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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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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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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A Lifetime of Learning

When I was studying Advertising in grad school many years back, there was also a married couple in the program. I’ll call them “The Couple” because I can’t recall their names. They were nice enough, but it sure seemed they had no social life outside of themselves and school. I had no problem having a social life outside of school, if you get my drift.

When we were close to graduating, the class began interviewing for jobs. The Couple was always a step or two ahead of the rest of us in getting the interviews, and certainly in getting job offers. One day, they were replaying for us a more challenging interview they had (who knows, maybe they interviewed as a package). But no problem, they aced it. The ad agency person interviewing had asked if they knew what the Dow Jones represented, and what the current Dow Jones average was that day. “1,200” one of The Couple replied with a smug smile. The Dow? WTF?

The Couple actually helped me a great deal. I had had no finance or accounting classes in undergrad or grad school, so I went home that day and learned about the Dow and other indices in case it came up in my interviews. It never did, but I used that knowledge in my business career.

There are many things we have no clue about coming out of school, and we can panic when we face them on the job. That’s why “on the job” means “on the job learning” too. You can learn anything if you’re not afraid to ask for help, and not afraid of the focus it takes to keep your brain engaged in continuous learning. When I became chief operating officer at HGTV, I sat with my CFO, Jim Clayton, quite often to understand what the various financial statements meant, and why this knowledge was important to our company and to our shareholders. I wasn’t ready to handle all of the financial responsibilities when I took the job, but I trusted my network of colleagues to aid me in getting me there. I asked for help.

In Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer’s 2013 memoir “My Beloved World”, she said one of the most important things she ever did was to ask for help when she needed it, and to develop mentors along the way who could keep teaching her. We may not be sitting on the Bench, but we sit at our desks and are called upon to add value. To keep advancing, be willing to learn new things, and to ask for help as you’re learning them.

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By |September 26th, 2013|Career development, Learning, Mentoring, Women in business|0 Comments

The Earth is Crammed With Heaven

I was recently given a book by my friend Angela. It has beautiful sayings and illustrations. I came across one from Elizabeth Barrett Browning that really struck me: “The earth is crammed with heaven.” This saying got me very excited about the retreat that I am co-moderating at St. Mary’s Retreat House with my friend Susan Leonard on the weekend of June 14.

Who is our retreat for and what is it about? It’s for women who are at a reflective point in their lives. We are wondering how we should spend the most precious gift we have—time—at this life stage. I left the corporate world almost three years ago, in my mid 50’s, because something new was calling me. I didn’t know what that was, but I knew I needed a life change. We can be fresh out of school, mid-career, or tending to grandkids, and we ask the same questions: What is my purpose? What is my destiny? Through exercises, group discussion, and quiet reflection, Susan and I hope to get us all a little closer to that truth.

Since I’ve left corporate America I have seen how the earth is indeed, crammed with heaven. I’ve met many new friends, especially female friends, who have enriched my life. I’ve done new work in non-profit and for-profit. I am writing a book, something I’ve wanted to do since I was 16 years old.

When my husband and I were newly married about a million years ago, we travelled to New Zealand. We befriended a guide who flew us into a remote fishing camp, and we sat the day there, catching enormous sea creatures (ok, salmon) cooked them on an open fire, and talked. Our guide said: “Look around. What do you see?” I said: “Beauty everywhere. Infinite beauty.” He nodded and said, “You Americans are always in such a hurry. You never take the time to stop, and to really see.”

Our hope for the weekend is that we can take a moment to stop, and to really see…what paths we have already travelled, and the many we have still ahead. I know one thing we will find is that the earth is, indeed, crammed with heaven, and it awaits us with its open arms.

Click here to register for the retreat at St. Mary Sewanee’s website.
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By |April 27th, 2013|Friendship, Learning, Mentoring, Relationships|0 Comments

Can you relate?

I am in the middle of writing a book for women in business. I share the good, the exciting, and the sometimes horrible, so these can be lessons as we make our climb up the ladder. I came up for air from my writing to find two prominent women have released books this year.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomajor’s book, “My Beloved World,” recounts her life as a young Puerto Rican girl growing up in the Bronx. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has written a book/manefesto for women in the workplace called “Lean In.” She argues women need to raise their hands more at work, and not drop out when we’re starting families. We also need to have our husbands carry their share of the load at home with children and chores.

I’ve had the pleasure of wading through Justice Sotamajor’s book. She surprisingly opens herself up to the reader. She shares what growing up as a poor, ethnic little girl meant for her. I could relate to her special love of her grandmother, her feeling of being out of place amongst the blond and beautiful set, and her tough resilience as she made her way. I found myself cheering for her throughout the book. You go girl! And she surely went, all the way to the US Supreme Court.

I haven’t read Ms. Sandberg’s book yet since it’s not officially released, but the NYT and WSJ have posted early reviews. In both of these, it seems the problem is not the content, but her lack of relatability. NYT: “Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgements include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey?” (2/22/2013)

I know for fact that Ms. Sandberg has done a lot for women. She has mentored them, and she has gotten them on business boards. She seems to be this fascinating person who has dodged the life most women live. I don’t intend this as a ‘poor pitiful us’ comment, but the fact is we spend much of our lives being told we can not do—play quarterback, rabble rouse, run companies—so many of us greet adulthood a bit hesitant about raising our hands. Then we work, nurture families, do the schlepping, and, as the Carly Simon song says, fix the toaster too! I’m guessing Ms. Sandberg hasn’t fixed any toasters as she’s blazed her trail. Because we have amazing grit and welcome all sorts of new learning, we make our way just fine, and live our lives well.

The content of my book has personal stories, and counsel for women. In this way it’s a hybrid of the two mentioned above. I share tales of trying to balance being a mom with work, which was never easy. Some tough things happened on the job. At one company I watched a work colleague surrender to his alcoholism, with his final act being to kill his wife and them himself. All of the things I will recount helped me to mature, and gave me better tools in managing people. Ultimately, I made my way to the corner office at HGTV. The guidance I will offer strikes me as real and relatable, given the dimensions of our lives. I can only hope that is so. The reader will be the final judge.
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More female leaders for 2013!

More female leaders for 2013!

A couple of articles sparked my thinking recently. Would love to hear your thoughts too.

First, in Forbes 12/24/12 Jenna Goudreau has an article entitled “A Golden Age For Working Women.” It’s an optimistic view of women’s future job prospects given today’s service economy. Our communication and collaboration skills are cited as critical to the future “care economy,” as futurist and author Ian Pearson calls it.

Let me start by saying that any careers allowing women opportunities to be sustain themselves financially I am all for. You go ladies!  Not every woman should—nor even wants to—rise into senior ranks of companies and eventually run them.  What does concern me is that leaning on the traditional aptitudes of collaboration and communication can box us into not pushing beyond these things. Yes, we need women as teachers, nurses, caregivers, but we also need women as secretaries of state and CEO’s. Global, financial and deep management skills are needed for these jobs.

Which brings me to the Lucy Marcus’ article, “Developing Women Leaders: Five Essentials.”  This is an excellent summary of the preparatory skills needed to advance into leadership, and it does a fine job of supporting my tagline, ‘Preparing Women Leaders’. Allow me to add a couple of ideas:

International: Yes! Living abroad and learning other cultures challenges and broadens us. They also teach us humility. As I ran International for HGTV and Food Network, it was quite humbling to see what developing nations were doing to quickly push toward excellence. When I toured Buenos Aires, it was humbling to see its exquisite beauty and Argentinian pride. When I toured Jerusalem, it was humbling to see all of that history and reverential awe in one small, contained area. International travel humbles me, and with my business sensibility I can assure you this is critical knowledge to be an effective leader, especially of a large, global corporation.

I also liked Lucy’s thoughts around mentoring, and how she defined the phases of career requiring different forms of it.  I’d add that in our final phase of career—where we are at the top of our game—we owe it to the next generation of women  to mentor them and to be advocates for them in our companies.  These are our business leaders of tomorrow.  Providing them with skills, perspective and our wisdom will enable them to break through the old barriers, and increase our numbers at the top.

More female leaders would be my fondest wish for 2013!
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