Another Outrageous Thought to Ponder: Embrace Your Imperfect Self

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E. E. Cummings wrote, “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight — and never stop fighting.” Staying real is one of the most courageous battles that we’ll ever fight.

Look in the mirror.  See that beautiful person staring back at you?  That’s you!  And YOU are indeed good enough.  You are beautifully and wonderfully made.  Embrace the imperfections and the scars; the unique and distinct features – both internal and external – they are the mosaic of who you are.

Don’t conform to what you think others expect you to be — or worse — what you think others expect you to be.  Just be you.  Embrace the amazing, vulnerable, blessed being that is you.  And this wonderfully outrageous life awaits.

When Real Love Comes in Faded Pink Plush

20130913-164330.jpgBefore leaving the house this morning, I went through my normal morning routine of slipping quietly into my daughter’s room to watch her sleep and leave a telltale lipstick kiss on her cheek. I’ve left my mark on her since I can remember; our silent way of making sure she knows I’ve got my priorities right despite my often hectic work schedule. A visible I love you to greet her when she awakens and looks in the mirror.

This morning’s goodbye routine was difficult in that I am leaving on an extended trip. Being away from her for almost two weeks will be gut-wrenching for both of us; no lipstick stain will remain on her cheek that long. Despite lots of hugs, cuddles and promises of phone calls, texts and Facetime; my big girl and I will miss each other immensely.

Her world is changing so quickly as she dives with zeal into the second decade of her life. New school, new friends, boys (!), and a whole ocean of new experiences are waiting to be whispered and shared each night. I have no doubt that her inner-most confidant is well-prepared and trustworthy. She has been her partner in crime, her source of entertainment, her sole means of comfort when all else fails; she is Soose. Phonetically titled by an early speller, writing a letter to her best pal; she is, indeed, a faithful friend for life.

Grace and SooseNow a soothing pale grey, loved until her stuffing is no practically more; this cuddly, lovable and once pink puppy is a forever member of our family. A gift from a family friend when my daughter was only three months old, we had no idea the role this little bundle of fluff would play in our lives. She has been a constant companion from the word “go.” She has magical powers to soothe tummy aches, temper raging fevers, scare away monsters and bring laughter and unconditional love to any situation.

She has listened patiently to stories of the “mean Mommy” and epic disappointments from tender childhood lessons, silently offering a tender ear and endless compassion. A forever wingman, Soose has waited out the clock during time-outs and sleepless nights. Often airborne like a circus high wire artist, many a morning we awoke to the sight of the blur of a spinning pink puppy – tiny finger inside the tag and arm stretched up high – twirling her pal above a crib with giddy glee.

Once bright pink, sporting a fancy scarf and with clear eyes, the Soose of today wears her love-earned scars with pride. Her scarf has long been lost. Trips to the spa, far too numerous to count, have left her with a softer, paler physique. Some very secret trips under the knife have added some much-needed fluff here and there. And yes, we’ve had her eyes done. It is so hard to tell your BFF your innermost secrets when she cannot look you in the eye. But what no matter what we do to enhance Soose’s looks and try to sustain her longevity, she needs no help in her ability to bring comfort and teach real love.

Watching my now 5’4″ ten-year-old peacefully slumber, with her truest of true friends cradled safely in her arms, brings me more comfort than most anything. It reminded me of Margery Williams’ iconic Velveteen Rabbit and the exchange between the Skin Horse and the Rabbit in her children’s classic:20130913-165037.jpg

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.” … “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

— The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Yes, watching my not-so-little baby growing up and learning life’s lessons of acceptance, disappointment and love is hard. Doing it from the road is near-impossible, at times. I am so thankful she knows she is loved and that she has the stability and security of our loving family to protect and guide her; including our very most precious, Soose.

This morning, I left lipstick on them both.

Shortcuts and Tuesday’s Hamburger Bills

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Do you remember Popeye’s portly friend, Wimpy, from the famous E.C. Segar comic strip? Often the “straight man” to Popeye’s antics, Wimpy has a passion for food and Segar’s comic strips had a recurring theme of his efforts to try to get other characters to pay for his meals. The most memorably Wimpy line is, of course, his

“I’ll gladly pay you on Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

My life this week has been filled with a series of Wimpys. Those who cannot accept the fiscal responsibilities of the life they choose to lead, so they want to defer responsibility to someone else. In their desire for the immediate gratification of full tummies (or must-have outfits, achievement of quarterly or year-end sales targets), they make short-term decisions that feel good in the moment. Hamburgers taste delicious right now, but are forgotten when the feelings of satiation wear off. That new dress looks fantastic the first time you wear it, but loses its allure when you accidentally spill coffee on the sleeve. Last month’s sales accomplishments are meaningless when next month’s are staring you in the face.

Yet regardless of whether or not the hamburger was good, the dress “all that” or the sales targets achieved, the bills come due. Tuesday does come. It comes in the guise of credit card bills requiring payment. Trade funds that must be balanced. Checks – financial and of personal accountability – that must be written to our debtors. Like it or not, Tuesday really does come. And each of us must step up and own our commitments.

Learning to say no to yourself and others is not easy. Taking shortcuts — the ones that often ignore that quiet voice inside gently saying “this isn’t a good idea” – is dangerous. Telling your boss (or client) you cannot achieve a target because you are not financially funded to do so is a difficult, but necessary conversation. Walking away from a killer sale is utter hell, but if the $1,900 dress is marked down to $350 and that’s still $350 more than you have budgeted to spend, keep walking! Self-discipline, personal responsibility and the satisfaction of delayed gratification are the medals earned when shortcuts are avoided.

The long route is not easy. Yes, Wimpy’s belly will sometimes rumble with what sounds like hunger. Others may scream and shout and threaten you over missed targets and volume that will make you feel 10″ tall. You’ll die a thousand deaths walking away from the boutique steal of a lifetime. But you will win in the long run.

It is your responsibility to know your budget, know your facts and define your pathway. Have the plan and the proposal on how you will achieve the target and what you need, responsibly, to get there. Be proactive in having the conversation early and often so it doesn’t become a series of Tuesday hamburger bills with no funds in the checkbook. And be smart enough to squirrel away some extra jingle for unexpected treats so that when moments of decadence present themselves – a juicy burger or a delicious splurge – you aren’t robbing from tomorrow, but treating from today.

An outrageously wonderful life isn’t about shortcuts or scrambling to pay the bill. It is looking ahead and always thinking two or three steps beyond where you are, so you can always be ready to anticipate your next move. Here’s to it!

An Outrageous Thought to Ponder: The Secret to Success

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What’s the real secret to success? To never stop trying. To never accept that when things don’t turn out as planned that it is acceptable to pack it all in, fold up the tent and go home in defeat.  Failure isn’t an option. Set your true compass, find your passion and then let nothing stand in the way of your dream. Let your heart drive you and take each hiccup that comes as an opportunity to retool, reset your aim and continue to victory.

Remember, our failures do not define us. It is all about how we handle them that sets the mold on who we are to become.

Pride is a Potemkin Village

house-of-cards-emmafitzgeraldillustrations-blogspot-com-1If you’ve read an accounting of someone drowning, or witnessed the horror first-hand, you may know that when the tragic events are unfolding, the victim loses all sense of reason. They become disoriented to that point that the help they are being offered is often pushed away and they put themselves in even greater danger. Those trying to save them often perish as the drowning victim pushes them under trying to find their own way out.

Sadly, the same can be said for those who live in a world so over-inflated by pride and lack of positive self-esteem. Their world is a house of cards built to protect their ego. The proud exaggerate their accomplishments, struggle with self-admiration and have an overwhelming need to be at the center of everyone else’s circle. They are the ones who dominate every conversation, brag about their vacations, list all of their degrees and memberships on their email boiler plates, etc.; they live in a world of constant drama to ensure the spotlight is always on them. Most of us are blind to the pride that overshadows our ability to approach life from a balanced vantage point; we don’t see it for the evil force it can be in our lives.

What does pride look like?  It makes us struggle to admit our mistakes. Prideful people feel like they know everything. Pride makes you need to have control over other people and situations. Pride will make you inflexible and unwilling to change unless you can initiate it and have it your way (that control thing again). People who struggle with pride think they are better than others, whether they ever articulate it or not. They harbor grudges, cannot forgive easily and feel very self-righteous about their offenses.

“Proud people breed sad sorrows for themselves.”

― Emily Brontë

Like the drowning man, struggling with issues of pride and lack of positive self-esteem is a horrible, frightening nightmare. Flailing in the water and struggling for air, it becomes difficult to find the outreached hand of help. The survivor-fighter mode is so strong, as they scratch and claw for every breath, that nothing is sacred in their path. Anyone, anything in their way will be sacrificed in their own fight for survival.

Low-self esteem is pride. It is easy to criticize and judge others on the flaws we see in ourselves. When we pick on people about how they dress, their parenting skills, the quality of their work, etc., it is judging. The result is that we feel better about ourselves; that’s pride. The feeling, however wonderful, is short-lived. It is usually followed by a lot of “I wish I had said…” or “I should have,” “I could have,” and even worse, “How could I have…” We do all this to distract our own selves away from the feelings of inadequacy in our self. That darn pride, again!

We are all guilty. We do it because we’re afraid!  Afraid our own short-comings will be exposed. People might find out we’re not as good of a spouse as we’d like to be.  Not the perfect parent we aspire to. That our job is not as secure as we had hoped. That we have a secret addition no one knows about. That we battle with feelings of self-worth and failure. That our mask will fall off.

Overcoming issues of pride and self-esteem are very real, very emotional and critical to leading a full and outrageously wonderful life. I fight the fight every day and admittedly don’t always win. Thankfully, in my seasoned age I am learning to win more than I lose and humbly learning the most important lesson of all that comes with fighting the good fight in this arena:

Humility is the antidote for pride and low-self-esteem and God at my center keeps me humble.

Having a healthy outlook on life, that critical foundation for this outrageous life I am building, requires me to stay grounded. It means taking myself out of the center and submitting to one greater than myself. God made me in his image.  He loves me for me and accepts me just they way I am. He gives me opportunities to mold and sculpt myself daily, to learn how to trust him, lean into his plan and count on his mercy and daily blessings. When I let go of all of the distractions and the self-imposed responsibilities that come with it, this amazing world of happiness, healthy living and my aspired outrageously wonderful life awaits.

Pride and ego are a deadly house of cards. The higher you stack the control, the judging, the attacks on others, need to have your hand in every aspect of everything your world touches, the more precarious your entire life becomes. It is truly a house of cards in a Potemkin village. Fix it before it falls.

What, Err, Who Do You See?

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John Steinbeck wrote “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” in the early 1960s. In the autumn of his life, he set out from his upstate New York home, in an old truck outfitted with a camper and his French poodle, Charley, to see America. His goal was to connect with real people and write stories about the locals he met along the way. Published in 1962, the book made the best seller list and is still in print today.

The stories told in Steinbeck’s work, including the quote above, hint at a very real crime we all commit: not taking time in our self-made busy lives to connect with the people around us. The ones we encounter each day who are from different walks of life.  Co-workers and colleagues who have different beliefs or do not share the same socio-economic status as we do. Parents of our children’s classmates and neighbors who dress differently, speak with different accents or simply have mannerisms we cannot pause to understand. Rarely do we make time for them in our lives, let alone make eye contact with them when passing on the street.

But are they all that different?

They likely struggle – just like you and I – with the same issues of juggling family, friends and career. They lie awake at night wondering if they have prepared their children well for a successful, independent life. They worry about the stability of their jobs, their marriage and their health. They have moments of doubt and battle feelings of self-worth and shame. They question if they are good enough, strong enough, just enough.

They are like you.

Modern reviews of Steinbeck’s book suggest it was not a work of non-fiction.  Those who have retraced his timeline and his published memoirs claim it is impossible that he met the people he claims. Documented evidence exists that he was not in the cities he claims in the book on the dates he said he was. If true, that is the saddest part of what is an otherwise great book from a master storyteller.  That his inability to connect with others was so deep, that he simply made up colorful characters and interesting people in such masterfully poignant ways.  That he could not go out and see them and find his own way to build the bonds of human connection and learn their story.

Life is not a work of fiction. It is real. People are real and their feelings, emotions and need to connect with others are real. Take the time in your life to build connections with and truly see those around you. Really see them. It is a building block to an outrageously wonderful life!

One Word Says it All

mow-cover-e1356626764376Shirley Williams, the founder at Timewiseit, started a great little discussion last week over on LinkedIn. She asked the simple question of “with one word, describe a positive customer experience.” The answers contributed by the Consumer Insights forum I belong were a mosaic of adjectives that, together, would describe the perfect customer experience we all would die to encounter: accommodating, insightful, proactive, impactful, rewarding, satisfying, WOW, delight!, pure joy, brilliance, pleased, recommended, luring, memorable, valuable, etc.

What an inspiring list! Just reading the words other forum members contributed gave me pause. When was the last time I experienced even anything remotely similar to such a customer experience? It wasn’t my recent school shopping trip blogged about earlier. It wasn’t my attempt at a boutique splurge last week, where after the second time of having to completely dress to get a smaller size (yes!) because the sales clerk was too busy chatting with her colleagues, I left the store without any purchases. Hmm, when was it?

Amazingly, it was the staff two weeks ago at the hotel I periodically stay on business. I would single out one individual employee, but I cannot. They appear to work as a team and, collectively, support each other in completing their “total customer satisfaction” duties. Yes, they know me upon sight and one front desk clerk always takes pride in remembering my name and going out of her way to check me in. It is a subtle “welcome home” feeling I have grown to count on. She has learned that I like the odd-numbered rooms that are on the backside of the hotel, where traffic noise is a minimum and prefer to be away from the elevators and ice machines. Even though their computer system doesn’t allow her to keep such detailed notes about guests, she remembers and always has a perfect room set aside for me.

When I travel on business, I don’t like to dine out unless I am with clients, preferring to use my evenings to get work done so my time at home can be maximized for my family. That means I eat often in the hotel restaurant where dining options are limited and unchanging. Enter the other half of the team who always have my favorite beverage ready to pour and a suggestion for dinner at the ready. They know I prefer to eat light, so they will attempt to “sell me” on the daily special, only if they know it falls in the range of something I will consider. Otherwise I’ll get the “we’d tell you about tonight’s Blah Blah Blah, but we know you don’t eat…” That kind of memorable, friendly attention is what keeps me coming back time and time again.

But when the dining team goes to tell the front desk team things they need to do to heighten my stay — without my knowledge — or vice versa, that’s the kind of teamwork and service that goes the extra mile. I mentioned the other night I was going to pull a late night to the waitress serving me dinner and she quietly had the front desk send housekeeping to the room with extra coffee (regular!) packets, as they know I am a massive coffee drinker. Who, but a service-oriented team, would know that coffee, and not that decaf nonsense, would be a welcome treat as I worked budgets into the wee hours?

Yes, sometimes customer service can be heightened by the familiarity of frequent, repeat business. The bonds that are created when you learn someone’s preferences and habits make it so much easier to deliver the kind of wow, memorable service that delight customers and keep them coming back. Kindness, attention to detail and treating others like you want to be treated when you are a guest in their world are all important traits in the world of the service business.

For a girl who likes to live the outrageously wonderful life, my word is magical. Last week, Marriott nailed it!

Another Outrageous Thought to Ponder: Aim for the Future

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No matter the circumstance or situation, the past is the past.  Revisiting the hurt, the pain and the “should haves” and “could haves” most likely won’t change today.

Instead, look at where you are right now as a launching pad for the future.  All that has happened has molded and crafted you into this incredible person who senses and feels like no other.  Your depth of caring and compassion is what makes you, well, YOU!  Use all that has brought you to this place as the fuel to catapult you into one marvelous future.

Leave behind the pain and sorrow, take the love and wonderful memories and go forward with your head held high, your self-esteem right where it belongs and know that you are worthy, you are deserving of love and happiness and that there is an outrageous life God has waiting for you.

Stay focused on the positive.  Take care of you and don’t let anything stop you.  You deserve nothing less.

A Job Well Done – Even at Minimum Wage

Target storeA final run for last-minute school supplies had my daughter and I out shopping last night. My OCD kicked in and I refused to let her start her day without the list being checked off at 100%. Add one Mom headed out-of-town on business and I definitely knew sending Dad out for the “pencil and paper” run would likely end in tears for someone.

Despite the extremely picked-over “Back to School” display we did pretty well. We picked our way through the remaining supplies – skipped the One Direction composition books with a promise to stop somewhere else for “normal” ones – and found everything we needed rather quickly.

As we placed our purchases on the checkout belt, the young cashier pointed out my 4 x 6 index cards were not priced.  Lucky me, I picked up the package that had made it through the packaging process without any printing on the package film.  No UPC code brought the entire lane to a screeching halt. Horrors!

“Do you know how much these are?” he asked? “No,” came my reply. “I am sorry, I did not look.”

He then suggests he just charge me $1.99 and we move on. I tell him I think that it sounded a little high and suggested he should have someone check the price.  After a deep exhale (which sounded eerily similar to the one my daughter makes when I tell her to clean her room), he says “$1.99 is a good price and it will keep the line moving.” I tell him I am not in a hurry and asked him to request a price check. I politely remind him that accurately pricing and packaging merchandise is his company’s responsibility, not mine.

The “I don’t want to clean my room” exhale returns, coupled with the “I have to do WHAT?” eye roll and he flips his lane light on to signal he needs a supervisor. The groans behind us begin. Even I am silently contemplating just saying ‘forget it’ on the blasted index cards, but this little kid has torqued me off with his non-verbal nonsense and I am challenging myself to now be the adult, remain calm and just wait this whole situation out with a new-found grace.

His supervisor comes over – he looks like he is maybe 17 – and inquires as to the problem. Cashier holds up the index cards and asks him if he knows what the price is. The answer “think they are $3.99.”

I silently count to ten (very fast) and respond “how about instead of thinking one of you actually walk back to the office supply or school section – either will work – and actually LOOK at a properly packaged one and then we can actually know the correct priceI know it isn’t your personal fault the cards aren’t packaged correctly – it isn’t mine either – but guessing at the price isn’t helping anyone right now.”

Supervisor stomps off like he’s just been sent to his bedroom without TV or supper, the cashier is now in a full rage over having to clean his room and the “guests” in the line behind me are all subtly expressing their displeasure at the situation.  Even my daughter is doing her best to find a pinhole in the floor tile.  I am feeling very alone in my little corner of the world.

I’ve not raised my voice, the smile has never left my face and I have surprised even myself in not showing any discomfort in the growing time it is now taking to make a few simple purchases. But deep inside of me, I am trying to somehow suggest to this young man embarking on his customer service career that it is important to do a job well. Whether you get paid $7.25 an hour or make $250,000/year; the responsibilities are the same: do what you do with a relentless passion for doing excellent work, give great service, respect others and display a great attitude always. Unfortunately, I was getting none of it.

After a long five minutes, the supervisor, returned with said index cards and a properly packaged companion. It rang up at $0.84. And yes, it took everything in my earthly power to not point out the savings associated with not taking his great $1.99 offer (2.4 times the price) or his supervisor’s suggestion of $3.99 (4.6 times the price). Instead, as he handed me my receipt and avoided any further communication, I simply said “you’re welcome” to his unspoken “thank you” and left the store.

On our way to the car, my daughter said “being an adult is really hard, isn’t it Mom?” Sometimes, it is much harder than she knows. So much harder.

Yes, the importance of a job well done can never be taken for granted. Whether it is inspecting index cards in a paper plant, checking out customers in a busy checklane or even parenting and subtly leading by example, the importance of making sure you do what you do with kindness, respect for others and an attention to giving the job you’ve elected to do your absolute best is your responsibility.

Don’t settle for anything less.