Diary of a Road Warrior

 

travel_suitcaseSunday 8:00pm

Ok, I checked into my hotel. Seems decent. I’m going to unpack and sit down with my materials to prepare for tomorrow.

This is so good. I’m going to go to bed early, get a full nights’ sleep after two nights of dealing with the teething toddler. I’m going to work out, and eat egg whites and green tea for breakfast. In fact, I’m going to just do a full cleanse this week while I’m here. No wine, no dessert. Just salads and veggies and herbal teas and cucumber infused water…or really just any water. I’m going to meditate and focus on my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. And no social media…I need a break from Facebook.

Sunday 11:00pm

Been on Facebook for an hour. I have to stop and read my work materials for tomorrow morning. I am bound and determined to be well rested and well prepared for once in my life.

Monday 1:00am

Ok, I’m putting the phone down.

There.

Wait…where is my toothpaste?! I’m too tired to go down to the front desk and ask for any. I’ll just use the hotel-provided mouthwash and get some toothpaste tomorrow.

Monday 8:00am

I meant to get out of bed at 6:30 and work out. Didn’t happen. Ok, definitely tomorrow.

How did I manage to bring 5 pairs of footwear but only 3 pairs of underwear? And where is my damn toothpaste?  I need to start making packing lists. I have to get organized. Never mind. There’s a mall near the meeting site. I can get whatever I need there.

Ok, focus. Since I didn’t read my materials last night I’ll try to skim while I drink my coffee. And eat my egg white frittata. Not the scone. No scones!!  I’m cleansing myself of all carbs, sugars, and alcohol this week.

Monday 5:00pm

Happy Hour!  I will just have one glass of wine to be social. I didn’t drink any last night. And it’s been a hectic day.

Monday 9:30pm

Two glasses of wine and a second helping of shrimp and grits at dinner. Ugh. I’m going to bed now so I can wake up early and work out. I forgot to get toothpaste at CVS but I did drag myself down to the front desk this time and they gave me a couple of toothpaste packets. So I’m good for a couple days.

Tuesday 1:30am

I just watched almost the entire first season of Transparent. This show is addictive. Ok, going to bed. I can still wake up early tomorrow and work out.

Tuesday 8:00am

I went to the gym but it was really tiny and there were only a couple machines and two sweaty guys in there and I wasn’t feeling it. I filled up my water bottle and broke the tray and decided it was a sign that I wasn’t meant to be there. Maybe I’ll go for a run tomorrow.

Tuesday 9:30pm

I had a glass of wine at happy hour, and then another here at the hotel. And they had fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. It was a long work day. I deserved one. Tried to FaceTime but the kids were manic and had no interest in talking to me. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday 8:00am

Raining. No running for me. Damn it.

Wednesday 9:30pm

So much for temperance. Two glasses of wine and two cookies tonight. Plus a cup of chocolate covered peanuts this afternoon. And Moose Tracks ice cream at dinner. Oh well. I guess traveling is kind of like vacation…it doesn’t count, right? Wanted to FaceTime the kids but my phone died and I couldn’t find my charger. Poor hubby. I need to remember to buy him something nice.

Speaking of which, I also hit up the mall to stock up on toothpaste and undies and racked up a $200 retail bill on random costume jewelry I didn’t need. And forgot the toothpaste. Maybe I can give some of the necklaces I bought as gifts.

Thursday 9:30pm

I got so many compliments on my new necklace! Guess I can’t give it as a gift now…oops. Maybe one of the other ones.  But I really like those ones.

I had an hour to kill so I ran back to the mall to buy Christmas gifts but instead bought two dresses for myself. I’ve also fallen into the daily routine of two glasses of wine accompanied by two cookies. I lied. There were four cookies consumed. They were small. Smallish.

I have no self control.

Friday 8:30am

Thank goodness I’m going home today. This week was good but I am pretty sure I’ve gained 5 lbs, my kids don’t recognize me, my husband is about to lose his sanity, and my Amex bill is going to be sky high.

I’m going to say not to any additional travel requests for the next six months.

Friday 11:00am

Hey, guess what? I’m going to Bangkok!

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Pushing the Boulder Uphill

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Last week I had the honor of serving as a facilitator for the first ever White House Diversity & Inclusion in Government Summit, which brought together diversity and inclusion (D&I) leaders from the public and private sectors to share strategies for sustaining inclusion efforts in the federal government in the coming years. The event had been planned for several months, and you can imagine my initial excitement leading up to having this conversation when I’d hoped it would occur during the transition to America’s first woman President, someone who had dedicated herself to equality and social justice, and whom I know from personal experience had advanced diversity and inclusion efforts at the State Department.

Of course, that was not the environment in which the Summit would be taking place, and to be honest I instead went into the event with a feeling of helplessness. I think I speak for many people who care about D&I and who do work in this space when I say that I’ve been feeling like the boulder we have been pushing up hill for so long now is about to roll over us on its way back to the bottom.  So what could we possibly accomplish in one day that would make a difference?

What I found at the Summit gave me hope and a sense of empowerment. Energized and undaunted, my federal colleagues were ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. We heard from senior government leaders, academic scholars, and private sector executives. The speakers shared stories of great success as well as statistics pointing out the urgency of continuing this work in a meaningful way.

Beth Cobert, Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management (and my ultimate boss), gave a powerful presentation, saying “we cannot afford to leave talent and resources on the table.”

Among the success stories shared on progress made in diversity and inclusion,

  • In November 2016, the government not only met but exceeded President Obama’s goal of hiring 100,000 people with disabilities into the federal workforce over five years.
  • The Department of Agriculture (USDA) now uses blind applications that take out the names of candidates, which has led to a 50 percent increase in women in the Senior Executive Service. Not only is this an incredible accomplishment, it further underscores the existence of implicit bias in our organizational and social systems.
  • Following President Obama’s Executive Order in 2011 to foster Diversity and Inclusion efforts across every federal agency, the Federal Aviation Administration made a focused effort to diversity its recruitment efforts, resulting in a significant increase in job offers to Latino candidates and women.
  • [this was not shared at the Summit, but I believe is an important and often overlooked fact] As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton advanced policies to protect the rights of LGBTQ employees and U.S. citizens. Because of Clinton’s progressive policies, other agencies, including the Social Security Administration, adopted similar policies to protect the rights of LGBTQ employees.

We were also reminded that there is much to be done and diversity and inclusion efforts must continue to be a priority in our country. Dr. David R. Williams, Professor of African and African American Studies and Sociology at Harvard University and a leading scholar in linking race disparities to health and wellness, shared the following sobering statistics:

  • In 2015, African Americans earned 59 cents for every dollar Whites earned…the same disparity that existed in 1978. For those who argue that racial injustice doesn’t still exist in our country, the facts say otherwise.
  • Dr. Williams further argued that research indicates that high levels of gender and racial diversity lead to greater profitability and success for everyone. Homogeneous organizations are outperformed by diverse organizations that foster inclusive environments. Diverse teams that value inclusion are more innovative and adaptive to change, and experience higher levels of job satisfaction, morale, and engagement.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of our country will be majority minority by 2044. In fact, the population of children has already become a majority of racial and ethnic minorities, with over 50% of children under the age of 5 being non-White. That is our future workforce. Those are our future leaders. Those are the people who will need to be paying for Medicare and Social Security for the majority White aging population that will be retiring in the coming decades. So when we continue to allow this separatist paradigm, when we don’t question the racist and ethnocentric narrative that pervades our political, business, and social systems, we’re all literally only hurting ourselves.

At the Summit, attendees met in small groups to engage in constructive conversations on the biggest obstacles we face, namely:

  • Sustainability of diversity and inclusion efforts. Many leaders who answer the call to action for D&I efforts have a good deal of support and attention early on, but momentum fades after the initial couple of meetings or trainings, and they find themselves trying to shoulder these complex and time consuming efforts alone, with limited resources.
  • Lack of data to demonstrate return on investment. Often, diversity and inclusion efforts are relegated into the “nice to have” pile. D&I leaders do not have access to critical data points that can help them make the case to their bosses, peers, and employees that D&I is a strategic imperative.
  • Lack of top-down support. Often, leaders who make D&I a priority are people in human capital and human resources functions. They are either tasked by senior leaders to “do diversity” or they take such efforts on because of their dedication to the work. Without concerted, visible effort from the leaders at the top, these initiatives often end up being sidelined.
  • Many D&I leaders don’t have access to individuals who are leading D&I efforts in other agencies or sectors. The dearth of opportunities to share information, best practices, and lessons learned makes it especially challenging for D&I leaders to know where to turn for support.

After acknowledging the challenges, the groups spent the rest of their time collectively identifying promising strategies, including gathering and synthesizing data to make informed policy and procedure decisions related to D&I; embedding D&I into agency strategic plans with specific metrics; and strengthening relationships among agencies and between public and private sector D&I leaders.

One particular message that was clear: relegating D&I efforts only to EEO compliance training is not enough. It’s incumbent on government and private sector leaders to come together, to take a systemic and strategic approach to diversity and inclusion, embedding it into strategic plans, and engaging with elected officials to ensure they keep it a top priority.

Finally, we encouraged one another to not sit idly by, but stand up and demand that diversity and equity remain a priority as we move into the next four years. I think many of us entered the room with the same feeling of powerlessness, a fear that all of the gains we’ve made could be washed away with the stroke of a pen. But we left fired up and ready to get back to work. Make no mistake, we are rolling a boulder uphill, and the higher we get, the more resistance we’re going to feel; that’s the nature of culture change. The Summit reminded me that every time we move that boulder there’s more room behind us for more people to help us push, and if we’re successful in our work we’ll have all the help we need.

 

 

 

Social Change is not for the faint of heart

heart-1356066_1920“Social change is not for the faint of heart.” These words, uttered by my coach during a recent session, have been ringing in my ears over the last few weeks.

For advocates of social justice and equity, this work carries such great meaning, and also often feels like an endless tsunami crashing over our heads. I myself by turns experience anger, fear, pride, exhaustion, determination, and exaltation. There are moments when I feel a deep sense of connection and belonging. There are moments when I feel like an utter failure.  Am I making any difference at all? Is my vision for empathy and harmony just supreme naiveté? Given the last few weeks, I have asked myself that question a lot.

This year has proven over and over again, in such an intense way, that our nation is in desperate need of healing dialogues around our diversity. Every headline that reports the latest instances of hate speech, destruction of property, or violence punches me in the gut. I cannot understand how people can publicly throw insults that demean other human beings, or express unabashed hatred against others because of who they are, or make threats of violence, or actually harm others and receive approval from their leaders for doing so. Even in such diverse regions of our country as New York and Washington, DC, hate crimes have risen in the days following our presidential election.

Ethnocentrism and bigotry are unacceptable, and I will fight until my dying day against hateful, small minded behaviors that cause psychological or physical harm to individuals simply because of where they were born, or their gender, or the color of their skin, or the God to whom they pray, or the people they love.

Yet I also must be cautious that I don’t fall into the trap of lumping anyone who doesn’t share my views as ethnocentric or sexist. I must stop myself from immediately judging and labeling people without trying to understand them and why they think the way they do. This can be a very bitter pill to swallow, and I admit that I struggle with my empathy when it comes to people who practice or support actions that I see as exclusive or biased. I have a hard time considering their experiences, their perspectives, their voices. I make knee-jerk assumptions about their values. I stop listening to understand and only listen to argue, to tell them they are wrong to feel the way they do. In so doing, I am engaging in the exact actions that I train others to regulate.

If I want to foster dialogue, and build institutions and communities that truly value the full diversity of our nation, then I have to suspend my own emotions and judgments about those who see the world differently than I do.

I truly believe the vast majority of us are compassionate humans, and we all want to be heard.  We want our values and beliefs to be acknowledged. And we all have unconscious biases that, often unbeknownst to us, heavily impact our perceptions and actions. We want to feel a sense of security that our individual rights and needs are protected. When we feel that our way of life, our very core beliefs, are being threatened, most of us are going to react with fear, defensiveness, and anger. Our survivor brain kicks into high gear, triggering our “flight-or-fight” mechanism, and we’re no longer acting as rational human beings. We ALL fall victim to these triggers, whether we’re aware of them or not. They impact our ideas, beliefs, and decisions. When these limiting beliefs become our “truth,” it is hard for us to acknowledge any other. And that is a dangerous thing.

That said, my commitment to empathizing and suspending judgment does NOT mean I will sit by quietly when others engage in micro-aggressions. I will speak up, I will stand up to bullying and divisive language. I will do so with the intention of educating others and advocating for those who are being targeted.

That is the balance that many of us need to seek right now: being open and empathetic while actively fighting back against exclusionary behaviors. I can’t abandon hope and I can’t stop doing this work, as painful and frustrating as it is. I have to figure out how to be in this new space. I have to figure out how to walk with others, both those who think as I do and those who oppose my perspectives. I must reinforce my resolve to fight for a country where EVERY human is equally respected.

Call me naïve, call me touchy feely, roll your eyes at me…just don’t ever call me faint of heart.

 

[However you react to this post, I invite you to comment. I want this to be a conversation. I also respectfully ask that you write comments that contribute to a healthy and respectful dialogue.]

Solidaridad

We have a paper trautumn-1649440_1920ee in our kitchen with leaves that each spell out a value. Rosie picks a value each week she
wants to practice. This morning, we talked about why I was upset and how it’s more important than ever that we stay true to our values. She grabbed my hand and drew me to the tree. “I pick this one, Mommy.” The leaf read, ‘solidaridad” (‘solidarity’).
In today’s concession speech, Hillary Clinton said,
“…if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.”
I’m not healed yet, nor will I be for quite some time. But I feel a renewed sense of purpose. I’m taking a cue from my so-very-mature four year old to never let go of my values, the values I learned from my multicultural family of immigrants and all the amazing, strong, nasty women who have surrounded me in my life.
[Note: This blog is a diary of my emotions, experiences, and perspectives. Please show respect and don’t respond to this blog post with any political comments. They will be deleted.]

Joanie’s Birthday

Today is my mom’s birthday and I always have a moment at some point in the day where it hits me full on.  It’s like that little memory nugget lies dormant and then bursts forth into my brain when I least expect it and my heart doubles its pace for a moment or two as I think of all that she was and could have been if she had beaten cancer.

She would have been 74, and I like to imagine her having this feisty, positive, “I don’t give a damn” attitude at this age. She would wear long peasant skirts and a cute little pixie cut. She would let her hair go fully gray because who’s she trying to impress?  She would call me and be funny and sarcastic and loving. She would cry with happiness every time she saw the girls on FaceTime.  And then tease them. She would drag my dad (who would also still be around and kicking) through the airport regularly to visit us so she could play with her grandkids.  She and I would hug 1,000 times a day because we both would know how close we came to never being able to hug again.

Once a year I allow myself this moment to fantasize of what could have been, if the Fates would have sent us all in a different direction. It’s not a pity party so much as a daydream that enfolds me in the warm light of longing.  Because I have lost her, I get to create her in my mind any way I choose.  I can imagine her perfect, blissful, fully lived life. In reality, if she had lived, we would have had petty arguments and I would have been annoyed by her little idiosyncrasies and she would have suffered through the pain of aging and watching her husband and loved ones age and then die.  I don’t have to experience any of that. I can bask in my little fantasy instead.

My three-year old had a tantrum yesterday because I wouldn’t let her watch TV or some nonsense, and she screamed, “You will DIE!” (I blame Disney’s Sleeping Beauty because she’s obsessed and that’s the only place she’s heard such language. Thanks, Maleficent. )

After she calmed down I asked her if she understood what that meant.  When she shook her head no, I said, “dying means that I would go away and never be able to come back.”  She grabbed me and wailed, “Mommy, I don’t want you to go away!”

I felt false telling my daughter that definition because I don’t believe it myself.  I feel like my mom visits me often, in my dreams and my thoughts, and continues to pass on wisdom and love to me. I don’t mean that I’m a medium or that the ghost of my mother flies into my bedroom at night.  I just hear her voice inside my head. She’s the voice of gentle reason, of strong femininity, of “don’t let anyone tell you ‘no,'” that helps guide me toward a fulfilling, happy life.  So, no, I don’t think she’s gone away never to return. In fact, she’s with me all the time, in her peasant skirt and gray pixie cut, with her mischievous blue eyes and secret smile, loving me and my girls like nobody else could.

 

Crawling Backwards

IMG_4845My eight-month old is facing the biggest challenge of her young life thus far.  She wants desperately to crawl so she can independently explore the world around her. She gets up on all fours, rocks back and forth with gusto.  She has mastered the art of scooting backward, and I sometimes turn to find her across the room after her little backward wiggle has taken her further and further from the toy mecca I have set up for her.  She bangs her adorable little face onto the floor in frustration and tears.

I watch her with a mixture of humor and anxiety.  It’s the first of many moments in her life where she will become conscious of the chasm between her deepest desires and her current state of being.  It sounds so hokey, but I was struck by such a raw moment of human desire just out of reach.

I so often feel that same sensation-desperately grasping to be capable of that next stage of development in my life that is just out of reach.  I want it so badly, and intuitively I know what it will be like when I get there.  I can see myself in my mind’s eye at that next stage in my life, confident and at ease with myself.  But here I am, in these moments of anxiety, impatience, and isolation.

Yet isn’t that what ultimately creates the most joy?  When we push ourselves, accepting the anxiety and pain and anger at ourselves for our frailty, the moment we take that first tentative step feel so delicious.

So I must stand by, with an ache in my chest as she struggles and whimpers her way to those first exhilarating moments when her body and mind align and she begins to crawl. And then walk. And run. And skip and jump and dance and swim and learn calculus and get her heart broken in a million pieces and perform surgery and manage a difficult employee and take care of her demented parents…

18 years

The first 18 years of my life were filled with curiosity, imagination, and melodrama. Images run through my mind of my childhood and teen years with golden summer afternoons reading with my mom, delicious savory and sweet smells wafting from the kitchen where she made culinary magic happen daily; pre-dawn school mornings where I sat with her eating cereal while she read the Detroit Free Press; dark confusing weekends when my mom locked herself in her room and cried relentlessly while we tiptoed the halls; giggly nights in bed with mom while she tickled and teased us.

Those first 18 years seemed to go by so much more slowly, like they were a lifetime. Now another 18 years have passed. 18 years with so many memories with growth, glee, gloom…but no memories with my mother. It seems so strange to think I’ve lived on this earth without her as long as I lived with her.

Many women who have lost their mothers feel robbed. Robbed of a confidante, an advisor, a female presence that is irreplaceable. I admit to all this feelings of loss. Yet I also think how blessed I am to be able to live the rest of my life with those 18 years of memories, that are veiled with the sepia dust of nostalgia. As backwards as I sounds, but I get to live my life with a profound and beautiful longing that in and of itself gives me fulfillment.

So today I pour one out for the woman who has had the single most significant impact in my life, for the 18 years she was present and the 18 years she’s been missing.

I love you always, Mom.