A Treasure Chest of Hope

When Bill’s dad, Stu, passed away two springs ago, we inherited his small lake house in Michigan. As we finally emerged from heavy-hearted grief, we came here to befriend the home; to take its read, and ours, while inside it for a time. What marvelous little treasures we found! Seashells from beach vacations, playbills from his yearly Canada trips to the Shakespeare Festivals, and many 10-pound tomes that only the ambitious intellect would consider reading. Stu was probably the smartest and most cultured person I’d ever met, and he chose to direct that considerable intellect toward teaching kids. Me? I chose to direct one of those 10-lb. books to prop up my makeup mirror.

He’d often use words foreign to me. “I’m tired of all the tropes being thrown around by the politicians!” Stu said one day. “Tropes? Is that, um, the plural of trollips?” I asked. He’d then beam his patient teacher smile. Stu taught me the difference between a thespian and a docent. A lover of the arts, he was both. If life were fiction, he could have easily dropped in to play a colorful role in Amos Towle’s “Rules of Civility”.

One morning Bill approached me with an excited expression on his face, carrying an oversized manila envelope. “Look what dad did!” he said, pulling out blown up, poster-size photos of pictures we’d all taken over the years. There were about a dozen of them, and they told a story of his life in some way. It’s remarkable how one’s life can be summed up so concisely, in just a few photos. Several months back I gave a TED talk and described my life in about 12 minutes, so I knew this was possible.

His choices: most were of Bill, a few of Bill with our son Andrew, one with him and our potpourri of pets, one of Bill captaining Stu’s beloved pontoon boat. There was the 1940 Packard sedan with Stu by its side, proud owner. The curious one: our infant son Andrew in the hospital just after we adopted him from Romania. A week after landing in the US, Andrew suddenly got deathly sick. We rushed him to Detroit’s Beaumont Hospital, and the kind nurses and doctors ministered to him in peds ICU for 2 weeks. The photo was taken while Andrew was on a ventilator, all wired up with the many machines needed to help him breathe and stay alive. I hadn’t looked at that picture in years. I’d never noticed before how those machines dwarfed his tiny, sickly body.

Of all the hundreds of photos Stu could have chosen to capture his life, why this one? Here’s my take: Stu was an eternal optimist. He’d come stay with us every year for the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and during these visits I rarely saw him without a smile on his face and a mission to ‘tame Knoxville’ this trip. We never knew precisely where he went when he set out each day, but he’d always come back with a chocolate malt and a great little story about the town’s goings on.

So I think that photo — one of a sick infant boy who the doctors gave less than a 50/50 chance of survival, a child who lived through all of that for Stu to love with all his heart — reminded him that we can overcome just about anything. There’s always hope, even when things look bleak. This message was an unexpected treasure, about as good as any Stu could leave behind.

Susan signature

By |August 10th, 2015|Learning, Parenting, Relationships|0 Comments

Imperfection, Revisited

I’ve gone back to Brene Brown, and her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” I have coffee with her in the morning, she travels with me, and likes to remind me of things during the day that she just told me, but I already forgot.

The latest is about what else but perfection. I blogged about the 90/10 rules a while back, and since you might forget things like I do, the 90/10 rule goes like this: it’s really better to get things 90% right than doing things with 100% precision, because the last 10% isn’t worth the time it takes. Men get this; in fact their rule is more like 60/40. But that’s another blog for another day.

The perfection thing: we all have it in various doses if we’ve accomplished anything in life, but lately I find myself in that place of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s with pencil, ink, then magic marker. Brene Brown has many definitions for perfectionism that all begin with “it’s a self-destructive behavior,“ which I do believe is true. But what she doesn’t cover is something I feel in my gut when I’m chasing perfectionism. It’s the difference between healthy striving and going into that dark place of pushing and pushing toward a good enough that is never quite within reach.

I left corporate America 4 years ago. A big driver was to find more meaning in a quieter life without a public face. So now I find myself getting ready to publish a book, and here I go again, jumping on that public mouse wheel. Are the new website colors just right? Does calling myself an ‘executive’ sound pompous and unrelatable? Does ‘Meet Susan’ sound like some Wizard of Oz character behind the curtain? There it is – that place of overdrive and overthink, making myself crazy with perfectionism. The committee in my head is alive and well, and they can’t agree on anything.

Brown says self-compassion is the answer. She says loving ourselves is the bravest thing we can do. Sometimes when I think about those 30 years in corporate America, I wonder who that person was who made her way pushing, striving, reaching for the brass ring. I don’t recall much self-compassion, which, ironically means I guess I wasn’t all that brave – except for the last act, four years ago. Leaving early was brave. Now I get the chance to find the true gifts, as Brown calls them. Courage. Compassion. Connection.

Susan signature

Nobody’s Born Smart

My crazy Greek relatives believed in folklore and wives tales, like treating a stye by putting earwax on it, or rubbing garlic on your chest for a cough. The one belief I did like was treating a toothache with whiskey, but that’s another story. With my family, everything came in 3’s—deaths, births, omens. After 2 funerals in a month, we’d all be holding our breaths for that third relative to kick the bucket.

I don’t do those things passed on to me as a child, but I do believe in 3’s. This week, the same message came to me from three different stories, all basically saying the same thing. The message: if you really want to be happy, try learning something new.

Check out this link, sent to me by a friend. The video’s gotten about 700,000 YouTube views. In it, a child is just born, then is shown moving through stages of early childhood. The narrator tells us “Nobody’s born smart. We’re born to learn. . .we try, we struggle, until one day, we walk.” And oh what a wonderful feeling that is!

Later I listened to an NPR interview, and the poet being interviewed quoted advisor and magician Merlin, known to many who have read tales of King Arthur. In T. H. White’s most famous Arthurian novel, The Once and Future King, Merlin imparts wisdom to a young, frustrated Arthur saying: “The best thing for being sad is to learn something.”

A day later an article about retirees and happiness caught my eye. The writer found the happiest retirees did simple things, like going to the library, and at leisure’s pace, reading the magazines and books on display. Simple kinds of learning, either creative, intellectual or spiritual, were all these folks needed for happiness. Anne Morrow Lindbergh tells us in her timeless book, Gift from the Sea, that “all living relationships are in process of change, of expansion, and must perpetually be building themselves new forms.”

It seems: from birth to retirement and on, learning something new is a great tonic for all of us.

Susan signature

By |September 3rd, 2014|Career development, Learning, Parenting|0 Comments

No Females Allowed?

In 2010 I watched Dr. Jane McGonagel, from the Institute of the Future, take the TED stage and share four traits of video gamers. It occurred to me: had I known of these traits a few years back, I might not have grounded my preteen son for sneaking Grand Theft Auto into the house. It also occurred to me that these traits — urgent optimism, social connectedness, and blissful productivity — were also the qualities of successful business leaders. It resonated so strongly that I wrote a book about it, which will be published next year.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that an upcoming global video gamer conference, organized by the IeSF (International eSports Federation), was banning women from participating? The conference is called Heroes of Warcraft, which is a virtual card game produced by Blizzard Entertainment. The reason the organizers gave for the ban was to avoid “potential conflicts” such as a woman eliminating a man. That would be conflict, to be sure, for the men.

This is crazy on so many levels. First, it’s not like there any physical restrictions when it comes to playing video games. I’m pretty sure women’s thumbs can move as fast as men’s. Then there’s the fact that almost half of video gamers are women. By keeping women out, they’re telling the video game console makers and marketers that their user audience should be 50% less. Good luck making that argument. Microsoft, Sony and others won’t be too excited about that result. There are also the software game makers, like Blizzard and Electronic Arts. Toss those video games out the window, ladies, and see how Blizzard reacts.

If organizing bodies thought like capitalists, instead of bureaucrats, they’d see the commercial insanity in their policies. It goes beyond just the video game makers too. The IeSF is a South Korean based organization. I drive a Hyundai Sonata. Suddenly my impression of this whole developing country, and what I buy from it, gets called into question. Am I going to turn in my car because of this? No. But serious female video gamers might think about it.

Another company that begins with A, and is the name of a fruit, might also be a little concerned. Many women who use their devices to download this game will hear of these rules and wonder: why would Apple partner with another entity that practices gender bias?

Perhaps the strangest thing about is where the competition is being held — Finland. Over the years, the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway and Finland, have been very progressive regarding women serving on corporate boards. The European Union’s largest women’s arm, called the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), does an annual report monitoring European countries and women on business boards. As of 2011, 45% of Finland’s state-owned companies have women on them. This is about triple what the U.S. has accomplished to date. Wonder if any of these gender progressive Finns made a call to the South Koreans?

Maybe so. 24 hours after word got out on the ban, social media went crazy and the tournament organizers retracted the male-only rules. I guess we women don’t pose as much of a “potential conflict” as was originally thought. Or, just maybe, they saw what a conflict we could pose just by uniting around an outdated practice.

Susan signature

Jungle Jimmy

My husband Bill agreed to be a stay-at-home dad for practical reasons: I was making more money than his teaching job afforded, and we wanted one parent home. Then the fun began.

We had settled into his being at home with our son Drew when the letter came, which I opened. It was from Drew’s school, Sacred Heart, and it informed us that “Andrew Packard has 14 tardies and this will go on his permanent record.”

“What the heck Bill???” I asked in my kind and understanding way. Drew was in kindergarten, and Bill didn’t know there were different rules for kindergarten vs. preschool. He was just hanging around in the morning with Drew, two guys in their underwear watching cartoons until they felt like heading to kindergarten.

Much of the stay-at-home parenting didn’t come naturally to Bill, but I don’t know that it comes naturally to all women either. It definitely requires a great sense of humor. When Drew got to high school, all sophomores were required to give a chapel talk. Bill and I sat in the audience, anxiously wondering what our child would say. He started out with this: “My mom wears the pants in the family, while my dad wears the dress.” I was horrified for Bill. I slowly turned to look at him, and he leaned over and whispered, “If I did it’d be a little black one.” This kind of self-effacing humor was key to how he handled his role. The rest of the speech regaled Bill, so it all came out in the wash.

Speaking of which, over the years I found Bill in the laundry room a lot. I guess he felt doing laundry was good therapy. One time I offered to take over the chore and I washed Drew’s cell phone. Who knew to look in pockets? He fired me after that. I was not meant to be a stay- at home- mom, for too many reasons to recount in a small blog. Kids pose very tough questions that I wouldn’t have had to wisdom to address, like when Drew asked Bill how conjoined twins rode a bike, or after getting the sex talk at school, Drew asked “if it could get stuck in there.” I’m really glad I didn’t have to be on the receiving end of those questions.

There were times I would come home and Bill was just worn out. It wasn’t easy, like it isn’t easy for women either. He lost his temper plenty of times. And yet, there are moments when I witness the love these two guys share, and it takes my breath away. Drew’s now a college pitcher and he still asks Bill to toss with him, and Bill trudges out there with two pairs of glasses because “it’s coming so fast I don’t want to break my nose.” But he gladly goes. They share something pretty special.

I know many women wrestle with taking an off-ramp from career to home parenting, because I’ve mentored many of them. All of life is choices. Know yourself well enough before you make them. Involve your spouse in this decision. Maybe the role makes more sense for him. It’s happening a lot more frequently today than you may realize.

Susan signature

By |June 21st, 2013|Learning, Parenting, Relationships|1 Comment