segment was a local man selling beer. Right after that, a little dressed up Chihuahua named Ace pranced in, and Ace and his owner were interviewed. I went on next. As our interview ended, I saw someone carrying in a stuffed dog with an oxygen mask on its snout. That segment followed mine. Who am I to question programming flow? These moments made me smile. Life does happen to you.

In one session during the tour, I spoke to college-age women. For the first time, I spoke of my hotel assault, which I write about in chapter 9, “Grit.” I wasn’t much older than these young women when it occurred, so it was a cautionary tale for vigilance on the road. Later, one of these women pulled me aside and thanked me, with tears in her eyes. She shared that she and her parents had just gone through the courts to convict a man of raping her, and that they’d won. She was comforted to see some light in me, the ability to emerge from such a traumatic event and carry on. A few moments after that encounter, a different young woman pulled me aside and said a year ago she left her job because she was sexually assaulted by the company owner. I fear there is more going on with these assaults than any of us really know.

In one of the cities in which I spoke, a young woman named Erica wheeled up next to me during lunch with her service dog in tow, a beautiful Labradoodle named Max. We got to talking and I learned she had a skiing accident 5 years earlier, which crushed her spine. She’s 29 now, and finishing her degree in accounting. We talked of being strong. She told me of the many ways her accident had changed her view of life, and that she was often an inspiration to others, which gave her joy. Erica was full of light for me, and for others around her.

At the end of the event, I got to signing books, and Erica wheeled up nearby. I excused myself and went to her.

“You know this ‘inspiration’ business?” she asked.

“Yep, I do,” I replied.

“Well, I’m happy that I am and all, but what do I say when people tell me that?”

“You say ‘thank you’,” I answered.

“It’s hard,” she quietly admitted. I wondered if she meant all of it.

“Okay, I’ll try,” and she wheeled away, with Max by her side.

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The Stool

It was me or The Stool, and only one of us would win.

I’d gotten the good news that Bloomberg Business News wanted me on the air to talk about my new book. I’d be on Street Smart with Trish Regan, and she would interview me at precisely 4:15. Since I like to get a feel for the surroundings before speaking, Bill and I watched Street Smart many days the week before. That’s when I noticed The Stool. In all of Trish’s one-on-one interviews, the person she was interviewing sat on this backless tall stool, something that I was sure my 5 foot 2” inch frame would find impossible to mount with any kind of dignity. The whole thing was made worse by my friend Dee’s fashion advice: “Susan if you’re going to be on national TV you have to wear 4 or 5 inch spike heels.” So now I had visions of crawling up the face of this stool on stilts.

A dear friend named Angela came with me to NY that week, standing by my side and holding my hand every time I got ready to be interviewed. My friend Brenda sent me there with a friendship bag: a good luck stone, a small candle and 5 cards to open, one each morning. My friends knew I was nervous about the NY week. A lot of people think that because you work in television you’re a pro in front of the camera, but I was always behind-the-scenes. Sure I was taped a few times at HGTV for company videos, but this was different. This was live TV. What if I froze? What if I sputtered some meaningless drivel? What if I scaled The Stool but toppled off mid-answer?

Well, I didn’t rock the interview, but I did all right. As I walked out of the studio toward the green room my crazy brain started sayings things like “It might be nice if I did more of these TV interviews, I kind of like doing these, yep that went real well” – completely missing the whole point of why I was doing it at all. Until a young, fresh-faced girl who couldn’t have been more than 23 years old approached me, and reminded me. “Hi Mrs. Packard, I’m an AP here and I just saw your interview. It’s so nice to know people like you are willing to help me. Thanks for writing the book.”

The book is for all those sweet young women; it’s not for me. But sometimes I need to be reminded. Oh and the stool? I wore my boots, not the spikes, and I climbed up just fine.

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By |February 13th, 2015|Advocacy for women, Grit, Learning, Women in business|0 Comments

Wisdom, Joy and Love

It’s hard to believe that in two weeks my book will be on bookshelves. It took three years, a lot more discipline than I wanted to have, and has provided great joy.

In one of my morning readings, it suggests that what we can give to the world are the gifts of wisdom, joy and love. I’ll hit the road the first week in February talking about the book, work culture, and leadership to groups around the U.S. I’ll talk to women’s groups about what gets in the way of our advancement. With all of this, I believe I can bring some wisdom to these topics. We’re all the product of our experiences. Mine has been varied enough, and – dare I say it! – I’ve been on this planet long enough to have accumulated some nuggets worth sharing.

As for joy, when I speak, I always talk about the importance of humor, laughter, and welcoming smiles. These things humanize us; they make us accessible to those around us. And there is plenty of benefit to you, as well. Medical research abounds on how laughter dissipates anxiety and stress. The physical act itself lessens your stress load. When we were building HGTV, I’d be in a meeting with my all-male colleagues and when a really tough issue would surface, invariably one of them would “leave the reservation” and tell a story they thought was just hilarious. The others would chime in, and before I knew it, the whole room was laughing. I found this very annoying at first. “Get back on topic!” my all-business brain would scream. But I began to see that this was how these guys released stress. I began to do it too, and what do you know, laughing really did help me to gain fresh perspective, connect with the team, and feel less anxious. Joy is found in laughter.

As for love, I see that in the practice of compassion, which is a connector when I speak. As the Buddhist nun Pema Choldron says: “Compassion practice is daring.” Real compassion is a relationship between equals, both having been wounded in some fashion along life’s path. For me, that means sharing my failures and mistakes in career, as well as my successes. I once read that one should never talk about failures when the audience is eating, for God’s sake! I don’t buy that. When we can share our roads wrongly taken in life and work, it’s learning for all. And there’s some healing that comes from sharing —airing — these experiences. The key is to always learn from them.

So here I go. Thanks for all the wisdom, joy and love you’ve sent to me along this road, rightly taken.

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What the World Series Can Teach Us

Want to get ahead in your job this year? Tune in and watch the World Series. That’s not just a game you’re watching—that’s a study in three key elements everyone needs to succeed in the workplace.

1.) Grit. This is the Big Show, where it’s often the team who wants it the most that will win. That’s certainly true this year, with two wild card players, Kansas City and San Francisco, competing for the trophy. They overcame great odds. Neither underdog team had the best record in their division coming into the playoffs. What they had was the most grit.

There have been many great moments of grit in baseball. One occurred in the LA World Series of 1988, which my husband and I attended. It was game one, the LA Dodgers were playing the Oakland Athletics, and LA was down by one run in the ninth, with two men out. There was a man on base with one out left to go. It looked bleak. Dodger’s power hitter Kirk Gibson wasn’t playing due to injuries in both legs and a stomach virus. All of us fans gasped when Gibson hobbled out of the dugout to pinch hit. He batted to a full count, and a moment later he somehow powered a homerun with pure upper body strength, and raw grit. The Dodgers won 5-4, and took the World Series in five games.

The baseball field is much like the work place, the ‘playing field’ where men and women gather every day, and those with the most resilience and drive make their way to senior roles. Baseline talent gets you into the game, but it’s the grit to keep pushing that makes winners. Winning takes staying power. I tell many women I work with today that talent is necessary, but not sufficient to get us into senior roles. We also need grit.

I attended a conference a few years back where former ABC TV newscaster Meredith Vierra told a story from early in her career. One Friday her boss called her in and told her she wasn’t cutting it at the company, and he fired her. She went home very distraught, and her dad asked her what was wrong. She told him her boss didn’t think she had what it takes. He paused, then asked, “What do you think?” She thought a second, and said she didn’t agree. Then she got mad. The following Monday she walked into her boss’ office and told him she did have what it takes! He rehired her.

2.) Composure. Batters come into the box and often take a deep breath before they face down the pitcher. Pitchers, too, use deep breathing techniques to regroup on the mound, or to slow themselves down before delivering the next pitch. Hitters and pitchers who are calm and levelheaded—composed—are enormously effective. Composure is important in the workplace too. Having a calm and confident presence shows you’re grounded, and in control. It communicates to the work team that you make rational, well-reasoned decisions. Composure is important for women, because there still aren’t many of us in senior roles and like the pitcher on the mound, people are watching. Finding techniques to remain composed in the workplace is key.

3.) Win—and Lose—with Grace. Baseball teaches that winning and losing are just a part of the game, as they are a part of one’s work experience. For women, this is an especially important lesson. Most of us working today didn’t play team sports growing up like little boys did. We didn’t play with the frequency, if we played at all. So when we come into the workplace as adults, how the game of business is played out diverges dramatically. Men play to win or lose and seldom make it personal. It’s just a game. Women try for win-wins, which is a laudable goal, but rarely happens in practice. When one loses, it’s often tough not to take it personally. We learn how to lose only with practice. Then we come to see that losing means you’re in the game, you’re squarely on the playing field, and you can, and will, win next time. With more practice, it becomes easier to take loss in stride, to handle it with grace, and to step up with more grit the next time to get the win.

Baseball has some of the finest examples of taking loss with grace. Perhaps the greatest one involved an unspectacular pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, named Armando Gallaraga. In the summer of 2010, Gallaraga found himself one out away from a perfect game. He would be vaulted into the baseball elite. With two out in the ninth, Gallaraga threw a pitch and the batter connected and began running to first. Man out! Except, umpire Jim Joyce called him safe. Everyone could see it was the wrong call. The stands erupted. But what was done was done.

Before this 2014 season, there was no call review in baseball (except for homerun challenges). Gallaraga’s perfect game was lost. Later ump Joyce reviewed the tape, and saw that he’d blown the call. Meanwhile, the press hounded Gallaraga but he kept quiet. No badmouthing. No complaints. The next night Joyce umped at Comerica Park again, and Gallaraga emerged from the dugout, holding the lineup card which he walked over to Joyce, and then shook his hand. And for the first time in baseball history, a game official broke down and cried on national television. Later, when asked about it, Gallaraga had three words to say: “Everybody makes mistakes.” So Armando Gallaraga did not go down in baseball history for pitching a perfect game. Instead he’ll be remembered as a quiet pitcher who handled loss with grace and courage.

This story reminds us that loss can have little, or in Gallaraga’s case, nothing to do with one’s personal contributions. In the work setting, examples of that are group layoffs and company mergers. Learning to distinguish between losing due to team circumstance, versus losing because of one’s mistakes, is critical conditioning for senior management roles.

Mistakes, or ‘errors’ in baseball terms, are the one way that baseball teaches a unique lesson. In 1991 Baseball Commissioner Francis Vincent said “I find it fascinating that baseball, alone in all sports, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.” Mistakes are a natural part of any game we play, including the game of business. Baseball scorekeepers record errors and throw them up on the scoreboard for all to see. Errors are counted just like runs and hits—these three data points are indelible parts of the game. On our playing field/workplace, mistakes are just a part of our rigorous truth, that which says perfection is a myth, and it is errors, missteps, that teach us the most lasting lessons.

In all of these elements—grit, composure, losing with grace—baseball is a great teacher for our work lives, and perhaps our home lives too. So as the World Series gets played out this week, pay attention to the whole game. Every part has its lessons to teach.

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Lots of Drama

Throughout my career I negotiated with men, and since my work was in the cable programming industry, I followed its rules of conduct (or lack thereof) to get deals done. It was my ‘normal’, my ecosystem, if you will, in getting wins for the companies I represented.

Just recently, my friend Gina Bianchini, co-founder of Ning and inventor of Mightybell, told me to watch a great video on YouTube from Stanford’s Dr. Maggie Neale on best practices in negotiating. It was fascinating! If I were starting out fresh today, this would be the way to do it—under most conditions. I say ‘most conditions’ because here was the stark truth of my negotiating environment — most times I was David, and the guy across the table was Goliath. And a cranky Goliath at that.

One time I took my boss, CEO Ken Lowe, now chairman and CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive, to Denver to call on the largest cable company at the time. We were to begin our negotiations for the carriage of HGTV on their systems, which were necessary for us to grow to a national footprint. We waited for 2 hours before being asked to come in, which was not an accident. The client was signaling to us that this deal would be done on his time, on his terms. He was looking for a one-sided win. All his.

My experience was pretty much always like this, with the guy across the table trying to bully his way to a one-sided win. The cable guys held most of the cards because new programmers needed to build national distribution. The cable guys knew it, and they used it.

Back to Denver: we were finally called in, and the would-be customer began a monologue about non-starters for him, which were — not surprisingly — things we had to have on our side for the deal to make sense. When he finally came up for air, Ken and I asked a few questions. His answers were even more ridiculous than his monologue. It was time for some drama on my part.

I got up, declared the meeting over and Ken and I walked out. The look on the client’s face was telling: how dare this little company walk out on me! As we made our way to the airport, I told Ken we had to do that, so we could swing some leverage our way. Sure they would still control a lot of the deal, but we wouldn’t be pummeled into submission. The client called a couple of weeks later and we began some meaningful dialog. After two long years (yep, deals could take that long to extract decent terms) we had a good deal.

My point: I learned from Dr. Neale’s video is that there is another, more reasonable route one should employ when doing deals. It wouldn’t have worked for me given my market conditions, but her methods will work for most. Take a good look at her video. There’s a lot of learning there.

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Learning Confidence

I bought the latest Android phone, the S5, last week. It actually came with a printed manual. I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want to put my brain in learning mode. What if I didn’t understand something? What if I had to ask for help? I eventually pushed through my insecurity and read it. Reward: Milk Music, a great app! Another reward: the confidence of having mastered something new.

There’s a great little book out now, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know. The authors look at the neuroscience behind confidence, a critical quality of successful people. It turns out confidence is almost as important as competence to be successful. According to the science, some percentage of confidence is inborn, or genetic, and these clusters of confidence genes are found more in men’s brains than women’s.

Gee, there’s a surprise!

We women do crazy things in our brains to sabotage our success, like carrying around criticism too long, over-thinking things, and as I’ve written about before, needing every little thing to be absolutely perfect. I’ll bet if you could look inside a woman’s brain you’d see these genomes running around everywhere trying to tend to all the other little molecules. Making sure everything is running smoothly. It can be a scary place up there!

The great news is we are born with a concrete neuro highway, and we can choose to build ‘bridges’ and ‘underpasses’ to build confidence. We can choose to be confident by taking the actions to build confidence. As with most things in life, when we’re willing to take action instead of staying in a neutral zone, we grow. Being willing to put ourselves out there, taking chances — these are the actions that build confidence. Risk and fail leads to risk and succeed. Act, repeat, fail, act, repeat, succeed. We learn confidence by first taking action.

I speak of “push” a lot when I address audiences on leadership, which is putting oneself in new, often uncomfortable places so we can grow skills. We women are handicapped on two fronts getting into leadership positions: 1. Our brains are made with the genetic stuff that hinders confidence, and 2. As kids we didn’t get the repetitions with winning and losing that boys did playing team sports. If you hear enough from the sidelines “You go girl!” and “Show ‘em what you’ve got!” you begin to believe you’re a winner. You gain confidence. With success, no one has a corner on the market–men and women will win and lose in equal measure. It’s just that men are willing to put themselves out there more and try.

By pushing ourselves, we start to practice winning. We grow new skills and we start to believe in ourselves. This quiets self-doubt and adds confidence. Indeed, we’re taking action to choose it. Give it a try.

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The Healing Power of Heartbreak

In 1988, Bill and I had the thrill of our lives. We were living in LA, and we’d gotten tickets to the first game of the World Series. Our hometown Detroit boy, Kirk Gibson (now manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks), was playing for the LA Dodgers. Bill and Kirk went to the same high school, so there was a personal connection. We didn’t expect to see Kirk play because he was hurt, with injuries in both legs.

It was the bottom of the 9th, and the Dodgers were down 4 to 3, with two men out. It looked bleak. There was a hush, and out of the dugout hobbled Kirk Gibson to pinch-hit. With one man on and a count of 3 balls, 2 strikes, everything was on the line. Kirk somehow powered a swing to right field for a home run, winning the game for the Dodgers. I’ll never forget his “jog” around the bases. He could barely walk, let alone jog, but he finally made it to home plate where his team greeted him jubilantly.

Where does that kind of grit come from, that fierce competitive drive that propels someone, against all odds, to win when the game’s really on the line?

It comes from our will to win. This inner grit often springs from experiences with difficulties, and defeat. Learning from tough situations makes us stronger. Some call it the healing power of heartbreak. From these life events we grow stronger. We become the victor, not the victim.

This is important as we drive our careers because the will to win beats skill every time. Baseline talent will get us into the game. Winning, however, takes staying power. How do you handle being turned down for a raise or promotion? There’s the victim response: “They don’t like me”, or “They’re playing favorites”, or other flavors of this. Alternatively, there’s the winner’s response: “I need to understand why that just happened so next time it won’t.” What does it teach me?

A couple of times in my career I was turned down for promotions. Somehow I put on my big girl face and had meetings with the relevant managers to understand why. Such emotional maturity surprised even me. Showing up at those meetings with composure and grace did two things: 1) It gave me valuable insight I could use the next time around, and 2) It showed management I was still in the game. I wanted to win next time.

The will to win is perhaps the most powerful thing we bring to our jobs. Baseline talent will get us into the game, but will beats skill every time.

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A Big Win!

The last time my Michigan State Spartans won a Rose Bowl was in 1988. Bill and I lived in LA at the time and were newly married. He’s a Spartan too, and we went to that exciting game against USC. Last night they won again, and it was tough, tense battle all the way against Stanford, but they pulled it out!

I heard a couple of things in the coach and player interviews that struck home. At halftime we were down, and Spartans Coach Mark Dantonio said his team “needed a little more presence” in the second half to win. I asked our son Drew, a college athlete, what that meant. He said it means showing up with confidence like you know you’ll win. It means taking the field with a winning spirit.

After the big win, Spartans quarterback Connor Cook was interviewed and asked about the last couple of pivotal plays that occurred before halftime. First, Cook threw an interception, which Stanford ran back for a score. It was a huge momentum swing in Stanford’s favor. Right after that, however, he guided the offense down the field to an MSU touchdown. When asked what he was thinking as all that went down, he said “you have to have short-term memory” as an athlete. In other words, forget the last play, especially if you make a mistake, because it’s always about being present – in the moment – for the next opportunity. If you start beating yourself up over mistakes, your future play will suffer.

I was reminded of why I’m writing my book. As women, we need to think more like athletes do. They have composure and the mental fortitude to spring back from loss and get right back into the game. They bring so much more to the field than base athletic skills. Physical talent gets them a ticket to play, but then they’re competing with other athletes who have lots of talent too. It’s those with “a little more presence” that make up the winning team.

We face colleagues and bosses who have played sports, and who succeed in the workplace with the mental toughness and winning spirit they’ve practiced and honed over time. To advance in our careers, we need some practice there too.
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