Every Moment

This post represents quite a few milestones !! It’s a New Year, it’s my birthday and it’s the 10-year anniversary of my blog. Hard to grasp that all of these events convened at the same time. It also is a great example of what I wanted to “talk” about this week.

You do tend to reflect more as you get older. I never thought that would be the case, but it happens because I think you realize your time on this planet is on the downward side of the curve. Please don’t think I’m being pessimistic because that rarely occurs in how I live and see life. I’m being realistic though because I’m much closer to my sixth decade roaming the earth than my first !!

So many people have sentiments about escaping 2020. I am not one of those people. Yes, it was a tough year for most everyone I know including me. The loss of my father and my boss will alter my life. There is no doubt about it. I can’t adequately capture the myriad of events that happened around the world that seem that we’re far more unsettled and divided than we are cohesive.

As I reflect on getting the chance to celebrate another year of life, I’ve come to realize something is so true that I never grasped until late last year. My brother was with me and our mom as our dad was passing. As we were discussing all that was happening, a well-intentioned surgeon was telling us he was sure he could perform a procedure which may have a sliver of success for my dad. We discussed this as a group, and my brother, a doctor himself, shared a piece of advice he received from his Chief Nursing Officer. She told him, “Mark, you need to remember that we see people for only a few moments of their life.”

That struck me. It’s true. We act on very little information with very little time in each other’s lives. When you step back to look at it, the majority of how we live, what we believe, and how we view the world is made up of a series of very small moments. For some reason, our brain takes these various interactions and pulls them together to make thoughts, opinions and perspectives.

We need to keep this in mind because it seems that we are acting on these small moments to make massive assumptions, judgments, and movements. We tend to expand these encounters to make our feelings and attitudes absolute. We fill in the pieces on people without even thinking about asking them for any details or context. This concrete approach leads to putting people into compartments that validate our personal view and outlook on life . . . and they may be very skewed and we don’t even see it happening.

The surgeon I mentioned earlier was trying to do his best based on his talent, skills, and experience to help our dad. Fortunately, my brother remembered the advice he was given and called his colleagues to explain the situation and get input from others. It confirmed his suspicion that the chances of my dad recovering were remote. So, we thanked the surgeon and chose not to proceed. The surgeon was indignant about our decision. He was very confident in his abilities. I’m sure he was talented, but he didn’t realize that he had little knowledge of who my dad was and what his wishes were if he were in a life-ending circumstance. He was only in my dad’s life for a moment but didn’t recognize that.

As we all take our next trip around the sun, I’d ask you all to join me in stepping back to acknowledge that we are in each other’s lives for mere moments. Hopefully, you have family and friends who get to experience more moments than others and that is positive. I know that may not be the case with family or friends, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m an eternal optimist.

I don’t want to overlook any opportunity I have to be in a moment with others. Not one. I want every person I meet to know they matter and that I would rather enjoy our time together regardless of the circumstance. You never know. The one time you are with another person may be the ONLY time you’re together.

Why wouldn’t you take that brief time to make it the best possible moment you could? You need to remember that you will be remembered by whomever you encounter – every. time. You have the choice to make that a positive experience. I would encourage you to embrace that !!

I typically write to an audience of HR pros because I feel we can always improve how we work with others. I believe this approach of enjoying every moment should be the baseline for great human resources. If you choose to adopt this, I guarantee that you will enjoy not only the work you do but (more importantly) the fabulous people around you.

Enjoying every moment with all people is an even bigger expectation, but I think it’s needed now more than ever. If we would cherish the moments we have with each other, I think we would appreciate people as the wonderful, creative, and humorous works in progress we ALL are. I know there will continue to be trials, disappointments and failures. However, I can be assured that I will have people who will be doing life with me and the moments we share together will help us work through whatever we’re facing.

Start your year with a positive outlook which will take you forward through the years to come. Enjoy every moment !!

Grateful

I’m geeked about this week because one of my favorite holidays is happening – Thanksgiving !! I love intentionally taking time to pause, reflect and give thanks for life in general. Yes, it has its ups and downs and difficulties. However, I am grateful for every aspect of life. It’s not some false pretense or posturing. It’s how I choose to face each day – grateful.

I’m not blind to all that is going on in the world. Far from it. I would contend that everyone is being touched and/or affected by many things ranging from the political environments which are not positive globally, the reality that the pandemic can (and does) reach anyone in any corner of the world, as well as the personal situations faced in every family which run the gambit of a myriad of circumstances.

On top of being barraged with the on-going waves of trial after trial, people are more divided now than any time I can remember. I’m not trying to make a right/wrong statement with this. It’s just our reality. Unfortunately, the majority of taking sides seems to only pull us apart and exacerbate the general malaise we find ourselves facing.

However, I am still grateful !! Truly. I have an amazing wife who is my partner in everything and two phenomenal adult children who are also trying to navigate the same world of uncertainty. I have an incredible extended family scattered all over the globe who have been more connected and in touch with each other to try to remind us of the family bond we all share. If that wasn’t enough, I have a global professional HR community that is filled with talented, diverse, thoughtful and passionate people who want to see things healed in all facets of society and the workplace. This doesn’t even capture my grateful list completely, but I hope it gives you a glimpse of how I view life.

All of these thoughts, feelings and “nudges” have been pulling at me. I feel that similar forces are at work around the globe because I am having more and more similar conversations with folks. When I get in this mindset, I feel the urge to write. Long before I had a blog or wrote two books, I wrote poetry. I still write a “poem” regularly when I do the song parodies for the HR Net forum I facilitate. It has been quite some time though since I wrote some verse. So, I want to close this blog post with a new set of stanzas.

(Friendly disclaimer: Please note that the poem below isn’t specifically about and one certain division occurring in the world. Please don’t misconstrue, label, or read more into it. I am trying to capture the general sense I feel and see and also how I hope things improve and move forward. )

I am grateful for you, the reader, who is kind enough to read my regular thoughts. I appreciate you, the work you do and the lives you touch. I wish you only the best this Thanksgiving and hope that you see life in an encouraging light. Peace to all !! – Steve

THE GREAT DIVIDE

We cannot run
  We cannot hide
We’re living in
  The great divide
 
Things uncertain
  Nothing’s clear
We seem to live
  In hate or fear
 
If you speak up
  Or if you post
Few will agree
  And some will boast
 
We’re choosing sides
   No matter what
With words that pierce
   And words that cut
 
We do not talk
  We only state
And if opposed
  Choose to berate
 
I am concerned
  For those I know
The gap between folks
  Seems to grow
 
I’d like to see this
  Turn around
With dialogue
  While voices sound
 
I’d take the steps
  To understand
Listen first
  And not demand
 
Start with grace
  Don’t jump to solve
Hear new perspectives
  Then evolve
 
Measured steps
  The gap will close
Value others
  Compassion shows
 
This won’t be quick
  It will take time
But it is worth
  The rugged climb
 
Be positive
  And strive for peace
Exhibit kindness
  Let light increase
 
I ask you to join
  And decide
Together, we bridge
  The great divide

Write This Down

This past weekend a significant life event occurred for me and my family. My dad passed away. I’ve written about him often here on this blog and in my books. I have incredible peace about this and let me tell you why.

Technically, Don Fleming is my stepfather. My biological father, John Browne was a Vietnam veteran who passed away from cancer in 1968 and I was four years old. My mother had been a widow for about eight years when Don came into our life. He and my mom connected right away, dated for a while, and then got married in 1976. It was a full-blown 1970’s gala where my dad, my brother and I all wore the obligatory polyester suits. (They were powder blue by the way. Rockin’ the fashion even then !!)

As soon as Don married my mom, we never called him “Dad” because we were pre-teen knuckleheads. However, he didn’t push back and handled it with grace as he did everything in life. As my brother and I got older, we realized how amazing he was and “Dad” replaced “Don” naturally. My father was an incredible role model of so many attributes that define my life now. I mentioned how he showed grace because he was a man of faith. He would never press this upon others, but he also was very self-assured of who he was. He also was the model husband. He was openly affectionate with my mom and would make sure to give her a kiss when he left for work and when he returned. He never missed a day – ever.

He always emphasized that my brother and I should be “couth” (a word that isn’t used anymore) when it came to respecting our mother and other adults. He expected us to do our share around the house, and he is responsible for our work ethic because of how he modeled it professionally and personally. My dad was never strict, but he was direct and intentional. He expected accountability from us which he always defined as following through on what we had committed to. He came to every. single. event my brother and I were involved in at school. He was supportive, proud, and kept us grounded to be thankful for any honor we received.

As we all grew older together and my brother and I went off to college, we saw my dad less and less because his goal was for us to get on our feet and provide for ourselves. In fact, the day I graduated from high school, Dad hugged me outside the school, told me he loved me and asked when I was leaving. True story. This transition happens to most families, so as life continued, we’d see each other less and less. As my brother and I started families of our own, those gaps naturally grew longer and longer.

Every time I’d visit Dad in Ada, at my house in Cincinnati or at family events all over the Midwest, he’d make sure to share his thoughts and opinions on life. He would grab your attention by saying, “Write this down . . .” Then he’d share a quote he had memorized, a quip or quick story and most assuredly a joke or two. He wanted me to remember these points because he knew they had an impact, reach and meaning. It became so common that I’d hear him pause, raise his hand and I’d jump in and say, “I know. ‘Write this down . . .”

I didn’t realize how ingrained this short phrase had become in my life, but even now, when I give a presentation at a conference I will find myself pausing, looking out to the audience, and say “Write this down . . .”

I am grateful for this man who came into my life 44 years ago. The man who married and loved my mother so incredibly deep and made me who I am today as a husband, father, friend, man of faith, and a professional. Without my Dad, I wouldn’t have had the model of grace, respect and humor that also make me who I am.

I know that as I write this, that not everyone has a great relationship with their parents and/or family. I do not take this for granted or feel that my example is greater than anyone else’s experience. I have learned from both my mother and father to be others-focused and value every person for who they are and where they come from. If I can ever be someone to confide in, converse with, weep with or laugh with, I am here for you. That is a fact and not an idle aspiration.

So, as I close I want to share something that Dad told me to write down. It’s from the poem Desiderata which was one of his absolute go to quotes.

Louise

Friends, I wanted to share something because I experienced a loss this weekend. One of our long-term team members passed away who had left a lasting impact on me and to those she worked with for many decades. Our encounters meant so much and I learned from her. Louise was unorthodox in how she approached people and yet she was incredibly endearing. Our first meeting was so powerful, I captured it and shared it in my new book, HR Rising !!

So, please forgive me for sharing this excerpt. It isn’t meant to bring attention to my book at all. It’s a way to say “Thank You” and “Good-bye” to Louise. We can all learn from the Louise’s in our life !!

Chapter 15: Grace

Have you ever made a mistake at work? Have you ever talked poorly about someone else you work with, or that you know, without that person knowing about it? Have you ever disappointed someone else because you didn’t follow through on what you said you’d do? Have you ever said something that you thought was harmless, but it hurt someone deeply?

The answer for me is a resounding “Yes” to all the questions listed above. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a reality. I’m human. I’m sure to fall and fail others. Hopefully it’s not intentional, but it could be. I can fill this entire book with more questions that show how people fall short of positive or ideal behavior.

The challenge in today’s workplace, and in society overall, is that when we fail each other there is no room for grace. We demand an instant response along with a staunch stance to be taken with little room for any other position. We usually want others to hear our opinion, and we make arguments for others to come to our side. During this type of reaction, we completely run over our humanity.

Now, please understand that I’m talking about when someone makes a mistake and is insensitive or thoughtless about others and their feelings or diverse viewpoint. I’m not talking about overt actions and misconduct. That is a much deeper, and more concerning, level, and poor behavior should always be addressed. Even then though, I would offer that you should allow grace when entering these difficult situations.

As HR professionals, we are surrounded by people daily. (At least I hope you are !!) People are messy and will fail each other. It’s unavoidable. When it occurs, we have a choice to either rely on a system of unrealistic policies and procedures as a list of do’s and don’ts, or we can be humans ourselves.

We struggle with this because of the continued need for “accountability.” This is one of the most misinterpreted terms in organizations. Accountability should be defined as following through on what you commit to doing. However, more often than not, we misconstrue this term by alluding to the fact that accountability equals punishment. When it comes to situations involving employees, we often forget to breathe first. We jump to the nearest set of policies and comb through them to see what level of discipline needs to be metered out. It amazes me as an HR person that when employees slip up, the reaction is usually swift, harsh, and doesn’t really take anything else into consideration.

Our systems of progressive discipline and layers of breaking Rule 1.0.1, Subsection A, litter our field with little regard of how these actions affect the person who broke said rule. We act as if they are the most disloyal, uncaring, and detrimental person who ever worked for the company.

Here’s a question for you . . . Have you ever made a mistake or broken a rule at work?

Did the appropriate action take place? Were you written up, counseled, suspended, or fired? What if you were in this situation? How should the company treat you?

When I began working in the restaurant industry, I was disappointed by many of my HR peers. Instead of being geeked that I had found a new role, they piled on concern after concern that I wouldn’t enjoy this new environment because restaurant employees and cultures made it difficult to do good HR. That was their opinion at least. Please note that few of these folks have ever worked in the restaurant industry, but that didn’t stop them from sharing their opinions on the inevitable turnover present in hospitality jobs, the challenge of having a workforce that predominantly works part-time schedules on ever changing shifts, and the idea I’d be spending most of my time disciplining and terminating people. Astounding, simply astounding. Each facet of what they thought HR would be like in restaurants was either negative or daunting.

I didn’t have any preconceived notions about working in restaurants. I looked at my new HR gig as a chance to work with a whole new batch of humans. When I took on this role, HR didn’t have a good reputation internally either in the office or in our pizzerias. This was primarily because of the approach of my predecessor. They did a great job of establishing HR systems that hadn’t existed in the past, but the company needed structure on the people side of the business. The difference that I brought to the mix was that I didn’t believe HR needed to be practiced in a traditional manner which focused more on compliance than relationships.

Compliance needs to be respected because of the myriad of laws and regulations that cover and protect the workers, the workplace, and the company as a whole. Most situations and issues involving compliance are common sense. Also, you can be far more compliant when you have relationships with people because you can talk about the situation and the behavior they’re exhibiting. Then you can give folks context around rules and systems. This is far more effective than ensuring people “stay in line.”

Before I joined the company, HR typically showed up in the pizzeria when something needed to be “addressed.” We rarely went out to visit just to see how people were doing. There had to be some sort of agenda item and purpose. The entire approach was task-oriented and transactional. Any visit was short, concise, and involved the least amount of conversation and personal interactions possible. This led the team members in the pizzerias to be apprehensive any time a person from HR appeared. Sound familiar?

I am not wired that way. I am probably far more conversational and relationship-focused than the average human. This is how I’m naturally wired. After my first few months being tied to my office and desk, I decided to venture out and visit our locations. Every time I entered a restaurant, I would get distrustful looks combined with a murmur of mumbling wondering why HR had come to visit. Who was in trouble? Who was getting fired? This barrier presented itself right as I hit the door, but I didn’t get discouraged. In fact, it fueled my desire even more to break through the wall of negativity about HR.

There was one visit that helped me recalibrate team member interactions that I will always remember.

I was walking through the kitchen of one of our high-volume pizzerias when I saw a piece of paper mounted on one of the prep tables. It was at eye level, and you could tell it had been posted there to make sure the message was visible to every single employee. I had seen notes posted before, and I didn’t care for them because they were usually a negative message. I felt that it showed that managers weren’t talking to their staff. They were just dictating something that wasn’t being performed or attended to. This note, however, was something I had never encountered before. It read:

“Look you motherf*#%ers, You need to put your f*#%ing glasses in the dishwashing area. If you bastards don’t start doing this, you will be f*#%ing fired. The Management.”

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond to what I just read. The first thing I did was look around at the other team members moving back and forth in the kitchen. No one seemed to be shocked, offended, or surprised by this mandate laced with creative language. It was fascinating!!

Before I tell you how I did respond, let me take a break to share how I assume many HR pros would have reacted . . .

The first response would be feigned offense, indignation, and disbelief. How could anyone allow this to be posted in the work environment? What were the managers thinking? The next step would be to tear the posting down in disgust with a tinge of embarrassment. Then, it was time to find out who was responsible for this obvious policy violation and hold them “accountable.” This surely would result in some discipline. It could even mean a suspension with a good chiding, or even a termination. There wouldn’t be joy in doing this, but the emotion of how awful this message from management was would have to be immediately dealt with and addressed. Heads would roll. An example would have to be made that this would never be tolerated ever again. Cue scary music in the background as the HR pro glares at the crumpled posting in their shaking hand.

Now let me share what really happened . . .

I carefully took the paper down and found the GM who happened to be working the shift. I calmly asked, “Having problems with team members and glasses?”

Their head dropped below their shoulders. “I didn’t write that note. It was Louise.” That didn’t register with me because I didn’t know who Louise was. “Is she a manager here?” I asked. “No, well, it’s hard to describe,” they stammered.

The GM went on to let me know that Louise was a long-term team member who came in very early in the morning to clean and get the store ready to be open every week day. She had her own crew, but she wasn’t officially a manager. She had been such a regular part of the store that she had seen managers come and go while she remained. I appreciated the background and asked if she was still at work. “Yes,” they sheepishly replied. “She’s right over there.”

In the back of the kitchen stood an older, slender woman with an apron on. She was busily working, and the other team members seemed to enjoy being around her. I went up to her and introduced myself.

“Louise?” I asked, noticing I towered over her. I’m fairly tall, and she was not.

“Yep. Who are you? I’ve never seen you here before,” she stated.

“I’m Steve,” I replied.

“Uh huh. You from the office?” she wondered.

“Yes I am. I’m the new human resources director. Can I ask you about this note?” and I pulled out the instructions about how used glassware was to be properly placed.

“Oh yeah, I wrote that,” she willingly admitted.

“Okay. Well, did you need to cuss when you wrote this? That’s a pretty harsh way to describe our team members,” I explained.

“Have you met some of them yet?” she calmly responded.

I laughed out loud. I know that may not have been the “proper” response from the HR 101 Operation Manual, but she caught me off guard, and it was funny.

“No ma’am. I haven’t met many team members yet,” I said.

She smiled back at me and said, “I suppose you don’t want me to post my notes.”

I wanted to make sure I had a good response for her. “I guess you’re frustrated with others here. Would that be safe to say?”

“You’re damn right I am. These kids don’t have any work ethic. I come in here every f*#%ing day and pick up after them. Lazy f*#%ers. The whole bunch of them,” she stated without batting an eye. It didn’t matter that I was in human resources or from the corporate office.

She kept on going, but I stopped her and said, “Louise, I understand you’re frustrated, but do you have to cuss when you’re talking about others?”

“I don’t f*#%ing cuss honey. I’m just talking,” and she meant it. She didn’t even notice that she was swearing. Did I mention that Louise was in her early 70’s during this encounter with me? I know that doesn’t excuse coarse language, but it didn’t really upset me. I had been around employees who swore during work for years. Many times, I joined in just so we could converse.

“Well Louise, I’m going to take down this note. I tell you what. I’ll come visit you on a regular basis and you can share any frustrations you have with me, and we’ll take a look at things. How does that sound?” I wasn’t sure of the response I was going to get.

“I’d like that.” She smiled again. “Nice to meet you.”

I didn’t write her up or discipline her. I crumpled up the sign and threw it out in a waste basket sitting next to us. I then left and went about my day, and so did she. The GM was watching our conversation the whole time. I’m sure they were curious to see how I was going to respond. We went to a part of the restaurant where we could talk, and she told me Louise’s history. “She doesn’t even know she’s cussing, and the other team members love her. She loves them too. My restaurant is better with her in it. That’s a fact.”

I kept my commitment and visited Louise often. We grew very close, and she never stopped swearing. I learned about her family and how she had grown up with our founder’s wife as a childhood friend. She was endearing just as the GM had told me.

I chose to respond with a tool that has worked for me my entire HR career when I found myself in these awkward circumstances. This is a very effective tool that is available for every person throughout your organization.

Grace.

This may be foreign to you, and I can almost guarantee that it’s foreign to how employees have been approached in the past. We don’t feel that we have the latitude in our roles to show grace to others when they mess up. I just don’t think it’s true. We can take ownership of how we approach others with our own personal style.

I know that when others have shown me grace when I’ve stumbled, I’ve been thankful. It allowed both of us to breathe, calm down, and look at the situation in a fresh and open way.

Often, it led to a productive outcome and a stronger relationship. Trust me when I say that allowing grace in our interactions with others will result in a positive experience most of the time.

I’m not saying that discipline and termination are never warranted at work. However, I use a yardstick that says that you only need to implement these steps based on an employee’s behavior and actions. Even with that benchmark, I still review each case and consider all of the factors as well as the person who’s about to be disciplined. I want them to come out of any conversation understanding the situation, its context and how we move forward from there.

Now, so you don’t think I’m being utopian or an idealist, understand that I practice this both inside work and outside of work. It’s not a popular position. Most people want a pound of flesh when they are wronged. I’ll hold out until the last possible moment before making difficult decisions because I believe in people, even in the darkest situations.

You see, I make mistakes and I have disappointed others—even those closest to me. How can I expect grace from others if I am not willing to be graceful myself? Also, how will others show grace if it isn’t given to them?

I recommend that you try a new approach and allow grace to occur.

I’d also recommend that you make grace the norm when people work with each other regardless of their position and level in your company. If you can teach those who manage people the power of this tool, you’ll see a genuine shift in how people treat each other. It’s time for us to buck the trend of others who tend to be reactive and destructive when people fail them. Instead of talking about others, talk to them with an attitude of grace first so that you seek to understand them, the situation they’re facing, and the way to move forward. If you try this, you’ll see people aren’t as bad as you think. It will also make HR, and your life, more balanced and fulfilled. It works.

One last note . . .

I had worked with Louise for over a decade when age started to finally catch up with her. She had lasted through two additional GMs since we first met. They moved on to other stores in our chain and she remained a constant. She had to retire when her memory started to fade, and she’s living in an assisted living facility now. The last GM to work with her had kept a folder with her notes that she had posted in it. When she was getting ready to leave on her last day, he showed Louise the folder and said, “This will always be here in the store because we want you to always be here with us.”

That, my friends, is grace.

Getting Together !!

As I write this, the entire world has changed. It’s unprecedented and has caused an environment of isolation in order to hopefully ensure safety in the long-term. Emotions range from anxiety and fear to confidence and hope. The whole situation has caused us to reevaluate how work is done and what we focus on in life in general.

I have to say that in the midst of this challenging time, I love that people are finding ways to get together even though it’s not in person. There are folks having virtual happy hours and coffee clubs. This is so encouraging because I’ve always been someone who believes that we are wired to be connected as people. This is true for everyone.

Cheers during our Zoom chat !!

Recently I joined a Zoom call with a group of friends who happen to also be in HR that have been daily connected for the past 3+ years. We have a GroupMe and talk every day. Every. Day. Even with that, we felt the need to see and hear each other. In moments we were laughing, telling stories and checking in on how we’re responding to everything going on around us. We talked for 1 1/2 hours !! It was magnificent in every possible way. We got to see each other’s houses even though we live all across the country. This made sense to get together because it’s what we’re used to.

The inaugural #HRPubQuiz !!

Then, yesterday I joined a chat that was predominantly made up of friends I’ve only “met” on social media from the UK. Selena Govier put out a call to have an HR Pub Quiz which she was going to run virtually. So, at 9:00pm GMT the quiz began with five rounds of ten questions. This was great because I got to see and hear the voices of friends I’ve only seen online !! The questions were tough because I’m in the US and don’t have a ton of knowledge of UK only trivia. It didn’t matter one bit because we also laughed and had fun sharing all of the answers. I scored a 22 out of 53 and was pretty geeked about that. Selena plans to have the #HRPubQuiz each week while we’re all at our homes.

Hanging with the State Line Crew !!

Once that wrapped up, another group of HR friends who identify as the #StateLineCrew had a chat as well. They are near the border between Illinois and Wisconsin, and the person putting the call together asked if I could join as a surprise. She also reached out to friends in Virginia and South Dakota to join in. We had another hour of rich conversation, laughter and some commiserating because that was a welcomed relief. It was a great reminder that HR folks don’t have a ton of people they can share with inside their organization because of the nature of the work we do.

No one really knows how long we’ll be apart from each other as this global crisis continues. So, take the time to get together virtually with your family, friends and co-workers. With technology there are no geographic boundaries to stop you. Put together a video chat or use social media forums to connect. Invite others and ask them to join in with you.

This is a time for us to make sure everyone is noticed and included. Having gatherings like this is worth your time because you’ll feel encouraged, connected and know that we’re in this together. Reach out !! I know I will be.

Travels

This past weekend I happened to travel. I’ve come a long way personally when it comes to trips. I used to get very anxious about almost every aspect from finding a place to park at an airport to talking to a desk clerk at a hotel. It’s not rational. I know that. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m an uber-extrovert. I easily approach folks and find it energizing to meet strangers and get to know about them. So, the anxiety I experienced while traveling was even more troubling because in every other situation I rarely hesitate to interact with others.

Over the years in my volunteer roles with SHRM, I had to face my anxiety more and more. As I took on larger positions, travel became much more regular. Fortunately, I have a dear friend who was patient with me who taught me how to have confidence during my travels. I learned how to not get overwhelmed and started enjoying the time I had in airports and in new geographic locations. Now, I’m at a much different place because I’ve put in place some simple patterns I follow to keep things in order. You have to understand that this is a giant challenge for me because I tend to be carefree and spontaneous.

Since I’m more at ease with travel, I’ve slipped back into what I normally do – observe others. I’m an avid people watcher !! People fascinate me. I love seeing how everyone is unique in their appearance and their approach to traveling themselves. The vast majority of people have a destination mindset. They will do all they can to get through security quickly and without incident because they don’t want to slow down. Once they’ve cleared this first hurdle, they keep their head down and their pace increases as they dash to their gate. If anything inhibits people, they will audibly huff, groan or sigh. They only care about their destination and everyone else is honestly seen as being in their way.

I get it. I see the anxiety and stress on the faces and in the voices of my fellow travelers. I’m not judging because there are so many factors that can upset your plans. You’re hoping for each moment to go smoothly, and you convince yourself that something will go wrong. Unfortunately, it can. The volume of people who are traveling is only increasing and many of the systems are over capacity or not modernized. Also, not one airport is the same. There is variety in how everything is handled.

Because I know my triggers, I’ve learned to be more patient with other travelers. I’ve also decided to show grace, appreciation and thanks to those who help us along the gauntlet from the parking lot to our final destinations. The employees on the travel side get bombarded with all of the people who are wired and on edge. They deserve to be treated well instead of launched upon. Many of the delays and idiosyncrasies that pop up are out of their control.

This past weekend I noticed a piece of art which captured who I try to be and how I thought I’d travel. I’ve seen it in the past, but it truly caught my eye this time. I’m sure I’ve missed so much in airports, hotels and even the towns I’ve gone to because I was focused on arriving more than enjoying the journey. That’s a shame. It truly is.

I’ve been doing my best to keep my eyes and ears open so I can take in the experience around me far more than worrying about where my gate is. I’ve found that it’s lowered by stress, anxiety and probably my blood pressure. I don’t want to miss the people, sights and interactions that swirl around me. I am now embracing the pace with all of it’s chaos.

It’s a great reminder to use this same approach at home with my wife, at work with my peers and out in public. This week I hope you slow down and calm down. Life is short. We casually say this all the time, but we don’t take steps to do anything about it and savor where we are and who we’re with. Change that today. Our lives can be full and abundant if we embrace the experience during all of our travels as well as our destinations !!

See the Lights !!

This time of year can lead to a variety of emotions. For some, the holidays are difficult while others are ecstatic. It runs the gamut and it’s hard to know how people are facing the season. It would be best if we had the courage to have safe conversations with each other. We tend to steer clear of anything that could lead to vulnerability or sensitive issues. We’re afraid we won’t know how to “properly” respond if someone gives an answer for which we’re not prepared. So, instead of interacting we avoid. That saddens me. It truly does. We’re at a time in society where more interaction would be more beneficial versus avoiding each other.

I’m a person who goes through periods of joy and also times of stress. The stress in unrealistic and brought on by the thoughts in my mind. Like most people, they tend to wander and make up scenarios with absolutely no context. I do love the music, the chance to decorate our house and to exchange gifts with my wife and kids. I don’t even mind going out among the crowds who seemingly come out of the air and fill shopping centers. The stress comes because of time and how we try to cram a year’s worth of activities into a very small window.

Thankfully, my wife introduced a tradition from her childhood that keeps me balanced. She used to get in the car with her family and they would drive around neighborhoods to see the lights. The displays weren’t the houses of friends and families per se. They were random people who had decided to have outdoor displays to capture the feel of the holidays.

When we were first married (before kids), Debbie and I kept up with this tradition and we loved it. After our kids were born, we continued driving around to see what people had put up. Now that they’ve “left the nest”, we’ll have our first season to go and see the various lighting displays as a couple once again. I’m geeked to get a thermos filled with hot chocolate to enjoy as we cruise through the night to see how creative people are.

There are several reasons why I enjoy seeing the lights each holiday season.

Time together – I am fortunate to have a phenomenal wife and kids (adults). I don’t take that for granted in the least. I know that family dynamics may not always be the best for people. But, when you take time to do things together, you have a better chance to have positive experiences which lead to positive memories.

Reduced stress – It’s easy to get caught up in the pace of life and its various pushes and pulls of the holidays. It’s an even stronger level of stress than you experience the rest of the year. However, when you’re slowly driving through a neighborhood looking at lights, the pressure you may be feeling melts away. That release is so valuable and it helps you get things back in some semblance of order and sanity.

Seeing the light – The most stunning part of seeing the displays all around us is that the light pierces the darkness. The tiny bulbs emanate all of their energy to brighten the shadows. The colors are clear, distinct and welcoming. They bring a smile to your face every time and show how powerful light truly is.

Think what your days would be like if you enjoyed the time together with those around you. How would they feel if you stopped, paused and took a breath in the midst of the daily pace of work/life and realized you didn’t need to be that stressed. And, how would your day be if you saw the light in others instead of darkness?

You have the opportunity to keep in mind the serenity of seeing the lights as you approach your day. This next week do two things – (1) See the positive side of others and be the light in their day that breaks through any potential negativity and (2) Go out yourself at night and drive around.

Take the time to go and see the lights !! You’ll be glad you did and it may become a tradition for you as well.

Callie

This past week has been a whirlwind. Each week I have is full, and I’m fortunate for that. I have some great things going on at work, and I was able to also have the opportunity to speak at the Vermont SHRM State Conference and attend a SHRM Board meeting. Any time I can be near my HR peers and get to know them more, do good work and share some laughs along the way, my bucket is filled.

However, this week, my bucket leaked a little.

Several years ago, my dear friend Matt Stollak, was talking to me about his HR Students at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin. He is a phenomenal human who also happens to teach people to become the future practitioners in our profession. Matt always has fond stories of his students, but one in particular made a profound difference in my life. One day he reached out and wanted to make sure that I connected with one of his students named Callie. I sent her a note to connect and she jumped on the request right away.

Callie was eager, interesting and engaged the first moment that we talked. She was always smiling, ready to share a jab and challenge your perspective because she wanted to learn more and more about HR. When I started to get to know her, she was the SHRM student chapter President. She interviewed me for a paper of hers and kept in touch until she graduated. When she entered the workforce, we stayed connected and I loved seeing her start to dig in and grow as a peer in HR.

Our paths crossed over the years at various SHRM events because she remained involved as a SHRM volunteer leader for the Wisconsin SHRM State Council as both the Social Media Director and College Relations Director. I’ve been active and volunteering for two decades now, so I had a good chance of running into her. Just a short time ago she left the corporate world of HR and actually joined SHRM as an employee. Her role was as a Field Services Director which meant she would visit State Councils and local SHRM chapters and conferences to work/meet with SHRM volunteer leaders. It was great to see her join in and give the role a new viewpoint and energy !!

As I kept staying involved myself, I saw Callie more regularly because I had stepped into different roles which allowed me to travel and speak around the country. Every time I was at an event with Callie we would chat, catch up and laugh (of course.) She was a bright light that I couldn’t wait to see. She was continuing to flourish and improve the lives of so many people, and I loved seeing her thrive !! She even recently stepped into the role of overseeing College Relations and the Young Professionals efforts of SHRM National.

A few months ago, she called me and shared some incredibly grave news. She told me she hadn’t been feeling well and the doctors she had visited couldn’t figure out what was happening to her. After multiple visits to doctors, she was told she had Stage 4 stomach cancer. I was crushed. I thanked her for letting me know, but I felt absolutely helpless.

I reassured her that I would check in and be available for her at any time. I am a man of faith, and I told her that she would be in my prayers. This wasn’t a hollow sentiment. She told me that she was facing a fierce regimen of chemotherapy, but was hopeful that since she was younger, she would get through.

A week ago, Matt reached out and told me that Callie was given 4 to 6 weeks to live. Now I was devastated. I reached out that day to text her and tell her how much she meant to me and to so many others. I told her that she needed to know that she was a light who made a lasting impact on everyone she encountered. I also told her that my life was better because she had been in it. Again, not a hollow sentiment.

I then heard that she was going to meet with hospice this week. After I had spoken at the Vermont SHRM conference and had a packed room filled with more HR peers who were laughing and looking at life and HR in a positive way, I got the news that Callie had passed.

Picture with dear friends at SHRM18 in Chicago. From left to right: Michelle Kohlof, me, Mary Williams, Callie Zipple and Anthony Paradiso.

There are no good words for how much I’m affected by her passing. I know that the loss of anyone is never easy. I ache in a way that seems to have no end because Callie is no longer here. I’m crushed for her husband and family as well.

I reached out to Matt to ask if he thought sharing the news on social media would be okay. I wanted to be respectful, but also wanted to let others know that were fortunate enough to have met and known Callie. He thought it would be fine. When I shared, I was floored by the incredible response and outpouring of love and support. She HAD made a difference !!

I’m writing this today for two reasons: (1) I needed to make sure that even more people knew about my friend Callie. (2) I wanted this to be a reminder for all of us.

You see, Callie engaged every. single. person she encountered. She met them with interest, joy and a willing ear to listen. She didn’t look past anyone to get to something, or someone, more important. People mattered to Callie.

My friends, we have the same opportunity that Callie took every. day. We are surrounded by people in our families, our workplaces and in our communities. Are you taking the time to engage with others? Do they matter?

Do you know that YOU may be the one person who chose to stop, connect and listen at the exact moment someone needed to be noticed and heard? The people who are in your life are there for a reason.

You need to remember that you make an impression on people any time you meet them. Those interactions can be positive and lasting if you choose to be intentional and step into the lives of others on purpose. You can be the one interaction to remind them that they matter.

Callie did that for me as well as for so many others, and I am eternally grateful that she did.

Going to California

A few weeks ago I wrote about being a part of the “sandwich generation” where I have the privilege of taking care of my parents and also my kids (adults). We are all at different stages of life. My adults are just starting out their career while my wife and I are in the midst/latter stages of our career, and my parents are fully retired.

Well, this past Friday, a new wrinkle presented itself which brought about a mix of excitement and sadness at the same time. My son, Josh, just packed his car and is driving across the country from Ohio to San Diego, California. He is on the precipice of beginning his life past college. He truly wanted to get a start in California, and we decided to support him.

The sadness was just a small part of this new transition. We all hugged, shed some tears and then sent him on his way. We know that he will be successful and admire that he is willing to be such a risk taker. We’re very excited that he is adventurous !! Today we can talk to him at any time using various methods which make his moving out a bit more comforting.

As we came to the day of Josh leaving, we had several meaningful conversations along the way. One night he mentioned something that truly caught me by surprise. He said, “Dad, when I tell everyone that I want to go to California, everyone gives me reasons why they wouldn’t go. They say it’s too expensive or too ‘weird’ or other things. Why is that?”

Great questions. We worked through everything, and he knows he has our full support as parents. Our conversation did make me think though because when he was asked about his future, he was expecting affirmation and encouragement. He received doubt, cynicism and negativity. Why is it that when others step out to take risks, most everyone does their best to limit or confine that expression?

I think the answer is that since we would be less likely to do this ourselves, we share our concerns to confirm that we like things how they are. It is funny to me that people constantly say they’re “good with change” which just isn’t true. We desire stability and pattern, and there is a ton of predictability and certainty with that. It’s not wrong or right. It’s just how most people live.

When a risk taker enters our space, we get edgy and defensive because we’re afraid they’re going to upset OUR patterns. We don’t like people who are unpredictable and we have some pretty strong adjectives to describe them which are all negative. We can’t expect creativity and innovation in our organizations if we describe risk takers in negative terms. You see, they won’t be stifled for long because they’ll willingly take their next step in a new direction.

This week try something new. Affirm and encourage those who are trying to bring about change. I understand that all organizational change needs context. This time don’t assume the worst and think that the change will assuredly lead to failure. Embrace the risk takers in your life. You need them to keep things fresh, alive and relevant.

I love my risk taking son. As soon as he was driving out of our driveway, I thought of the beautiful Led Zeppelin classic “Going to California.” It has the lyrics:

“Made up my mind to make a new start, Going to California with an aching in my heart . . .”

The ache is there, but the new start is about to launch and I can’t wait to see the amazing things that he will accomplish !!

No Words

Sunday night is when I sit down to pen my weekly blog. Usually, the words flow easily and I can put something together relatively quickly.

If you don’t know, I am an extremely positive person 90% of the time. It’s natural and genuine. Honestly, it feels a bit odd to type it out because I don’t mean this in either an arrogant or naive way. I believe in the good in life and in people.

Then, the mass shootings of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio happened this Saturday. Dayton is a mere 25 miles north of my home. These tragedies are always horrible and senseless. So, I am floored by this weekend and the mass loss of life. We often get moved by the horror until something else grabs our attention.

I know that there are millions of people who are continuing to move on and live life well. They may see the news online or through social media, and feel remorse or disbelief. And yet, life continues.

This week, instead of writing about the good in people (which I still firmly believe in), I’m taking a break to reach out to those close to me. I’m being intentional to tell them how much they mean to me, and the impact they make in my life and the lives of others. I can’t take the chance that I’d miss the opportunity to do this. I don’t want to take any day for granted.

For those of you kind enough to read my blog, please know that you matter. Every. Day.