On Powerful Words

chandelier photo

I connected with my law school mentor this week. It’s been a while since we were in touch. She shared some good news I wanted to hear, and I shared a link to the panel on creative writing projects by prisoners INCARCERATED PERSONS I attended last week.

It was just a few emails, sent back and forth while we were each doing our own regular work. Nothing important, really. I asked about her daughter’s first year away at college; she asked how my husband’s job was going and if we’d fallen in love with Chicago yet. [Quite well, and yes! a little more every day.] She asked about my current work, and I wrote back about my ongoing project and how I was surprisingly very happy even though I wasn’t currently practicing law. She replied,

Wow, [pink-briefcase] — that is amazing. Those are some incredible skills you are learning. What is the hardest part? Where do you see yourself after this?

We talked a little more, about law school rankings and the future of legal education and the flowers blooming there but not here, but those twenty-five words worked a powerful magic in my heart.

  .  .  .  .

I have a supervisor that isn’t my supervisor at work. He is kind of a mentor, kind of a boss, and kind of a friend. I’ve learned a lot working for/with him. Every now and then, when things get rough and I start to feel on edge, I read over an email he sent one day, which started off:

Your professionalism, persistence, patience, exemplary work ethic and positive attitude have been evident to all throughout this project.

On days when nothing goes right and all I can do is put down my pen and shake my head and pour the tea and start over again, this sentence waits for me. I look up and see it, hanging on my blue bulletin board right above the empty jar that once held black-raspberry jelly my husband’s grandmother made us for Christmas, which now holds pens and highlighters and a pair of scissors, and I read those words. I remind myself that one bad day cannot cancel out months of hard work.

  . . . .

I’m not sure that either of these mentor-friends knows how important their words were/are to me. I didn’t write back “HOLY COW THAT IS SO NICE I’M GOING TO PRINT OUT THIS EMAIL AND HANG IT ON MY BULLETIN BOARD AND LOOK AT IT EVERY DAY FOREVER.” I said thank you and continued on, slightly embarrassed about all of the fuss. No perfectionist really wants to be congratulated for doing a good job (don’t I always do a good job? I always try to do a good job! why is this time different? did I screw up something terribly last week?! . . . ). But as awkward as I may feel when I first receive these affirmations, I am completely changed by knowing that people I trust think these things. I am confident and brave and resilient because I trust their opinions of me to be true, even when my opinion of myself falls far short of their esteem.

We talk a lot online about how words have consequences, but we often really mean that words have negative consequences. We criticize and condemn each other too freely, with too little concern for the way another might feel to read a scathing review, a bullying comment, a snide remark. We forget too quickly that it could easily be the negative comments they are printing out and hanging up on the blue bulletin boards of their hearts. Negative words do have an undeniably strong hold on us, but I’m becoming more aware of the immense power positive words hold as well.

On Looking Professional without Sacrificing Productivity

Being successful at work is really important to me, and I’m at my best when I am completely focused.  If I’m in “the zone,” you might find that if you walk past my cubicle and say hello I’ll jump a bit, completely startled that anyone else was in the room.  (Thankfully we have security doors, so I don’t have to worry too much about someone sneaking up behind me!)  That’s just how I roll: I sit down, dig in, and get things done.

But here’s the thing:  if my sweater sleeves are itchy, if my pants are ill-fitting, if my bangs fall in my eyes or if my shoes are uncomfortable, I can’t do my best work. My mind will be distracted by how much I hate my outfit or how uncomfortable I am.  I’m not sure men have these problems.  But that’s not what this blog post is about. 

To do my best work, I need to be comfortable. A dress with a cardigan or blazer is ideal, so long as hosiery isn’t rolling down or bunching up. Slacks and a sweater or blouse can also be great, if the pants fit well and my cubby isn’t too hot or too cold. I really like to wear heels at my desk – partly because they feel fancy and partly because I don’t have to wear socks so my feet don’t get too hot.  I try to wear layers that can be stripped off without scandal in case I get too warm.  My ideal work set-up requires changing from flats to heels and a sweater to a blazer just like Mr. Rogers did.  (Dreams do come true, kids.)

If this all sounds a little crazy to you, that’s okay – my productivity makes me a fantastic employee, so if comfortable clothes and fancy shoes are what it takes for me to strategically plan broad organizational change or write and edit convincing and accurate reports on a deadline, I’m down for a little craziness.

This past week, however, a blog I read was talking about the difference between wearing clothes that make you feel good, and wearing clothes that make people think of you as the boss. As young female professionals, we want to do whatever it takes so that our management thinks of us when developing the organization’s succession plan, filling vacancies, etc. And what this blog post and the comments that followed boldly stated was that the best way to be empowered in your workplace is not to feel valued and loved and comfortable in whatever position you hold or clothes you wear. The most effective way to be empowered in your workplace is to have actual power in your workplace — a.k.a. to be the boss.

While I absolutely want to dress in a comfortable way that allows me to do my best work, I also want to look like someone who should be in charge. If someone new walked into the room and scanned the people sitting around the conference room table, I want that visitor to assume I’m already holding a management position.

Spring is coming (slowly but surely) and each day I’m edging closer to 30 and farther away from 25. It’s time for a[nother] closet overhaul.  It seems like I need one of these every now and then!  I’m not sure if fashion posts are your thing, but I’ll be checking in for the next few weeks on my 2014 closet revamp.

To kick us off, today I’m linking you up with my favorite fashion blogs:

1. Capitol Hill Style – Belle’s a former Capitol Hill Staffer, and she provides realistic and specific advice for a professional wardrobe on a variety of budgets, and she includes plus size options and hair and makeup recommendations.

2. Corporette – Fashion, lifestyle, and career advice from former firm attorney turned full-time blogger, Kat. The comment sections here are incredible, and if you have a question about how to navigate a difficult work situation or what to wear to work-ish events, this is where you want to go.

3. The Small Things Blog – For hair and makeup and all-around beauty, Kate’s blog is the place to go. I used one of her hair tutorials for my hairstyle during one of my best friend’s weddings last summer, and she gives honest reviews of products to help you find what works for you. She also just had a very adorable baby. Kate’s archives are gold.

 

Okay, so tell me where you fall on the spectrum:  do you dress for comfort or to make a positive impression?  Maybe a little bit of both?  Does hearing this perspective on empowerment make you re-evaluate your own wardrobe choices? 

Monday: My Little Elk

I’ve been using up all of my good thoughts in other places these last few weeks, and I haven’t been giving you my best work.  I think you know that, in my actual life, I do a lot more than just write this blog.  I’ve told you how my job can be really hard, and that it’s been a challenging few weeks, and that I really love my work.  I also mentioned last week that I’m working on a writing project outside of this blog.  I love this space, and I want to treat it right, so today I have something special for you.

Elk March 22

It’s a photograph of an Elk, taken on Saturday.  

I was going to find a good poem about an elk for you to make this super literary or what-not and, what do you know, the only poem I could find was about a bunch of wolves stalking and then murdering an elk.  Not exactly what I was going for.

Instead, I have something better than a poem about elk for you.  I have an article about a little boy who loves My Little Pony, and a school district that learned [unfortunately a bit too late in this case] not to punish the victim.  You’re a bit of a slow learner sometimes, America, but I’m forever proud of you when you try to do better.

Happy Monday, my friends.  Have a wonderful week! 

A Metaphor

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This beautiful piece of art in the northwest corner of my building lobby is known to my colleagues as The Big Pile of Garbage. We sometimes use the pile of garbage as a landmark for meeting locations, such as: let’s grab coffee at 11. See you at the pile of garbage.

It also has another name, abbreviated BPOS, which is an accurate metaphor for how I feel about this week. Being alive is still baller, but I am ready for the weekend.

Dreaming of Spring

It’s been a long winter.  I can’t remember a day that I haven’t made the choice between snow boots or regular boots.  The snow boots usually win out.  I’ve worn my full-length eggplant purple coat nearly every day since the package arrived in our gym.  [We get packages delivered to the gym in our building.  It’s a little strange.]

There are a lot more weeks of winter-ish weather ahead, but I’m so ready to wear something different.  I’ve been online window-shopping like nobody’s business.  I know it’s better to spend your clothing budgets on quality, not quantity, but these items are just thrifty enough that I might pick up one or two to add a little spice to my sweaters and wool slacks while I wait for signs of spring.

SET: Dreaming of Spring

Old Navy navy shoes
oldnavy.gap.com

Forever 21 loafer
forever21.com

Necklace
shopruche.com

Pink scarf
shopruche.com

Except, probably not the shoes. I think it’s going to be a while before I can go outside without warm socks. But a girl can dream, right?

Getting Over My Giant Failure Complex

It’s a little embarrassing how many times I’ve written this to you, how many ways I’ve slid references to my giant failure complex into blog posts without really addressing it. I’ve made bold claims that I’m going to stop thinking of myself as a failure and start loving the life I’m currently living in a dozen half-hearted ways, but so far I’m still just rocking back and forth on life’s teeter totter: At the top, I am so ridiculously relieved that I am working (because others I love aren’t) and that I have a healthy work-life balance and that my job is mostly fun and engaging, but when the see-saw rocks downward I remember that I thought I would be doing something different.

The “L” word still makes me feel like a loser.

I know in my heart that I am where I need to be, but I have to remind myself all the time that this life I’m living is something to celebrate, not something to mourn. Sometimes I have to say it to friends and have them say it back to me, to tell me it’s okay.  I know that I’m not the only one, but I often feel alone with this. I fold this idea into so much of my blogging because, while this blog is many things to me and hopefully a few things to you, its chief purpose right now is to remind me that life is beautiful and fun and it’s okay to just be who you are I am right now.

I loved law school. I’m not one to say “Oh, it was so hard and I’m so glad it is over,” and I’ve never regretted attending. It was one of the best things I’ve ever committed to doing. It made me smarter and more attentive and a better person. Even now, while I’m not practicing, I still did all of the things to be a licensed attorney and I can go back to being a “real” lawyer whenever I want to, if I ever really want to.

I’m getting tired of trying so hard to convince myself that I am awesome and that I am making a real difference by working hard for my country.  I am already doing these things and it’s become a bit of a broken record for me (and I’m sure not all that interesting for you, my friends). I’d like for this to become a non-issue for me, but it may be a few more months or years before I can really settle into owning my own life and living it for myself. I struggle to surpass expectations that don’t actually exist.

But I think for recovering people-pleasers and perfectionists like me, we often feel like posers in our late twenties. We’re wearing the hats and carrying big titles on freshly minted business cards but are we really good enough to hold this much responsibility? Friends from school are carrying the lives and hopes and dreams of two, or three, or four children already and I can’t imagine ever being qualified for such a hard and important job. Do you ever really feel like you know how to be a mother, a manager, a professor or scholar, or do you just jump in, throwing ideas at the wall, hoping something sticks? I’m always afraid that someone will look over and see that I’m really not as awesome as everyone thinks.  I wonder, if they knew how much television I watched in the evenings, and how rarely I finish the books I’m always buying, if they would still want me to mentor their students, or file their taxes, or write their reports.

I paid real cash monies to register for a faith and writing conference in Grand Rapids in April. And I’ve decided that I don’t want to go to this conference feeling that I’m not qualified to be there. I don’t want to awkwardly shift on my feet or avoid meeting interesting people because when they say “Oh, I write a blog about faith and life and my book is being published in October,” and then ask about me, I don’t have a good enough answer. I want to do whatever it takes before I pick up my rental car and drive two hours and forty-seven minutes around the bottom of Lake Michigan so that, when I step out of my car and into the conference, I believe I am a “real” writer and I believe that I am qualified to engage, network, discuss, and struggle with them to create beautiful sentences.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20, is the first of fifty days before my conference begins. This may be a rough-and-tumble sort of commitment, but I’ll be doing “the things that writers do” for each of these fifty days so that I can step into the Grand Rapids community with a few pages I can be proud of, with a project I can discuss, or at the very least with the confidence that I certainly belong at the table. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like, but I’m starting this effort off with a Story Sessions writing boot camp and I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want this to journey to include. I have a working list, but before I put it out into the internet world I wanted to hear from you: what do you recommend? What makes you feel like a “real” writer, or a “real” professional, or a “real” mom, instead of just a poser? What gives you confidence in your calling?  

Winter living: like a boss

The sun is shining today, so even though it is literally 12* with a wind chill of 3*, I went out to grab lunch. I need to see the sun, my body soaks up the light and immediately converts it into happiness.

I’ve discovered this winter that while my calorie counts and daily food costs are lower when I pack my lunch, I really need the break that purchasing a meal requires. I need to stand up and physically step away from my desk. I need to bundle up and walk the block or two to grab warm food. I need to see other humans living and thriving in this cold to remind me that I can live and thrive too.

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Today’s lunch: teriyaki chicken on napa cabbage with two BBQ pork bao, purchased from Wow Bao. I love Wow Bao. The WordPress App has trouble embedding links now, but if you’d like to check out Wow Bao just visit http://www.wowbao.com.

This weather has reminded me that I am strong. Because honestly? It has never been so cold that I didn’t do exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Is it a little crazy to walk four blocks to yoga at 9 p.m. during a polar vortex? Perhaps. But I did it anyway.

My home-loving introverted self may be genetically predisposed to living in the freezing cold Midwest after all. (Please note I never have to shovel snow. This may be a factor in my overall assessment.). A Saturday spent indoors baking and watching movies with my little family? Couldn’t imagine a better way to live. It turns out this whole winter-living thing is a little harder on the extroverts among us.

Being Alive is Baller

I have a quick note for you before I head to bed.  I’ve been getting into work earlier than normal this week and my blogging schedule is a little off.  But, today is an anniversary of sorts and I thought I would share a few memories and some photos with you.

Six years ago tonight my mom was in surgery and my college got destroyed by a tornado.  Today, my mom is cancer-free and my alma mater is looking way better than it did while I studied there.  It’s almost like that night was a scary movie that we watched and then when it was over, we took it out of the DVD player and sent it back to Netflix along with all of those DVDs of the Wire.  Except, I have a friend who has some health issues that stem from that night.  And while I remember this tornado as a crazy thing that we all survived, I pray for her health and healing.  Friend, if you read this, you matter to me.

It’s easy to forget.  Our clothes are wrinkled or we spill coffee on a notebook or, my personal daily recurring problem of late:  I rub the makeup off my nose while blowing it incessantly but still have makeup on my cheeks and chin, which looks so awkward, oh man my life is over… Except, it isn’t.  Because I am alive.  And makeup or no makeup, being alive is baller.

Click through the two links here for photos from my tornado experience.  These photos are posted on Union’s Flickr account:  tornado night // the day after.

How to Survive the Coldest Winter Ever (Round Two)

Well, now that our freakishly cold Midwestern winter has started to spread across nearly the entire country, I wanted to share a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up since my first “winter gear” post earlier this season.  What I know now that I didn’t know then is that surviving a Midwestern winter isn’t about fortitude or enthusiasm, it’s about having proper winter gear.  Google and fashion magazines aren’t really as helpful as you might think — I learned the most from your comments, asking my coworkers what kind of gear they use, checking out the people on the bus to see what name brands and styles look the most comfortable and commute-friendly, experimenting with a few different things, and finding what works for me.  For those of you who have been sending tips and tricks along the way, thank you.

1.   Layers.  Everyone talks about layering, but before this year I always considered a cute tank with a v-neck sweater to be layering.  I’d never engaged in layering for warmth.  Now, I wear warm-layer leggings, wool socks, and a tank underneath my regular outfit every single day.  I love the fleece-lined leggings recommended by my friend Kristen, I like the texture and feel of regular ole’ thermal underwear, but most often I’m rocking the Cuddl’ Duds I included in the photo below.  I also layer on a fleece or moderately thick sweater that I can wear in the office if necessary without looking like a college kid in an 8:00 class.

2.  Outerwear.  I purchased a coat which is great for moderately cold days (where the low is like 10* to 20*F) where I’ll be active or getting in-and-out of a heated car frequently.  But that isn’t really my normal day.  Because I walk to the bus stop and then stand still for two to twelve minutes each morning and evening, I needed something for my commute that was seriously warm.  Everyone seems to wear North Face coats here, but the cost was very high and a few people I work with recommended the Lands’ End Squall coat series.  I did my research, including an online shout out to several of you guys on Facebook, and decided that the Lands’ End Long Commuter Down would be the best fit for me.

3.  Sizing.  I’m typically quite hot-natured, and have always gotten overheated easily on the bus/train.  Thus, during my commute to work in DC I never tried to wear warm clothes underneath my winter coats.  I learned pretty quickly that my size Small coats couldn’t really handle the kind of layering I needed to make  my commutes passable.  So, I ordered a Medium in my new coat.  It was huge.  It is so large that I almost returned it for a smaller size because I felt silly wearing such a large coat inside my warm apartment.  Now that I’ve been actually wearing it, though, that extra space in the arms and shoulders is the best thing ever.  I can fit a very thick sweater or a fleece zip-up under my coat and there is still plenty of room for moving around.  Also, extra big is extra warm.

4.  Footwear.  I thought that my rotation of knee-high leather boots would be perfect all winter, but post-snow sidewalks are treacherous and disgusting, so I’ve been avoiding them on my commute and just carrying them to work in my canvas tote.  I picked up this pair of fleece-lined snow boots because they were cute, but I’ve been hearing great things about Sorel and Merrell boots and may snag a new pair for next season on clearance if I find something that looks good.

5.  Socks.  I try to wear warm wool socks every day, and if they are the thin ones I’ll just wear them all day, changing into work-appropriate shoes during the workday.  I also keep a pair of knee-high pantyhose in my bag and can switch into hose and heels at a moment’s notice if I have a big meeting.  Seriously, though, regular cotton socks just won’t do when you are out in the weather — wool socks (preferably the ones that go all the way to your knee) are required.

Welcome to the Midwest

So far, my new large coat, snow boots, and effective layering have been keeping me incredibly warm.  Each day I make it to work without crying or giving up, I feel a little more like a winter-weather superhero.

Am I missing anything?  Any other tips you’d like to share for those of us surviving our coldest winters ever?

Currently…

It’s 22 degrees Fahrenheit (but feels like 7) and I’m heading home right before it starts snowing (hopefully).  We’re expecting two inches.

I’ve had to start leaving for my bus stop five minutes earlier than usual because that’s how long it takes me to layer on my winter gear.  I missed my bus by barely a minute three days last week because I wasn’t factoring in the time it takes to zip, button, and tie a jacket, a coat, and snow boots; tug on my gloves; and pull my hat down over my forehead.

I’m in a slow-zone at work and it’s hard for me to maintain my typical level of focus.  I can feel each minute slowly passing by.   I’m working steadily, but I don’t have my beautiful rush of adrenaline, which I probably depend on a bit too heavily at times.  [Emergencies are my specialty.]

Here in the slow zone, my introversion creeps out from its normally air-tight prison cell.  Today, while walking back from the microwave with a slightly burnt miniature bag of Kettle Corn, I was caught mid-thought by an introduction that went well enough, except that I did not say my own name back to the introduction-initiator.  I did, however, say “nice to meet you” and smile, which is just going to have to be good enough.  I’m not running for office (at the moment, at least).

Writing about work makes me nervous because the internet is public.

Writing in general makes me nervous too.

When I write here it’s like writing a quick email to a friend, and as long as it isn’t a topic that might get dicey (relationships, politics, etc.) I can write uninhibited.  When I think about writing elsewhere, such as a guest post or an article or something with my real name attached to it, I get a little panicky.  I don’t want my writing to be flippant or without substance, yet I’m afraid of being too serious because my expertise on everything is limited.

My greatest fear is writing something that ruins my credibility.  I am learning well from writers who can say “last week I thought X, but after learning Y I’ve changed my position to this-that-and-the-other.”  That’s the approach I would like to use when writing, but instead I go through stages of publishing remorse that usually starts with  “wow I’m the worst I’ve ruined everything forever oh my gosh why oh why oh why did I do that.”  Then about three hours later (or maybe twelve) I’m back to “it probably doesn’t matter because no one really reads what I write anyway.”  And then maybe three days later, if I still even remember the subject matter at all, I might be able to say “last week I thought X, but then I realized how stupid I was and so now I think I might think Y, but I can’t really be certain in Y because we all know what happened last week.”

NOTE:  I thought about adding in some italics or brackets or mixing up the font in this so that it would seem “artistic” instead of “ridiculous,” but let’s be real for a second.  I already bolded my font three times.

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