Do you know who your people are at work and why?


Your people have your back and you have theirs. They are the ones who you can be yourself with, not your role. They love what you love. They get ticked off by the same annoying people you do. They are really good at what they do. They care.

I miss my peeps. My team. My staff. My work family. We were a tight-knit group. I knew I would miss them after I quit work. It’s what made me take a very long time to step away. (The loss of income gave me less pause.) I don’t miss much, but I miss them and how we worked together.

It is the downside of leaving any job and the best aspect of office culture that doesn’t get celebrated enough.

As a department in service to others, we tried not to feed into feelings of “us against them.” But we were different. We were marketing and PR professionals inside a large higher education bureaucracy. No one really got us like we got each other.

These are the people who, with one raised eyebrow, understood exactly what was meant during a strained meeting. We had each other’s backs. We laughed at the same jokes. We were irritated by the same red tape. We sweated the same details and could see the big picture together. We respected each other.

Admittedly, we didn’t know the first thing about pedagogy or curriculum mapping. But we rocked brand standards, media buys, CRMs, SEO and knew that an organic search did not involve a run to Whole Foods.

We knew which stories would generate media buzz and which would be duds.

If you want to see real collaboration, watch a copywriter team up with a graphic designer to tackle a project, shepherded by a traffic coordinator, refined by an art director, championed by a project manager–and then delivered in a few days, on time and under budget. Now watch hundreds of those projects going on all at once. It’s pretty cool.

It bonds people.

We knew how to please difficult clients. We knew which battles to fight and which ones to surrender. We knew what everybody wanted from Jimmy John’s.

It’s natural to have silos in big organizations. We weren’t just siloed, heck, we were our own brand–to use marketing lingo. We were the outward-facing, student-championing, common sense-making, award-winning, butt-kicking marketing team. We were very good pros and very good people.

If you are lucky enough to find a core group of solid people at work…your people, recognize it’s a very special thing. If you have the chance to assemble such a team, have the courage to do it. By that I mean lose the dead weight. Bring in the best. Then fight for them. Don’t micromanage them. Expect their best. Get out of their way.

These people, my people, kept me going as long as I did.

One of them sulked for months after I announced I’d be retiring early. He gave me the stink-eye every time he saw me. I was breaking up the team, changing the ingredients of our mojo.

I see them here and there. We go to lunch or drinks. They are my Facebook friends. It’s not the same.

I miss my peeps.

Who are your people at work and why?

For the Love of this House

One of many precious moments in our backyard, frozen in time.
One of many precious moments in our backyard, frozen in time.

The famed designer Bunny Williams wrote a book titled “An Affair with a House” about her beautiful New England home. She wrote poetically about the rooms, the furnishing…every detail of the stunning house, the barn and its gardens. The photos were lush and gorgeous. Somewhat self-consciously, I suppose, she included mention of her philanthropic work lest her passion for a house meet with readers’ disapproval.

I get her.

Home, dressed for the holidays.
Home, dressed for the holidays.

I love my house as though it were a breathing, living being. I’ve felt guilty about that too. What a materialistic and shallow thing it is to care so much about a house. But I do. We built it 12 years ago. I bought the empty lot one day when my husband was out of town.

Trust me, I said. I was never so certain of anything. The twins were in diapers.

I grew up in a mid-century modern house with terrazzo floors, low ceilings and three bathrooms, each with a bathtub of a different color. I dreamed of my own little play house in the backyard with wood floors and a porch. Every year, it was the only item on my letter to Santa.

Of course, my sensible (and wonderful) parents, raising five kids, had no way to deliver such an extravagant gift. They had better things to do than indulge my early house love. As a kid, of course, I didn’t understand.

Get lost, Santa. I’ll make my own house.

And I did. I imagined every detail of how this house would look and how it would live. And then I set out to create it.

It has both a front and a back staircase. There’s a cool little attic room with pine floors that an artist came down from Jacksonville to paint in a checkerboard pattern. It has a laundry chute that we use every day. I bought the hanging pendants in the kitchen from Urban Archeology in New York.

I picked the Calacatta marble for the kitchen counters, over the objections of the installer, Giuseppe, who told me it wouldn’t hold up to daily use. It has.

The limestone that forms the pool coping was delivered by a sweet kid who drove it from Indiana and unloaded his truck in our backyard, wiping the sweat from his brow. You weren’t kidding that it’s really hot here in June.

Every feature has a story. A few years ago when the real estate market shook the economy and with it our certainty that we could afford to live in this house forever, I readied myself to sell it.

Right after my mother died, I floated the idea to my realtor friend. What the hell. It’s just a house. Life is short. We can be happy in any house. There’s no reason for so much financial stress.

Within days we had an offer. We accepted it. I promptly fell apart. I can’t quite explain the irrationality of my overwhelming grief in those days after we signed the contract. But I went off the deep end. Too much loss.

My mother won’t know where I live, I cried to my bewildered husband. It was supposed to remove a burden and instead it felt like it had ripped out my core, leaving me a slobbering, babbling puddle of incoherent, broken-hearted mush.

On a technicality, we managed to get out of the contract but not until lawyers got involved, lawsuits were threatened and one particular realtor hated our guts. My dear friend, thank God, graciously supported us. The buyers, not so much. They ended up in the house across the street. Needless to say, they don’t have us over for barbecue.

My salary these last five years, before I stopped working, helped us hang on to the house I love so much. I’m really proud of that. It matters to me. It is my work of art. How many times in life do we continue to adore a thing long after we get it?

It is the backdrop of my best life. It is the house that routinely attracted neighborhood kids on hot summer days to jump in this pool. My kids learned to ride bikes and skates and scooters on these sidewalks.

A long driveway helps get momentum going.
A long driveway helps get momentum going.

Our big extended family started the corny Christmas talent show tradition in this family room. We rode out Hurricane Charley with my mom and dad in this family room. My elegant mother, having forgotten her nightgown and wearing my husband’s oversized black t-shirt emblazoned with the words “El Guapo,” (the ironic nickname for Boston Red Sox pitcher Rich Garces) nearly peed in her pants, laughing so hard upon glimpsing herself in the mirror in this guest room.

I brought home a trembling eight-week old puppy, thrilling the kids who came home from kindergarten to find him on this back porch.

Max the dog, in a favorite hangout.
Max the dog, in a favorite hangout.

Our neighbor, J.P., beginning at age six, made himself right at home…answering our phone or grabbing a Gatorade from our fridge in this kitchen. Countless blanket forts were erected during sleepovers with cousins in this playroom.

At least eight kids ran up the stairs to watch a magnificent nighttime space shuttle launch from this balcony. We’ve thrown some great parties here. Giggly second graders dropped into the water in a rented dunk tank, squealing with delight in this driveway. Darting boys wearing eye black and shooting air soft guns, played Man Hunt after dark in this backyard.

I set the table on fire when I knocked over a candle during a dinner party, recovering nicely, in time to serve dessert in this dining room. Curiously, that was NOT one of the two times the fire department was summoned here–first after the baby sitter left the gas on and another time after I forgot to open the chimney flue and lit a fire, filling the house with smoke. The 911 operator says to get the dogs out, my frantic daughter screamed as we escaped near disaster and certain embarrassment.

My next door neighbor brought his two young sons over to this house, their eyes wide with unimaginable fear, the night their mom would die after a long battle with cancer. My troubled Aunt Yara spent her last day, happy, watching a Gator game and eating dinner before suffering a stroke while sitting in this house. It is these walls that sheltered each of them on those two dreadful days.

Homebody that I am, there’s nowhere else I would rather be.

I know nothing stays the same. Those sad little boys next door grew up to be happy, great kids but the family just sold their house and moved away last week without saying goodbye. J.P.’s parents, who became our friends, divorced a few years ago and they too moved away. None of those kids who watched the space shuttle arc in the night sky live in this neighborhood anymore, except mine. Space shuttles don’t blast into the sky anymore.

Maybe we should still sell it. But I can’t think about that now. And I hope it’s not right after the kids go off to college in four years. I need this to be the nest that gets emptied in one fell swoop…this house that welcomes them home with their piles of dirty laundry and new friends.

I prefer to imagine a lot more living and laughing and crying…and growing old here. Someday I will be able to let it go.

I wouldn’t want to end up a ghostly figure peering ominously at future occupants from a window, like Nicole Kidman’s character in the last scene of The Others, defiantly whispering…this is my house.

Then again…

A different kind of cleanse

image

Cleanses are all the rage. Take your pick. Colon Cleanse. Liver Cleanse. Master Cleanse. Ten-Day Smoothie Cleanse. Juice Cleanse.

Flushing out the gunk and starting fresh seems to make such logical sense for our bodies. Cleanses have an obvious appeal.

Removing what makes us feel sluggish and tired is made to sound as easy as mixing ingredients in the right measures, drinking up and letting nature take its course. A cleanse appeals to our desire for a quick fix to whatever ails us…a simple recipe for feeling healthy and vigorous.

But how often do we consider a Life Cleanse to remove the toxins in our spiritual selves…our actual lives? How do we approach a detox of our souls that have been crammed over time with spiritual gunk, too much muchness?

Too many channels. Too many obligations. Too many problems. Too many solutions. Too many perspectives. Too many choices. Too many news reports of all the world’s tragedies and evils settling into the crevices.

I have found myself wanting to get to it already…the discoveries, the elusive peace of mind, the clear-eyed wisdom. The joy. Come on…the clock is ticking. I want the answers. OK enlightenment, I’m ready.

But I’m not ready. I need to make room. I need to cleanse. Edit. Remove. Take away a lot more.

Cleaning and ordering are activities that mirror something internal in my spiritual escape and I will write about that a lot. I am a natural editor. I like removing the superfluous in written copy and in a decorated room. I go back and remove words and reduce the content of these posts many times. My eye prefers an airy room and spare counter tops.

I love white space. The blank page. That split second of black screen before a film starts. The pregnant pause.

It’s essential to remove before I add or maybe just stop at the removing.

Leave room for the Holy Spirit the nuns told us at our Catholic School dances of my youth. Hmmm. They were on to something.

Why I make my teenagers’ beds.

Since I stopped working, I have a new daily routine. After dropping my kids off at school, I come back home and turn into the Ritz Carlton housekeeping staff.

Beds get made with the top sheets folded back and tucked tightly under the mattress. Pillows are fluffed. Bath towels are picked up off the floor, washed, folded and hung on their respective towel bars. I wipe away dried toothpaste in the bathroom sinks and snap open the blinds.

All the laundry gets sorted for each child, washed, folded neatly and put away.  My goal is an empty laundry hamper every single day. I figure that if I stay on top of it during the week, there will be no laundry to do on weekends for a change. No more frantic search for Wednesday’s mandatory “dress” uniform. It’s right where it should be, hanging in the closet.

image

Then the kitchen is cleaned up from breakfast, the dishwasher is emptied and the dogs are fed. It takes most of the morning.

And I enjoy it. It’s really very satisfying. Don’t judge me.

I went from making Power Point presentations that help trustees make strategic decisions to folding practice jerseys that make getting out the door easier for two teenagers.

Is it as important? No. It’s more important. I love these two people. They have one mom, one home…one escape of their own.

Now, I did none of this while I was working, of course. I rushed out the door right alongside them each morning, no time to care about what was left behind except to wonder if I’d turned off the flat iron.

By the way, we have a signed contract with our kids that specifies if clothes are found on the bathroom floor, the culprit loses cell phone privileges for a day. So I spent a lot of evenings announcing, I’m about to go upstairs! There are no clothes on the bathroom floors right? Followed by the sound of footsteps racing to beat me to the scene of the crime.

I used to get ticked off at the idea of making the beds for perfectly able-bodied 14-year-olds. No way should we take their laundered clothes upstairs, much less put it away or pick it up from the bathroom floor. How will they learn? More typically, I would get annoyed at the messes that seem to trail them through the house, yelling at them that they were slobs and needed to do their part.

Can you guys please take your clothes upstairs already…and your shoes?

But here’s the thing: I’ve started to really see what their days are like these past few weeks. I mean I can feel the pressure and stress they are under. These kids are so over-scheduled and overworked that if I can give them a backdrop of comfort and ease…even of beauty, it seems to me they will become accustomed to that kind of order and do it for themselves as adults. Maybe it will irritate them to see ugly messes and they’ll be compelled to tidy up their dorm rooms. Maybe not.

I do it for them anyway. I do it out of love.

I didn’t make a big deal about it. I just did it. I curbed my complaining too. I heard my daughter squeal in surprised delight one night when she went to her room, Look at my closet!

Last night that sweet girl came home from softball practice close to 7 p.m., hungry and exhausted after a very long school day. She quickly showered, ate dinner and started on her nightly homework marathon.

First she tackled a five-minute speech on the end of World War II which she is delivering as though it were a news broadcast. The BBC didn’t put that much thinking into the actual coverage. It was ten minutes too long. She rehearsed it in a British accent. Then she tried it in the clipped, formal style of American news reels of the era.

It’s enough baby. It’s great. Stop. 

When I went to bed after 11 she was still working at the kitchen table, bleary-eyed and close to tears, finishing Algebra. Her brother had wrapped it up only moments earlier. I could barely keep my own eyes open and she still had to find x.

I went upstairs, turned down the sheets on her bed, layered in her favorite Camp Seafarer blanket and placed a chocolate on her pillow.

Rules of Disengagement

I had a great a professor many years ago in a philosophy course who told us on the first day of class that he would grade us on how we engaged the material. It wasn’t enough to do the readings and assignments. You had to participate in class…contribute to the discussions…add something of value. It was a small class and you couldn’t just get by. He expected more.

I started to think of God as the ultimate great professor who would one day peer into my soul and ask: How did you engage the material, Lucy? I gave you a lot to work with.

You can’t bullshit God.

What am I doing with my gifts? How do I affect the people who come into my life? How am I engaging the abundant material all around me?

That’s an empowering perspective because it puts us in the position of taking an active role in the quality of our souls. It’s up to us to do the work, make the effort. It lets me see God as a benevolent teacher, gently nudging us to be more.

It is Week Two of my great escape. Already the voice in my head admonishes me. I haven’t made a decent To Do List. I haven’t started a work out regimen. (I did download the 7-Minute Workout. Apparently scientists have discovered a 7-minute workout is more effective than an hour. I may hold out for the discovery that merely thinking about working out is more effective than actual exercise.)

Engagement. It is ubiquitous today. It was the point of our social media campaigns at the college where I worked. How can we better engage students? Data show that students who are engaged (meet with professors, join clubs, etc.) persist at higher rates than those who don’t. Love Does is the name of a book I just finished, not Love Rests.

Every morning since I stopped working, my son Jake asks jokingly, “What are you doing today, huh Mom?”

Is it OK to disengage? Is it a weakness or character flaw? Is it a kind of failure? Is God wagging his almighty finger thinking, “Luuucy, you got some ‘splainin to do.” My house is very quiet. No one is home. The TV is off. No one is demanding anything of me right now. Even the dogs are disinterested in my presence. I am only today starting to feel I can exhale.

It is blissfully OK. I think maybe God has my back on this. Here’s my To Do List today:

1. Don’t look at Facebook.

2. Make the bed.

3. Visit Dad and just hold his hand.

4. Drop off the Brisket I made Pat and Jamie.

5. Take a nap.

Zen and the art of closet organization

Mud room
I read that a YouTube video blogger is making $5 million a year opening toys on camera. That’s it. Apparently there is a vicarious thrill that comes from watching her manicured nails slice open the packaging and assemble toys.

My son watches YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft or FIFA. I didn’t get it. Until I discovered there are YouTube videos of people teaching us how to organize closets and drawers. I was hooked.

There is one lady who shows you how to fold your shirts into perfect squares and then she rolls them up into these beautiful, little packages that sit up perkily in the drawer. Picture it. There is no pile of folded shirts to mess up when pulling one out from the bottom.

Ingenious.

I sat transfixed with that video, filing away the technique in my head. Someday, I too shall roll up shirts into colorful works of art, as God is my witness. Let it be written that my hangers will all match.

There is a definite correlation between the condition of my closet and the state of my soul.

So my daughter Hannah came home from school Wednesday and discovered I had organized the mud room. She laughed, saying, “Darla was right!” Darla is my former colleague and friend forever. Those two hit it off at my going away party, speculating about how I would spend my new found time.

Our mud room is carved out of a side entrance and has a built in bench with drawers for socks, baskets underneath for shoes, hooks for the dog leash. You get the idea. Only for several years it was just a fully exposed junk drawer, accumulating assorted books, retainer cases, a single drumstick without its match. The hooks strained under the weight of every coat we own, Sports Authority bags holding items we once intended to return…the dry cleaning bag.

The baskets overflowed with broken flip flops, old sneakers and water shoes. Who wears water shoes?

image

Today it is worthy of a spread in Real Simple. The shirt rolling lady has nothing on me.

Damn, I should have videotaped it.

Eat, Pray, Love

A toast to saying "yes."
A toast to saying “yes.”

Ok, no one would read a book titled Sleep, Read, Carpool.

A great escape could use a great trip. Get this: On my last day of work, my nephew Kevin and his beautiful wife invited me to have a toast to my new chapter as I start this sabbatical or retirement or Year of Living Selfishly. I found them at an outdoor market sipping wine with my brother and his wife, planning a trip to Italy this summer to stay at a villa in Umbria. There’s a room for you and Scott. Want to come?

Kevin is a really cool guy. I taught him how to drive stick shift when he was 15, back when cars were stupid and couldn’t park themselves. Now he’s all grown up, married. They have three kids. Kevin and Missy are two of the most wonderful people I know. Idealistic. Kind. Fun. They said the only rule for the trip is we must to say “yes, and…” to every adventure, like the rules of improv.

He showed me a video of the house with the voice of Andrea Bocelli playing in the background. Oh, and the trip starts in Rome with a private tour of the Sistine Chapel.

Really?

I have until today to decide and here’s the conversation in my head:

Do we have the money? Good Lord, I just quit my job.
Can I bring myself to leave the kids behind?

Ok, one kid will be away at camp.

What if we die in a plane crash?
I can expand my soul right here, going to Outback for dinner.
What are you nuts?

Kevin, YES, and…let’s learn Italian.

Day One

View from my new office
The view from my new office.

No one knows how they got to the top of the hill.
Since we’re only here for a while, might as well show some style.
Isn’t it a lovely ride? Sliding down. Gliding down.
Try not to try too hard, it’s just a lovely ride.

—James Taylor, Secret ‘O Life

At 55 and at the pinnacle of career success, I realized I needed out not up, less not more. I couldn’t do it one more day. So I did it for six more months, setting myself up financially to exit my job as vice president of marketing at a college.

I used to tell my team members to “trust your gut” but I had been ignoring mine a very long time. The turning point? The morning I sobbed the entire way to work…and could not stop.

It seems to me there are two very different kinds of work challenges. One kind requires you to grow and expand who you are…the other to diminish or reduce yourself. Tackling them may initially feel the same, calling upon the same ingenuity and discipline, intelligence or grit, but they are not the same.

Here’s a clue: Are you invigorated by the energy invested…or depleted? My big job with its big salary and big title had started to require me to become smaller. Over time it caused me to mute my voice. Avoid conflict at whatever cost.

There was a cost. I finally listened to my gut that morning when the floodgates opened. Get out.

I missed my kids too. I missed chunks of their days. Everything was compartmentalized, squeezed into Outlook calendar entries. Each week was a different carpool arrangement, finding moms or dads to pick up and drop off. I came home late, too tired to cook, resentful of the scarcity of time and energy. My daughter was struggling through Middle School social issues and problems I had missed. Teens don’t just tell you what’s going on in their hearts on your timetable. Your antenna needs to be tuned in to the nuanced signals they send. My antenna had collapsed.

Nothing felt like a lovely ride.

So I have bought myself time. The funds may only last for a couple of years. But I hope what I gain will stay with me my whole life. I escaped from something that over time caused me damage. Now I will take the time to figure out why…and what really matters…what makes my soul expand.

I have these two great kids, a very good man as my husband and partner…and wonderful family and friends supporting me…on my great escape.

What would you do if you just had the luxury of more free, truly free time?