Working Moms in Suits at Target

I used to have only one reason not to patronize Target after 3 p.m.: because my kids were busy doing homework. After a recent visit during this timeframe for an ingredient emergency, I now have another reason: so I don’t have to see women in work attire stopping there on their way home.

You see, I used to be that person in a suit at Target on the way home from work. I left the workplace a couple of years ago to spend more time with my kids, and enable my equally capable husband to more fully pursue his career. It’s paid off exponentially: things I’d hoped would happen did, like more closeness with kids, can volunteer at their school, am happier because of indulgence in hobbies like writing and photography, and being somewhat more rested. My husband’s career has grown quickly, and I could think of a dozen other unexpected benefits.

So why the lamenting at the site of a put together woman in a suit at Target? Let’s be honest, it did dawn on me how large the gap had become between these suits and my particular attire that day. That’s it! I need those Lululemon athletic outfits everyone has!

But digging deeper, It might also be because I’m still that person deep down inside. Perhaps the mistake I made was assuming I had to be one or the other (mom or HR Director) to do a decent job at either. I guess I AM both things, I just wasn’t able to DO both. The stressed-faced, suit-bearing women at Target represent something to me: accomplishment and financial independence.

I hope more women can figure this out, how to do both well. I’m still working on it. I’ll be co-authoring a book with someone soon, and expect it will result in a sense of accomplishment, but maybe not financial independence! Can’t have it all, right?


Are You Flatlined?

In the mid-1990s I went on a cruise and I loved standing on the top deck and looking out at the sea. There was a particular deck location I would visit because I could look out into the vast ocean without peripheral vision of other people or objects….not “I’m flying, Jack, I’m flying!” like Rose in Titanic, but similar — I could see nothing but this vast, open, blue ocean. Unfortunately, my hopeful photographs didn’t come close to truly capturing the sight, but they were a good reminder. I carried this picture around for years. Why did I do that? I had seen the ocean several other times in my life.

For whatever reason, the beauty and endlessness of that scene was inspiring to me at that time. I felt perfect, whole, brand new and at peace. I took those pictures so I could feel perfect, whole, brand new and at peace whenever I needed to!

In work, relationships, whatever we do, don’t we just want to feel inspired? What inspires you? Where do you go looking for inspiration?

Inspired activities have many benefits:

  • You get happily lost in what you’re doing.
  • You talk about it with others, thus spreading your inspired energy.
  • Inspiration drives effort: You try harder, do more than you thought you could. Maybe even inspire others to follow.
  • When a hill becomes a valley, you have a “happy place” to go (i.e. my vast ocean view).

The smallest things inspire me sometimes, and by writing this I’m inspired to nail down more specifically what inspires me so I can make it a less passive and unpredictable endeavor. For example, days can go by and I’m totally uninspired. Uninspired begets uninspired. A friend of mine wrote a blog post titled, “What the Funk?” about random, uncontrollable funks that come and go. Maybe the cure for The Funk is to get inspired (

Let’s start with work. Unfortunately, the workplace is at the bottom of my list in terms of places to get inspired. That’s my fault. Shame on me for not trying harder to stay inspired in the face of so much non-inspiration. But, looking back I can think of a few things:

  • A talented woman who cared for and developed her people procured a coveted and statistically male-dominated Business Unit Leader role. She had many supporters, but wasn’t a suck up.
  • Whenever the people who reported to me seemed happy, laughed and/or had accomplished something they were proud of.
  • People who spoke their minds against the status quo and weren’t relinquished to meaningless roles.
  • Employee groups that did BHAGs (Big Hairy Aggressive Goals). I couldn’t believe what these people came up with sometimes, and how they dared to dream!

Notice the common thread above: Initiatives, financial goals, big banners with catchy phrases don’t inspire. PEOPLE inspire.

What about at home? Here are a few examples of things that have inspired me lately:

  • When I pick up my kids at school, that moment they see me and run to my arms. I’m inspired to try hard again at being a good mom today. With that kind of greeting, they deserve it.
  • A beautiful photograph. The Capture Minnesota photo community ( has been such an inspiration to me, to really “see” beauty and surprise when I’m out and about and strive to capture it, and engaging with a large community of people with a similar passion.
  • A good run or walk. I’m pleasant, eat healthy and have energy for the rest of the day.
  • Doing something, anything new. Some things of late: joining the board of a theater, learning to knit and fundraising.
  • Ideas for improvement: Maybe this is tied to Bottomless Pit of External Validation (BPEV, see my earlier blog post, “The Secret Behind Your Kids’ Grades”), but I thrive on anything that leads to improvement.
  • New recipes. After all, I have to cook for the rest of my life.
  • Movies: Many movies have inspired me, such as, The Insider (I’m a sucker for whistleblower stories) and Moneyball (real leadership and tough choices).
  • An epiphany that gets me writing, like now.
  • Random quotes. I heard someone say recently, “You can’t change those people, you can only change yourself.” I’ve been inspired to live that way ever since.

Maybe for you it’s a museum visit, Bible verse, person, idea, random place you visited or an insightful comment from a friend. Try and think of the last thing that inspired you, REALLY inspired you.

And before I close, let’s go back to that inspiring ocean scene. Things sure have changed! Now that I have kids, I imagine being in this same place, death grip on their little arms, terrified someone will plunge over side and how horrible would that be, look how far down that is…you get the point. It serves to illustrate that you have to keep looking for inspiration because things change and what inspires you one day may not the next.

I wish you joy in getting and staying inspired!

The Secret Behind Your Kids’ Grades

I apologize in advance if you leave this blog thinking I have neurosis. Perhaps I do! I was successful in several corporate environments, where I think they should require and test for neurosis to predict success.

At any rate, late last summer when we got the school calendar for my twin first-graders, I entered every event and milestone in iCal and created alarms. There is no calendar entry I more anxiously await than the quarterly “report card” entry. I set two alarms for that one. Their teacher also sends a reminder the week before. I tell the ladies, “Hey! Report cards are coming next week!” “T minus two for report cards!” The girls just hang their heads and sighhhh with such dread, not even closely matching my obvious “I just won the lottery” excitement.

Why such dread? These girls get really good grades, and our individual chats on how well they did, and plans for keeping up the good work, feel quite effective.

However, the greater question I had for myself is not why the girls dread getting their report cards. It’s why I’m so pre-occupied with them. I decided it was a question worth processing.

Well, it didn’t take much processing. It’s because THEIR report cards are MY report cards. It’s my performance review. Their little first grade reading, writing, math, science, computers, music, Spanish, social studies, gym, homework and other grades are my grades. I have replaced achieved goals in the workplace: completed projects, cultural turnarounds, restructurings, whatever, with… with…

Sigh. My seven-year-olds’ grades.

This is a real problem! My daughters are Future Neurotic Extraordinaires in training!

I left the workplace to spend more time with my children: volunteer in their school, get to know them better, be there for problems and have the mental energy to not only listen, but to guide. To not bicker with my husband about who emptied the dishwasher last, or who has to stay home with a sick kid. To not view replacing the butter in the butter dish as a monumental task.

I did not leave the workplace to make my children my new professional project, my “developing team members” key result area.  But left unchecked, that is what’s happening. I guess you can take the professional out of the workplace, but you can’t take the professional out of the person.

I’ve also gotten to know better my long-lost friend, “Bottomless Pit of External Validation” with the vanishing of big projects, performance reviews, developing people, getting paid, all these intangible “markers” with which to judge myself and the value I’m contributing.  There is reward to that, even when I didn’t receive the recognition I desired.

The next phase of this “leave the workplace” journey is to get out of creating neurotic mini-mes and put my energy into serving on boards and volunteering and setting some big goals. Tasky to-do lists aren’t cutting it.

But I have feeling that won’t be enough. I need that report card!

Or, maybe I should just “unfriend” Bottomless Pit of External Validation.