Surprise Heroes

This week, while on vacation in South Florida, I received an e-mail from one of my managers notifying me that I needed to be present at a meeting in Florida and needed to extend my stay.

And since the high in Chicago this winter resembles the polar ice caps, I was more than happy to oblige.

It had already been an awesome stay.

I reunion-ed with my former roommates, beached it until we needed aloe, partied like it was 2007, had conversations I can’t remember, and made life plans that included first and foremost retiring on the beach (soon).

I took my vacation glow on the road, knowing that I would have little sleep over the next few days, but that seeing my co-workers would bring some necessary (and fun) team bonding.

Friday it occurred to me that I was exhausted.

Wednesday had been an 18-hour day, with dinner and drinks.  Thursday’s schedule wasn’t any less busy and long and I found myself dragging my feet on my way to a large work dinner with people I largely did not know.

And then I was seated next to Mary.

Mary has had a long incredible career.  The kind of career most dream of.

She’s retired now and carries herself like someone who’s lived a lot, loved a lot, seen a shit load, and my guess is made some fabulous friends.  I didn’t know her 20 or 30 years ago, but I’m betting she’s now just as glamorous.  Her laugh is contagious and she drinks like she knows how to indulge in life.

I felt excited to meet this incredibly accomplished woman who was appointed by three different presidents to serve overseas in a multitude of roles.  Someone who has lived in more countries than I’ve probably travelled to, who’s brushed shoulders with influential policy-makers, and who somehow had time to be married for 29 years and raise five children.

I didn’t waste my chance to get to know her.  I immediately notified her that I was going to ask her a thousand questions.

Lucky for me, her gregarious personality lit up.  She took a sip of wine and said, “well, what do you want to know?”

I asked about her career and how she navigated from one role to another.  I asked about her work for diplomats with strong personalities.  I asked about choosing the right person and making a marriage work for that long.

She told me about the 10 years she spent in her first job before applying to work overseas on a whim, setting herself up for a life she couldn’t imagine.  She told me about the characters she’s worked for/with and the trials and triumphs she’s managed through the years.  She told me that she believes the most important thing in a relationship is integrity.

What struck me most was her honesty.  She talked about her career with humor and humility and discussed her family life with passion and a tone that shed light on its importance.

I love meeting people that inspire me.  I love it even more when it takes me completely by surprise.

You can find Mary’s bio here.

Here’s to unexpectedly meeting heroes.



Inspiration at the Office


Today I was unexpectedly uplifted and dare I say… inspired?

It all started with a meeting.

This frequent occurrence has become akin to getting dressed in the morning.

It’s going to happen.

The question is… did I lay out an outfit the night before? (most likely no.)

The difference today – I was kind of dreading it.

I was meeting with a highly successful individual who doesn’t inspire the warm fuzzies.

A cross between Devil Wears Prada and Matilda’s Trunchbull (albeit more attractive), this person required more of my “getting ready” attention than usual.

I made sure my outfit was truly “business casual.” I put on appropriately sized heels (a tip from her secretary).  I made sure to take my scarf off before heading in.

I sat up straight, smiled politely and prepared to be on my best behavior (no promises).

The conversation began as expected and covered the 3Ps.  Projects.  Progress.  Performance. (I made these up).

40 minutes into what was promised to be a 30-minute meeting, the conversation unexpectedly turned to topics unforeseen in such an environment.

This seemingly hard-edged individual offered a softer side.

She divulged personal career struggles she endured on her way up and even shared some personal life wisdom in the form of young heartbreak.

I’m not sure how we hit these topics or progressed the conversation in this direction.

I rarely do in these situations.

All I know is that an hour and half later I was feeling inspired and thinking about how I could incorporate the lessons she learned into my own personal and professional life.


For the Love of Role-Modeling

skating coach

This past week, a younger co-worker asked to shadow me at work;

I was offered the opportunity to coach a group of figure skaters ages 6-8;

I was assigned a prospective candidate to interview for my college.

My plate was pretty full and little sleep was had (nothing new)…

But I threw myself into each experience.

And in the process remembered how much I adore mentoring, coaching and passing on wisdom (used loosely here).

Each separate event had me deep in preparation.  I outlined appropriate questions to ask an ambitious high schooler, considered work tasks most interesting and even went on the United States Skating Association website to look up basic skills I may have forgotten (I admit it).

The result was worth the effort.

Offering work advice left me feeling humbled.

Speaking to a high school student determined to surpass insurmountable life obstacles was inspiring.

And helping to mold a new generation of athletic character in the form of 6 and 7 year olds…

Was just plain Awesome.

Volunteers, a Park and Some Flip Cup

AWESOME day 5 started in a park and ended in a park.

June 8, 2012 was my company’s day of volunteering.  It’s a wonderful initiative that calls all employees across the country (tens of thousands) to take the day to volunteer at hundreds of preplanned activities.  This year, I volunteered to lead one of these events.

My event: gardening and painting at Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side

It was truly an awesome day.  I organized 80 volunteers to work with Partnership for Parks to do landscape work on a portion of the park and paint nearly the ENTIRE perimeter of the fence.

I summoned my energy to motivate the volunteers (motivational speeches were requested and received!) and run between projects keeping everything on track. At one point the Park’s manager asked me if I was “always this energetic” – a project that requires hyper-ness?  I think I’ve found my calling.

The day was a success.  I met a great deal of new employees and bonded with some current group-mates.  The Park’s employees were extremely thankful (they depend on volunteers to keep NYC’s parks looking great).

After we were through beatifying the park, we headed to an on-the-water drinking spot at the Hudson River.  The party got started and we celebrated the day’s successes (with lots of free booze and quesadillas… and maybe a little flip cup…).

After the party my co-worker and very good friend and I walked about 30 blocks downtown to the edge of Central Park.  We sat by one of the fountains with loads of other New Yorkers, reflected on our day and took in our city.