Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot…

Dear Soph-
This year is rapidly coming to an end and 2016 will be here before we know it. A popular topic nowadays is New Year’s resolutions. I don’t make them every year. Historically, I’ve been so specific and lofty that I failed before I even started.

So this year, I thought I’d take a different tack. I want to make some general changes. Things that will benefit me, first and foremost. Things that will make me happier. Because when I’m happier, I can be a better mom and wife.

Make better choices
There are a few things that fall under this umbrella.

Making better choices when it comes to my health is high on the list. Now that I’m getting up there in age, I need to stop taking my health for granted. Every creak and pain has me running for good old Dr. Google lately (if your Grandma Mimi is reading this, she is rolling her eyes – I’m the resident hypochondriac of the family).

Move more and eat less. Maybe “less” isn’t the right word exactly. There are certain things I should eat less of…but overall, it’s just being smarter about what I’m choosing to put in my body.

Get regular checkups. I currently don’t have a Primary Care Doctor and haven’t been to one since I was in my early 20’s. Good news, kid, I’ve already made strides on this one. Appointment has been made (she types, as she pats herself on the shoulder).

The point being that I want to be around as long as possible for you.

I also want to make better choices when it comes to how I react to things in my life. I have my moments where I’m able to not sweat the small stuff…but there are plenty of times when I do. I sweat. And sweat. And it adds stress to my life that is, quite simply, not needed.

This year, I want to try to be calmer. Stress less. Let things go. RELAX. Realize that each year has its seasons of ups and downs. And to know – and really believe – that in those seasons when I’m down, I won’t always be that way.

Try to not be so hard on myself
Again, many things fall under this.

This blog is a prime example. It’s been a while – a long while – since I last posted. And I’ve been beating myself up over that. But you know what? Oh well. Life gets in the way sometimes.

And on those occasions when I “should have” been writing, I was playing with you instead. Or exercising. Or reacquainting myself with the piano. Or enjoying a cup of coffee while listening to the Chairman of the Board. Or watching a movie with dad. So I was spending my time the way I needed to be.

I’m hard on myself when it comes to you, too. In some ways, this is good. But there are times when I need to put it all in perspective.

Case in point, we had a rather hefty snowfall here before Thanksgiving. About a foot of snow. The next day when I dropped you off at daycare, I saw that every other parent had remembered to bring their child’s snowsuit and snow boots to school that day.

I hadn’t even bought you any at that point.

I felt like the worst mom ever. I pictured all your little friends gallivanting in the snow. And you…ill-equipped, alone and sad…stuck on the concrete in your jeggings and sneakers.

What I should have done was taken a breath and realized that you’re only 17 months old. And that you didn’t have a clue that I’d dropped the ball and were not phased in the slightest.

Instead, I immediately went to four different stores in search of boots small enough to fit your tiny feet. I also bought snow pants in varying sizes and patterns (a girl has to match, after all).

Hasn’t snowed a lick since then, of course. It’s actually been in the 50’s ever since. So…yeah.

Put my gratitude on paper
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face…I am very blessed. Much more so than I deserve.

One of the things I want to start doing is writing down the many things for which I am thankful. There’s something about seeing things written down on paper. Something you can go back to when you need a little reminder. It helps me. It puts things in perspective. Maybe I’ll start incorporating it in my letters to you. Maybe I’ll just keep a journal for myself.

Either way, I want to commit to this practice. It’s something I want to pass on to you. Not just the act of writing down what you’re grateful for…but really, truly being GRATEFUL. Realizing what you have. Seeing each and every little tiny thing that makes your life so wonderful.

It doesn’t always have to be something big. More often than not, it’s the little things that add up.

And when you take stock of it all, you realize that life is good.

So there you have it. I know I won’t be perfect. But I’m going to TRY.

Happy New Year, kid! The best is yet to come.

Love, Mom

Knowing Your Worth in the Real World

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Dear Soph-
I was two weeks away from college graduation and interviewing for my very first “real” job. It was a publishing company and I was interviewing for a position on their promotions team.

It started off well enough. The interviewer seemed funny. She regaled me with personal stories of promotional events, projects she’s worked on, authors she’d met. She talked and talked. And I listened. I would try to interject a question here and there to show my interest, but mostly, she just talked. Aaaaaaaand talked.

Then came the pop quiz. And it went something like this:
Her: “I’m going to give you a scenario – you tell me what happened and how you would handle it. You have a book signing set up. You and the author are there, a line of fans is quickly forming, but the author’s books are nowhere to be found. Even though the delivery service confirmed delivery. What happened?”
Me: “Ummmm…maybe the store manager received the delivery and accidentally put all the books out on the shelves for sale?”
Her: “Possibly…but, no, that’s not what happened. What happened?”
Me: “Were they delivered to the wrong location?”
Her: “Could be…but no.”
Me: “Okaaaaaaaayyyyy…” Awkward silence.
Her: “What happened was another manager had put the box of books in a back storeroom, but didn’t tell anyone.”

More awkward silence. Me nodding, with a perplexed look on my face trying to appear engrossed. The storeroom, you say? Fascinating.

After I’d miserably failed her whodunit caper, and she realized we were coming up on our hour time slot, this is how she chose to end the interview:
Her: “You know, I don’t think you’d be a good fit here. We need someone who can be a leader, not a follower.”
Me: “And I’ve given you the impression that I’m not a leader?”
Her: “Let me put it this way…if you came to work one day and you saw one of your coworkers wearing a black leather mini skirt, fishnet stockings, sky high stilettos and a dog collar, I think you’re the type of person who would come to work the next day wearing the same thing.”
Me: “A dog collar?”
Her: “Yes, that’s what I think.”

I could have told her she was wrong (which she so obviously was). I could have tried to defend myself. But what was the point? She was clearly the type of person who was quick to judge and yet a terrible judge of character. And not only that, she thought it appropriate to voice that judgment to me. After allowing me to utter a grand total of about 7 words during the entire “interview.” You may think I’m exaggerating when I say the only questions she asked me revolved around the “mystery of the missing books.” But I’m not.

So why would I  want to work for someone who took so little interest in me, but was ready and willing to trash me as a person? All that mattered is that I knew she was wrong. I couldn’t have cared less if she knew it. I would be successful – and happier – without her. This laughable misjudgment on her part would, ultimately, turn out to be her loss. I was a mere infant in the professional world, but I had enough respect for myself to realize that.

And you need to realize that, too. Even when you’re just starting out. When you’re nervous about your first real job. You’re scared no one will hire you. You’re intimidated or worried about how you will be perceived. The whole weight of this “grown up” thing is bearing down on you. Believe me, kid, I’ve been there. But keep that respect for yourself. You have a tremendous amount to offer. You are smart. You are accountable. You are hard working. You are kind. Know your worth. If they don’t see it, then it’s their loss. And don’t let ANYONE disrespect you. Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior. I don’t care how important their title may sound.

So, instead of launching into a passionate defense about how I would never be a follower – how I always strive to be a leader and encourage others – blah blah blah, I simply thanked her for her time (knowing when to pick your battles is another lesson I need to teach you). She smiled, walked around the desk and held out her business card for me to take. I smiled,  took her business card and crushed it in my hand.

Dog collar, my ass.

Love, Mom

Don’t Be an A**hole at the Office

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Dear Soph-
I’ve worked in the corporate world for some time now…it can be an interesting place…full of interesting people. Whatever career you embark on after college, Corporate America or not, these tips will serve you well.

Cube Etiquette: Take your private calls on your cell phone – outside
I’m not saying you can’t call a friend (or your mommy!) from your desk; however, if you think there is even the slightest chance that you may raise your voice – or if you’re talking about something that you really wouldn’t want your coworkers to hear, then take a walk.

I sat next to a woman a few years ago who was always having inappropriate conversations at her desk. And when I say inappropriate, I mean yelling profanities like she was at a boxing match. She provided a fair amount of gossip fodder for the ol’ water cooler, but the time that takes the cake was her screaming battle with the poor folks at her cable provider. If I remember correctly, she was trying to get some charge reversed on her bill and having little luck.

They kept putting her on hold and passing her from one representative to the next, because – I can only assume – she was so verbally abusive to each person who picked up the phone.

“I can’t keep holding,” she seethed through gritted teeth, “I have a f*cking JOB!”

“Do you understand what that means? Or do you not understand because you’re just a f*cking customer service rep?!”

“Don’t put me on hold again.”

“Don’t…don’t put me…DO NOT PUT ME ON HOLD AGAIN!”

This went on for the better part of a half hour.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. I just stared at my computer screen unable to concentrate on my work. I half expected John Quinones to pop over my cube wall with the What Would You Do? camera crew in tow.

“Now, Emily, tell us why you didn’t step in here.”

“Well, John, because she’s batshit crazy.”

Email Etiquette: Think before hitting send
First and foremost…go easy on the “Reply All” option. We recently endured not one, but two, instances where someone sent an email to a group list (of several hundred – if not several thousand – employees) by mistake. I opened the email and realized, within about an eighth of a second, that it was an accident and was not meant for me. So I deleted it. What followed started off as funny and then just became sad. Hundreds…and I mean HUNDREDS…of people hitting “Reply All:”

“I think this was sent to me by mistake.”

“I don’t handle X, Y and Z.”

“You have the wrong John Smith.”

“Please remove me from the list, I don’t support this area.”

“Hey everyone, stop replying all!”

“STOP REPLYING ALL!!!!!!!!!!”

“This was sent to me in error…I’m not on that team.”

“Seriously just delete these emails…STOP REPLYING ALL!!! You are clogging up everyone’s email boxes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The irony was completely lost on all these people “replying all” and then angrily typing “STOP HITTING REPLY ALL.”

At some point, some jokester sent a picture of a goat to everyone and then the “reply all’s” seemed to die down. Good times.

Another thing that really grinds my gears is when people leave me hanging. I understand people are busy; I understand you might not be able to get back to someone right away or you might need a day or two to look into a request. But if someone sends you an email asking for your help at least let them know you’re working on it. Have the common courtesy to say “Hey, got your email…need to look in to this…I’ll get back to you by Friday.” Don’t leave anyone hanging. It’s unprofessional. And just plain rude.

Meeting Etiquette: Get in, get out, get on with your work
I’ve sat through A LOT of meetings. Some are extremely productive…most are not. Thankfully, I have found myself working for a leadership team that seems to know the difference and has narrowed down meetings to only the essentials. But when you find yourself in one of those pointless, agonizingly long and drawn out, seriously-just-send-me-an-email-instead-of-making-me-sit-here meetings, please keep the following in mind:

Do not ask a question just for the sake of asking a question and do not speak just for the sake of hearing your own voice. Nothing irritates me more than someone stating something blatantly obvious or paraphrasing the speaker’s words right back at them in an effort to appear more engaged or insightful than the rest of us who are probably glazed over staring at our blank notepads. Believe me, no one is sitting there thinking “Wow, John is so insightful…what a great question.” Instead, they’re thinking “Awesome…thanks for making us run over, John.”

If you are hosting a meeting that involves any kind of projection or technology – GET TO THE CONFERENCE ROOM EARLY AND SET EVERYTHING UP BEFORE THE MEETING BEGINS. Seriously.

If you are given a work phone, do not bring it in a meeting and if you do, do not sit there emailing. Unless you are working with a Vice President or above – or you are the Vice President or above – it can wait. I highly doubt the company will fold if you need to wait an hour to respond to an email.

Try to avoid using buzzwords. If I hear “low hanging fruit,” “quick win,” “value add” or “bandwidth” one more time…

So there you have it, kid. I could probably blather on here, but I figured I’d give you the three most important ones in my book. Oh and if you’re going to talk trash about someone, don’t do it over email…do it over coffee. Never leave a paper trail.

Love, Mom

Oh the Places You’ll Go…

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Dear Soph-
At some point in your life – most likely during high school – you will start to give serious thought to what you want to do and where you want to be when you grow up. You may head in one direction with certain ideas and aspirations for where you’ll end up – and you may stick with those aspirations. Or, like me, you may discover a year or two down the road that your goals and dreams have changed. And that’s ok.

When it came time for me to apply to colleges and start thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, I thought I had a solid plan. I loved music. I loved to sing. I was accepted to a music school with a hefty vocal scholarship. Seemed like a no brainer. But shortly after I started my freshman year I changed my mind. It wasn’t an easy decision…I love to sing, I just didn’t want it to be my career. Once I decided to change my major, my college career went as follows:

I went from being a music major with a sizable scholarship to an English major with no scholarship. I then decided to switch schools completely and declared that I could not live my life in a cubicle, so I became a film major. For one semester. During which time I discovered that having an appreciation for watching movies did not at all equate to possessing a true passion for creating them. So I changed my major (for the fourth and final time) to Marketing and Advertising. I now sit in a cubicle. But I have to say, kid, I could not be happier.

My point in this history lesson is this: you may take many different paths throughout your life. Or you may find one path that suits you and follow it to the end. Whatever direction you head, it’s ok.

Don’t ever feel like you are out of options. Your options are endless. Don’t ever feel like the decision is out of your control. It’s never too late to change your mind and change course. And please know I say this with more than just college and career in mind.

As you find your way, your father and I will always be here for you. Although I may find it a bit more challenging to avoid “helicoptoring” than your dad. One of the best gifts my parents gave me was their trust and confidence in my life decisions. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to stand by and watch as I flip-flopped my way through two colleges and four majors. And while they did question me along the way, they never told me I was wrong. They knew I would find happiness and success in life, however winding my journey may have been.

I promise to have the same trust and confidence in you.

I have never once regretted the decisions I made. Because I know that had I stayed where I was, I would not be where I am today. And I love where I am today. I may never perform for millions (although who knows what life will bring), but I am perfectly happy performing for one. Especially one who seems to appreciate Billie Holiday and the Rat Pack as much as I do.

You may look exactly like daddy, but I think you got your mom’s old soul.

Love, Mom

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Consider the Source

Dear Soph-
As much as I’d like to keep you little and protect you forever, I realize there will be times as you are growing up where you will have your feelings hurt. Someone might insult your appearance, or your work, or your character. And instead of hunting that person down and kicking the crap out of him or her, I will offer up a piece of advice that my mom often said to me when I was growing up:

Consider the source.

I’ll give you a (simple) example: I came home from school upset because Joey told me my art project was ugly.

To help make me feel better, my mom said this: “First of all, your painting is not ugly. You did a beautiful job. And second of all, consider the source.”

What does “consider the source” mean? Well, in the context above, it meant this:

Joey is a little asshole. What do you care if he doesn’t like your painting? What does he know? Do you like your painting? If so, that’s all that matters.

Consider the source is about putting things in perspective. Taking a step back and looking at the situation and determining if someone’s opinion (or insult, or criticism, or back-handed compliment, or perceived slight) is worth upsetting you. Does what they say (or think, or do) really matter in the grand scheme of your amazing life?

If the answer is no – and take it from me, the answer will most often be no – then brush it off and move on. Why waste the energy on this person? Why let this person’s negativity get you upset? Or change the way you feel about a situation or about yourself?

What you need to do is suss out the people in your life who truly matter. When you get down to it, whose opinion really counts? Whose opinion do you care enough about to let it affect your thoughts about yourself and your outlook on life? Ultimately, this should be a short list. You need to live for you.

And yes, I realize this is easier said than done when you’re in the midst of the minefield that is adolescence. But it’s something you should try and keep in the back of your mind always. Growing up and in the “real world.”

My wish for you is that in the face of criticism or negativity you are able to step back and consider the source…recognize what an amazing individual you are and have the confidence to not let that negativity get under your skin. Always remember that if someone is trying to bring you down, it only means you are above them.

Love, Mom

It’s the Little Things…

Dear Soph-
I thought I would devote this letter to some of the basics. Just a few reminders that, upon first read, may not seem like much, but will take you far in life. Especially as you grow up and venture out on your own. It’s about confidence, common courtesy, positive first impressions, politeness, respect and accountability. All traits that I will make it my mission to instill in you.

A Firm Handshake
This is something that Grandpa taught me. Before college interviews, job interviews, or meeting new people, I had his voice in my head, reminding me to offer up a firm handshake. As a manager, he interviewed and hired many people throughout his career and he always used to say that he could tell a lot about a person from their handshake. Don’t offer up some clammy, weak, limp, fish hand. Be proud! Stand tall! Show your confidence and firmly and warmly shake someone’s hand. If ever in doubt, practice on Grandpa. (and don’t feel bad if all he says is “pretty good”…you’re a young girl, not the Hulk)

Hold the Door
If you are walking in or out of a store or restaurant (any public place) and you see someone walking up to enter said establishment, hold the door open for them. It’s the polite and courteous thing to do.

And for the love of all that is Holy, if someone holds the door open for you, SAY THANK YOU. Loud enough so they can hear you and with a smile on your face.

That is one of my biggest pet peeves…when I hold the door for someone and they just walk on by as if I’m not even there. Like the wind blew the door open. Like it was a mechanized door that opened upon their approach. It’s just rude…plain and simple. If this happens to you one day (and it will) you have my permission to loudly call after the person “YOU’RE WELCOME!” It probably won’t have any effect, but, damn it…it sure does make you feel a little better.

Eye Contact
This is simple, but can take some practice. Look people in the eye when you talk to them. There is nothing that makes me more uncomfortable than when I am having a conversation with someone and they look ANYWHERE but at me.

I had a colleague recently who had the habit of avoiding eye contact at all costs. He was the nicest guy, seemed very intelligent, but he would not look you in eye. Ever. It didn’t matter if you talked to him one-on-one or if he was talking in a team meeting. He would stare at the table the entire time he talked. It was awkward. Maybe he was shy, maybe he was nervous…I just found it slightly off-putting.

When you look someone in the eye, you show you’re interested in what the other person has to say. You show that you respect them. And you show that you are a confident young lady. Plus, you have your dad’s beautiful blue eyes…and who wouldn’t want to stare into those?

Be on Time
Punctuality, kid. It matters. When you’re on time you’re telling the other person that their time matters. Late for a job interview? Makes you look unprofessional. Late for dinner with a friend? Just annoying. Arrive late to the start of a play? Rude to the actors and disruptive to the rest of audience trying to enjoy the show. You get the picture. Now, obviously things happen. Traffic jams, car trouble, power goes out and your alarm doesn’t go off…it’s life, and, for the most part, people will understand. It’s when you make a habit of it that’s the problem. So make it a point to be on time. Even better, arrive early.

Please and Thank You
These are the true basics. A simple “please” and “thank you” is something I will expect from you from an early age. But I realize, like everything else, this must be taught. I remember when I was little, after my parents would take us out to dinner, or take us to a movie, or buy us something…as we were walking back to our car, my mom would say “What do you say?” And we would enthusiastically reply “THANK YOU!” This took practice and repetition. But, eventually there came a time when we no longer needed to be reminded to say thank you or please. And, as an adult, it naturally rolls of my tongue. Again, it’s about common courtesy. It’s about being polite. It’s about genuine gratitude.

So there you have it, kid. Some basic advice, but still important. And while I can say all of this until I’m blue in the face, I know that – in the end – actions speak louder than words. So I will walk the talk and live by example for you. And, should that fail, I will constantly remind you… all together now, “What do you say?”

Love, Mom