Eyes Up #13 – #MakeItHappen – Hell Yeah!

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As I contemplated the messages from this year’s International Women’s Day, I realised the reason I haven’t been blogging for a few weeks is because of the sheer amount of interesting events I’ve been attending and the interesting people I’ve been meeting and hearing from.  IWD has become a high profile event in the calendar and a fantastic catalyst to examine how we are both recognising the contribution of women in our society and taking personal accountability for championing change.  This theme was highlighted in my last post, and my recent observations have reinforced my belief that we can all Make Things Happen for ourselves.

A year ago my commitment on IWD 2014 was to ensure I started meaningful conversations on how the way we interact is subject to our own conscious and unconscious biases – most of which are a product of our cultural background and upbringing.  Now I used to consider this type of statement as strictly belonging to the school of political correctness and hence having no real meaning in my life – but one incident a few months back made me reconsider.

A work colleague came into the office with her two young children, a girl just starting school, and a pre-school boy.  As a mother of boys, I naturally was captivated by the mini-man figure with all his bravado and apparent technical prowess with my own work computer.  But when the 6 year old girl had finished drawing a beautiful picture on my desk, I was quick to say how great it was.  She then said something that surprised me – “this picture is for you to take home and show your husband”.  Now that was a lovely thought – but the fact is, at the age of 6, she had no idea of my marital status or even my sexual orientation – she simply assumed, from her own stable nuclear family background, that any woman of my age would have a husband waiting at home, just for the purpose of congratulating me on my day.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no wish to question this lovely image in her mind.  But to me, IWD is about the possibilities for all women to be empowered to live the lives they chose at the time they chose in the way they chose – and to be able to fully realise their potential without the hinderance of bias and discrimination.  All of us grow up with our own experiences colouring our view of what we are and what we are capable of –  which brings me to the “Hell Yeah” moment.

Last month I was fortunate enough to attend a function in aid of 7 times World Surfing Champion Layne Beachley’s Aim for the Stars foundation.  Layne was on a panel of illustrious Australian female sporting stars that evening, and she was asked the question of how she choses between the many options she is now presented with of where to spend her valuable time.  I really loved her response, which was that if unless her natural reaction to a request is “Hell Yeah” she really thinks carefully before accepting.

I’ve taken the “Hell Yeah” as a call to action for how I want to progress in my own life and the example I want to give for my children.  If something feels right and I think I have the potential to do it, I will take a chance even though I don’t have the expertise.  If I can help someone else with a difficult time through sharing my own experiences, I will put myself out there and tell my story.  If I can show my children I can exhibit of tolerance and acceptance, I will try my hardest to demonstrate those traits.  I will not live my life wishing I had been something more, I will be something more.  I have a personal responsibility to show the next generation what it means to be the best you can be, however that looks.

It may be one day at a time, but I will not die wondering.  I WILL #makeithappen.

Hell Yeah.

 

Eyes Up @ Darden #2 – Strategy, Self Awareness and 27 women – 27 opinions!

I’m writing another entry again today as I fear tomorrow night the pressure of the business simulation may take over!  What a day we had today…. it is so long (23 years to be exact) since I sat in a purely academic environment and just soaked it up without being under a particular company banner.  Even though the subject matter is directly related to my day to day life, it feels slightly liberating and a little bit self indulgent at the same time.  But more later about female guilt and inferiority complexes…

When you put 27 diverse women in a room even for an hour, you’re always going to have some interesting times… and we’re certainly on a voyage of discovery.  There are people here from industry, government agencies, the military, hospitality and of course finance – to name a few – and they come from legal, accounting, marketing, operations and many other disciplines.  Add to this they have come from the UK, various parts of the USA, Nigeria, Turkey, Dubai and of course Australia, and you can see that despite the gender similarities, there are many differences.

The day started with a 2.5 mile power walk in the dark – it was about 7 degrees out so we needed to walk fast….. the keener exercisers ran or swam even earlier.  Then straight into a day of strategy and leadership case studies covering Taren Swam (Nickolodeon), Christine Day (Starbucks/LuluLemon) and finally words of wisdom from Sheryl Sandberg.  The learning style at Darden is interactive – there is nowhere to hide in the room.  Each Professor teaching showed accomplished presentation skills and challenged us to respond and comment on the written material and further questioning.  It was amazing how many different views there were on each of these well known leaders – particularly when we were asked if we would like to work with these people ourselves, or what the message/story was that was being told.  There were some very strong views and considerable emotion in the room on several points.

With 27 women in the room, sometimes it felt like there were 27 opinions… I was left wondering how the discussion would have been with an equal representation of men in the room.  It seemed as if every point made could be applied equally to men in certain circumstances, and some members of the group alluded to this being  the case in their areas of expertise where men frequently take a back seat.  But I think we’ve all felt the female imposter syndrome at some point plus a healthy dose of parent guilt for those of us who have been working mothers.

My main takeaway was that we need to be very careful how we judge, as without self awareness of our own natural and often unconscious bias, we may be too quick to interpret words, actions and appearances, and our emotions may take over our ability to walk in the other person’s shoes and see their point of view.

In case I don’t post again for a couple of days, I thoroughly recommend this TED talk to you all – especially if you’re a parent.  It’s about creating a growth mindset to encourage learning and change awareness, and is beautifully presented by Eduardo Brinceno: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote of the day from the Professor who presented to us on Strategy:

“Strategy is the MSG of the Business world” – nicely put!!

Eyes Up @ Darden – #1 – the honeymoon is over!

Welcome to the first special edition of Eyes Up – coming to you as I attend the Women’s Leadership Program at the Darden Business School, University of Virginia – yes that is in the USA!  I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship by the Women in Banking and Finance (WiBF) organisation and TurksLegal in Sydney to attend this well renowned program this year, so for the next week this blog will share my progress and thoughts during the course.

The honeymoon really is over as this trip gave my new husband Mark and I the opportunity to spend a beautiful 6 days holidaying in New York – a place neither of us have visited for some time.  It really has come a long way – last time I was there, anywhere below 42nd St was a no go zone for tourists.  We had a great time seeing the sights, catching up with some old friends of Mark’s, eating, drinking and of course shopping… good job I left some space in my bags when I left Australia – thanks to 25% off at DvF yesterday, I should now be the best dressed person on this course!

I’ve just arrived in Charlottesville to a chilling but sunny autumn day – the guy at the airport apologising profusely as I had to wait a whole 15 minutes for a cab …. he has obviously never been to Sydney Airport. Was I supposed to tip him?  Never quite sure here.. The countryside is rolling green hills and paddocks around here and everyone seems relaxed – everyone except the other attendee for the course I met at reception – we both exchanged names quickly then muttered quietly “Please tell me you haven’t done ALL the reading yet…”  Sighs of relief all round as we both realised that everyone is probably in the same boat given the mountain of pre-work and assignments that arrived just as I went on vacation – I’m blaming the dodgy hotel internet connection for my slackness but the tequila may have had a say in that too.

Tonight’s welcome dinner starts soon – we have to present our 40 character “Tweet” saying what we want to get out of the program.  The only time I tweet is when I post a link to this blog so I had a practice go last week – it appears even my typical text messages go for longer than 140 characters!  After some thought (and another Martini) I came up with this:

My #bigbreak when & how? #untappedpotential #needsponsors

This was actually a challenging exercise – the pre work has involved watching Sheryl Sandberg’s well known address from 2013 again (http://www.hbs.edu/about/video.aspx?v=1_u93gc4ho if you haven’t seen it) – I’m having to face the fear of looking like an idiot in even coming up with the tweet!

The other confronting piece of pre-work was a best self exercise.  This involved asking a large circle of family, friends and work colleagues to give up to 3 examples of when they’ve seen me at their best and what traits they admired.  I had to write my own version first then interweave themes from the feedback in the final version – very hard to look at yourself that way, it would be much easier to ask what I did badly!  But extremely rewarding to get the feedback and realise that some things I thought people never noticed, they actually did.

So here I go off to make friends with the other attendees  – who are probably also sitting in their rooms right now desperately reading up for tomorrow…I’ll keep you posted as time allows…. wish me luck and let’s hope I can keep my Eyes Up!!

Eyes Up #10 – I believe in YOLO, but I still iron my sheets?

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Yes it’s true.  I iron my sheets…  even on evenings like today when I have better things to do.  We all have things we do that no one else understands, and that is just one of mine.

I’ve found YOLO (that’s “you only live once” in case you’ve been living on another planet recently) a very interesting and useful acronym.  I never really understood the “LOL” plague – which had to be used with caution as it could mean either laugh out loud or lots of love depending on the context.  But YOLO really strikes a chord with me when I’m walking the line between the plan ahead, risk averse culture of my upbringing and the current generation of knowing and doing everything now before it’s too late.

To me it’s the modern version of “don’t die wondering” – if you get an opportunity, take it, as it may not come along again.  Quite a few years ago, after a few drinks, I agreed to go skydiving in place of someone else.  Great idea late one night, not so good when strapped to a madman about to jump out of a plane -I did obtain a new understanding as to why people become addicted to the adrenaline rush – but I definitely won’t be back.  But 3 years ago when I tried surfing, despite not being a water person, I discovered a new passion which has become a life changing outlet for me – all an unexpected side effect of another dare set over drinks (is there a theme there?)

But the other side of YOLO is that we need to consider the way we are living and how it impacts others in our home and workplace.  We really only get one shot at this, so as discussed in Eyes Up #9, do we want to demonstrate generosity of spirit and kindness to others and to ourselves?  In most case the answer is yes.  Particularly in the workplace this can be hard to do – balancing career opportunities with our home lives is another challenge.  I know I’ve missed some of my children’s school events because I was at work, particularly when they were younger, and as they’ve grown I’ve realised those moments will come round less and less.  So whilst I can’t be at every game and every art show, or help out at every function, I now prioritise things differently to ensure I will be involved in their school lives wholeheartedly.

So back now to my sheets – which are still waiting for me when I finish this blog.  Why do I bother to iron them? Because I love the feeling of getting into a freshly made bed with crisp sheets, and if I only live once, I want to get that feeling as often as possible.

 

Eyes Up #5 – Help! I forgot my socks!

20140509-135943.jpg When I wrote a long list of possible blog topics, decision making featured heavily. So as a veteran of 4 previous posts now, and a select but illustrious following, I set out to communicate some of my thoughts on how good decisions are made. Trouble was, I couldn’t decide on an approach, and my drafts were rambling, disconnected garbage. But then, a sudden moment of clarity – I forgot my socks! Rushing to the gym at lunchtime, not feeling overly enthusiastic, I pulled open my bag to find singlet, shorts, shoes… But NO SOCKS! Sharp intake of breath, roll of the eyes, (silent) mild cursing…. Sure, the socks are not 100% essential to the workout – missing shorts for example cannot be overlooked – but training without socks means discomfort, smelly shoes and potentially blisters…… a decision had to be made. The choices were: 1. Great excuse to skip the workout – I’m not that keen anyway 2. Buy new socks 3. Wear shoes without socks At this point my rational brain took over… Here was the analysis: 1. I need a workout badly due to excessive chocolate and wine intake and to relieve a frustrating morning 2. I have lots of socks at home, buying more would be wasteful 3. My shoes are comfy, only worn by me, and the workout is weight training not a 10k run Result? Decision taken to go ahead without the socks, I returned a tired and much happier human with the added glow of having triumphed in such adverse circumstances. This trivial example contains for me all the elements of good decision making. I had a problem and analysed the choices rationally. But most importantly, once the facts were laid out – in particular the comfy shoes I had that day – I was able to follow my intuition which was screaming “you NEED to exercise today, NO excuses!!”. So trust the facts as you perceive them, follow your heart, and even if it doesn’t work out quite as planned – I could still have got a blister you know – you’ll know you’ve set yourself up to take the best possible decision. I’d love to hear any other decision making pointers you have as I’m sure I’m going to revisit this topic! @eyesup2014

Eyes Up #4 – Believing you’re a success when you’re not the best

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Our tendency in life is to measure ourselves against those we see as being the “best” – those who are number 1, those getting attention for their achievements from others either publicly or in our own circles at home and work.  Us women in particular are our own harshest critics, rarely prepared to look objectively at ourselves and constantly comparing all aspects of our lives with others, often with a very negative slant.  Our cultural upbringing seems to deem it inappropriate to play down our achievements and skills – we don’t want to be seen to blow our own trumpets, and talking about things we know we’re good at seems boastful.

 

This goes beyond basic self confidence to not only how we measure ourselves but whether we truly believe we have been successful. I was involved in elite sport from the age of 18, playing in an U21 national side and then in the senior reserve side for several years.  I trained hard, played hard, and harboured longstanding ambitions to run on just once for the senior national side – something I never achieved.  In my mind, I’ve always seen this as a failure as my final goal was never reached – and since moving countries where no one knows my background, it is something I rarely mention or discuss.

 

It wasn’t until my family mentioned proudly to my kids that I had represented my country, that I saw things in a different light.  My focus had been on achieving the elusive goal of getting a spot, just once, in that national team.  It was a great stretch goal, but not achieving it didn’t mean my sporting career was not a success.  I played at that level for over 5 years, whilst working as a graduate in an investment bank and completing my accounting qualification.  I trained late in the often frosty evenings, practicing skills, fitness, strength training, battled a run of injuries – I always felt I could have done more, but not many of my work contemporaries were running 800m reps at 9pm in the middle of winter!  On the flip side – very few of my fellow athletes were in such demanding jobs – they were students, trainee teachers with ample vacations and more flexible hours.  And the most important factor was, I was not the best player, the most talented, the fastest or the strongest.  I was very good – but not quite good enough for that number 1 team.

 

So what have I learnt?  My sporting career was a success, just not against the harsh benchmark I set myself.  I learnt a lot about practice, hard work, juggling priorities, and working in a team.  But my biggest takeaway was that I have the ability to be a leader.  My favourite memories from those days are from my university side, which I captained to the national championship.  We had no coach, so strategy, team selection, game day tactics and motivation were all down to me.  We came back from a several goal half time deficit to win the Grand Final in extra time – as well as scoring 3 crucial goals myself, I truly felt like I had personally turned the team around.

 

I’ve found myself dipping back into the feelings generated by that day many times – savouring what success felt like, but also recalling the tougher side to leadership, taking risks on selecting the team, having hard conversations with those who didn’t make it into the line up, and how vulnerable I felt trying to motivate the team when we were in a losing position– followed by how sweet it was when we were, for one moment, truly number 1 – undeniably successful in our small corner of the world.

 

This experience has served me well over the years, and influenced me greatly in my actions when managing teams and making decisions.  I’m still not the best, whatever that looks like – but I can continue to be successful if I build on my strengths and experience going forward.

I’d love to hear comments and feedback on the definition of success!  Comment on the blog or on twitter @eyesup2014.

Eyes Up #3 – Life is like a box of chocolates…..

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If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump, you’ll smile as you remember the line “My Momma always said, Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

As a control freak, my advice would be “look at the inside of the lid Forrest, you’ll see exactly what you’re getting, no surprises”.  My rational side says don’t take the risk, do your research, consider your choice, look for your favourite first, and so on.

But this approach, whilst “safe”, misses the mark – unless you have a serious food allergy, ANY chocolate is a fabulous treat – and there is the chance you may be surprised by trying something new and finding you really love it.

At some time in our lives, it seems most of us stop taking risks and stick to what we know and are comfortable with.  Of course, I’ve encouraged my kids to “try things” when I’ve considered it appropriate – try this fish, or a different vegetable, a new sport or a new musical instrument; their privileged upbringing allows them many opportunities.  It’s easy to discuss how stepping outside our comfort zone – just a little – has benefits at home and work.  But what happens when life serves up things we didn’t plan for and can’t control?  Serious illness, accidents, redundancies, relationship breakdowns, financial problems.  These things have not been packaged up and delivered with a bow from Cadbury online; they happen to ordinary people we all know each and every day, often out of the blue.

This is the point where I think Momma Gump has it right.  Life is unpredictable; you can plan and try to control what you can, but as Forrest’s story shows, eventually amazing things can happen as a result of even tragic events.  In my case, the movie wasn’t enough – when crisis hit me hard I needed several well qualified medical practitioners, some medication and some very good friends to get my mind to realise the glass is ALWAYS half full.  But once that realisation really hit home, it has become incredibly powerful in all areas of my life.

Growing up in England I was hardly a water baby – once living in Sydney, I was at best suspicious of the surf – by no means comfortable in the water.  But my newly liberated, post medicated self was persuaded a few years ago to take up the challenge to try surfing.  Totally ridiculous you might think – but that first day getting pounded in the white water unleashed a previously hidden surf chick, and struggling bruised (and bleeding!) from the shallows that first day I had unexpectedly found a new passion.

If you’d told me even 5 years ago what my life would look like today, I would have chuckled politely, rolled my eyes and shown you to the door.  Sure, I’ve been to some dark places, and challenges exist very day – but life is surprising, delightful and full of unexpected joy – largely because I no longer look at the inside of the chocolate box lid, I keep my eyes up and just dive on in.