Sunday, January 27, 2008

Gotta Be Me

Me . . . in a hat. Really, this is me. I love hats. I think I look kinda cute in them. Even for an old girl. The older I get, the more I care about what I think and what I like. Other people's opinions are important to me but ultimately, my own is the only one that matters.

In my last post, I talked about allowing myself to be influenced by others. I talked about how I changed my management style and about how it was the wrong thing to do. People have asked me why. Really, it all boils down to the fact that I had little choice.

As a company, we had spent millions of dollars on a customer focused, service oriented way of doing business. One where you coach employees and focus on team. That's a good thing, in my mind. We had an outside consulting company design an entire program. I was part of the team that contributed best practices. It was an honor. The company designed a huge, 2 year training program. They designed forms and processes and scripts. It should have worked. For some it did.

With best intentions, the company said "You will manage this way". "Our way". The message was that it didn't matter what we had successfully done for many years. Do it their way.

Now, I am all for learning, growing, and improving. I liked the program for the most part and felt it was a move in the right direction. But I am an individual. And a child of the sixties and seventies. I believe there is, to use an old southern expression, more than one way to skin a cat. (Don't email me on that one!) I believe that the end result is what is important and there are many ways to get there, within an individual's comfort zone. But I tried it their way.

My main problem was the paperwork. I manage individually and forms just don't work for me. I coach but don't follow a script. The structure of this program was killing me. But I was told I must do it that way. My performance was judged on doing it their way. So I lost my way.

Combined with personal issues related to my children and my Mom's death, the whole process caused me to lose my confidence in every area of my life. Nothing was normal for me, at work or at home. It all came to a head on a conference call in May with executives. It was bad. I won't share the gory details but the Tere everyone knew, the Tere I knew, was gone.

My friend Lori, one of the most caring and honest people I know, was listening on that call. She told me the truth. She told me I had never grieved over my Mom. That I needed to ask friends for help and not try to handle it all myself. That I needed to get back to being the Mom my kids were used to, the mother that my Mom was to me. She was right.

So it was time for some reflection. You can't really go back to being who you were. I didn't really want to go backwards. That would be saying I had not learned anything from the experience. I wanted to remember who I was but take what I had learned and go forward as a better person. To keep who I was at the core and add the good things to build a stronger me.

So I apologized. To more people than I care to divulge. I apologized to my kids. I asked them for help. Together we decided what the problems were and we fixed them. I apologized to my employees and we shared a plan for change. I apologized to my boss and told her what I needed from her to make things better. And they were all supportive. They were just as glad to see the real me as I was to be there. There was no turning back.

Sometimes in our lives we go through experiences and we say we will never do that again. Sometimes we backslide. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be manipulated. And other times, we remember our core values and know we will not ever allow it to happen again. Is that called growing up? Maturity? Wisdom? I don't know, but I know I have it now.

It feels good to be back.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Alligator Alley

Keller Williams has a song called "Alligator Alley" that perfectly describes how I have felt over the last year at work. Here is a portion of it:

As I'm doing the backstroke
down Alligator Alley

flipping to freestyle

try to pick up some speed

ain't no time for breaststroke

got to get my ass to the other side

swimming like a speed boat

so I don't die

swim for your life

Last year was not one of my best. I let personal issues and job related issues get in my way. As a manager, I lost my "style" and tried to manage the way people told me I should. In the fall, someone, a very dear friend, was brave enough to give me a good "talking to". I woke up and started taking control. My district finished the year strong and with a new outlook. We exceeded our budget and the people that work for me are all thankful to have "me" back.

So the presentation I worked on all last week was not just about presenting my review of last year and my plan for this year. It was about proving that I was again worthy. About thanking them for allowing me to show them that, once again, I am good at what I do. It may have been a business meeting to them but to me, it was closing the door on a growth experience.

And I rocked. In the middle of my presentation, our division vice president stopped me and said, "I am so glad to see that the Tere I know is back. I don't know who that was last year but I see she is gone. I am really glad you are back with us."

I am glad that other Tere is gone. I am sure everyone else in my life is too. It felt good to hear it.

And look at that picture I took right before I left the hotel room. I looked hot! It's amazing how your inner confidence can come through and make a new suit look even better.

No more Alligator Alley for me!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Our Schools Are Broken

I had a wonderful conversation with my daughter on Saturday. She talked about how much she liked school, how much she was learning, and how excited she was about graduation. Sounds like a normal conversation you would have with a high school senior, right? Sadly, not at my house. Until now.

My children have never been scholars. They got a double dose of laziness from their parents. Neither their dad nor I ever applied ourselves in school. Our children never did either. I will not make any excuses for their lack of dedication to their schoolwork or their grades. It's been a struggle.

My son was quiet, unmotivated, and uninterested. He never got in trouble, he never asked for help. He just sat quietly and failed. I brought the problem to his counselor several times, pointing out that he would not graduate on time if we did not get him help. There were no options. He wanted to drop out and get his GED. I was not going to allow it. For his senior year, I moved him to a private school. There were small classes, there was no homework, and they did not accept less than a "C". If you didn't get a "C", you had to do it again until you did. My son flourished, made up his credits along with his regular required classes and graduated on time.

My daughter started down the same road. As a freshman and sophomore, she was unmotivated and failed a few classes. As a junior, she woke up and realized she would be in the same position as her brother if she didn't work harder. She did and also made up some classes after school in an online program at the school. But she still didn't apply herself in all classes and continued to fail in those situations. Her fault but still frustrating.

And she felt like she was treated like a small child. There was a time that her teacher would not allow her to go to the bathroom. She asked. She was told no. She was not a discipline problem. She asked again. She was told no again. She sat there until she was crying because she had to go so bad. The teacher finally let her go. I told her that the next time that happened, leave the class, go to the bathroom, then go to the office and tell them what happened. Tell them to call me. I went to the principal and the counselor. They were no help - for the bathroom situation or the general classroom situations where she wasn't learning.

She had a few really good teachers. One was exceptional. Her name is Angela Ford. My daughter felt like she cared. She felt like Ms. Ford had confidence in her. My daughter had her for 2 classes. And she learned a lot from Ms. Ford. I am not saying any of my daughter's problems are related to teachers. There really are good teachers. My problem is with the school.

There is such a need for security and control that they have forgotten that part of learning is learning responsibility. The parking lot is locked after the day starts. No one in, no one out except for the main entrance that is patrolled by an officer. I get the security issues and need to control access. But the kids feel like they are prisoners, not that they are being protected. My daughter hated it. She said she didn't care if she graduated.

I went to the school right before Christmas to withdraw my daughter. I asked for her transcript. They told me that since she was 18, they probably could not give it to me. I said "You mean to tell me that you required me to write a note for her yesterday to allow her to check out early but you can't give me her transcript?" They gave me a copy.

My daughter is going to Knox County Adult High School. It is a program where students that are 18 and in danger of not graduating can attend to get their diploma. They are assigned a teacher but they work online at their own pace. The teacher is there if they need help.

So back to our dinner conversation. We were discussing her new school. She said she felt like she was being treated like an adult. Like it was her responsibility and if she wanted to get it done, it was up to her. She said that made her want to work harder. She said she felt like the teachers cared. And that she was really learning. That she was retaining more than she ever did in a traditional classroom. She can leave for lunch and come back and no one treats her like she is going to skip school. She can go to the bathroom when she needs to. She can walk out in the hall if she needs a break. And her teacher says she is progressing faster than average. That if she keeps it up, she will finish all her credits and make up all the missing credits to graduate on time. Maybe even early. She said that she didn't care before because she felt like she just didn't fit "school", like she couldn't learn, like no one cared if she learned. She said that for the first time, she wants to graduate. And she is excited. That was a conversation I never thought I would have.

Our schools are learning that every student does not learn the same way. They are making changes but it is slow. There are so many things that are broken, the time it will take to fix them all is overwhelming. Add to that government regulations, test scores, and advancing technology. I don't have answers. I wish I did. I am an educator. It makes me sad.

But the changes we made were good. I am sad that we had to abandon our school to make this work. But this is my daughter's future. And it looks much brighter now.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Working From Home

I could really get used to this. I am really liking it. But I can't get used to it. The real world will be calling me back soon.

I have been working from home this week. As I explained in a previous post, I have a big presentation due next week. It is easier to do it at home where there are no salespeople ringing in to sell our company a new time saving device, cleaning product, or computer. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that they have a job to do. But c'mon people, know something about the business you are calling. We are a large corporation with over 2000 locations. We have large departments in a tall office building with a beautiful view of Mt. Hood out in Portland, Oregon that "do all that" for us. Little ole' me in Knoxville, Tennessee can't help you make your quota. Sorry. But I digress.

So, I am working from home this week. It is quiet. I can work in my sweats with no makeup. I can drink coffee and snack on pretty little cookies. And get some laundry done too. It has really improved my attitude towards the presentation.

But I feel a little guilty. I am truly accomplishing so much more than I would in my office. I am working later. Last night, I was still working at almost 10pm. But that whole "work ethic" thing we baby boomers have kind of gets in the way of completely enjoying this time. That's something I will have to try to get over. Maybe I can work on that tomorrow. While I am working from home. In my sweats.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Lessons About Yourself

It's amazing what seemingly insignifcant events can do to teach you things about yourself. Like computer problems. Everyone has them. But I learned several things about myself this weekend, some of which I am not proud.

To explain I believe I will share the lessons and then why I learned them.

Lesson 1: I am a tech geek. Not a new lesson really. I worked on a computer and software help desk for several years and then trained users on software and computers for another few years. My background is in education, not information technology and I am by no means a computer wiz. But I understand computers and how to deal with them. Most of all, I am not afraid of them. So when my daughter's laptop messed up I worked on it. I spent the better part of a weekend on it, then put it aside over the holidays. In the meantime, my desktop, with all my photos and all of our music (4 Ipods in our family!) on it started acting up a little. Got that taken care of Saturday. Then I worked on the laptop again Sunday most of the day. I finally gave up and, yesterday afternoon, took the laptop to Best Buy to be nurtured back to health by the Geek Squad.

Lesson 2: I am impulsive. I originally bought the laptop for our family so we could take it with us when we travel. Casey quickly took it over as "hers". I have long wanted my own laptop and with the desktop almost full of photos and music, I decided yesterday that I would get my daughter's laptop fixed and I would buy a new laptop for me. I deserve it. I need it! Really! I want to use it for photography which would free up the desktop for all of our music files. So before I went to Best Buy, I ordered one online for pickup at the store. Just for me!

Lesson 3: I spoil my daughter. So Best Buy was pretty sure the motherboard of our laptop was fried. We can pretty much pinpoint the time back in November that it probably happened. I called Casey and told her. She sadly told me okay and we moved on and talked about what I would buy at the grocery store. While I was still in Best Buy getting ink for my printer, I thought about it. (Thinking . . . ) I was going home with a new laptop and "hers" was too expensive to fix. In fact, it would cost more than a new one to fix the old one. Hmmmmm, more than a new one? Hmmmmm, let's look at the new ones that are on sale. Oh, look! A great sale. And with her enrolling in college and possibly moving out soon, she will need a computer. And it would be the last one I would buy. And it is cheaper than the one we are replacing but a better computer. "Mr. Best Buy Guy, can you add this laptop to my total?"

Lesson 4: I am optomistic. I really really hope my bonus comes soon!

Lesson 5: This is what I look like when I am trying to figure out a new computer. My new laptop came with a webcam. As I was discovering all of it's features, I realized I looked pretty goofy. So I took a picture with the webcam.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Why I Love Scrapbooking

I love photography. I love the creativity and the challenge of it. I sometimes struggle with the technical side but I am getting better. The picture of my daughter at left is NOT an example of getting better. The lighting is bad and I did not adjust the white balance to compensate for the fluorescent lights. My daughter's friend is partially in the picture and sideways. There are many other technical things wrong with this picture. I probably would not share this one with my fellow Flickr photographers. But I love it.

That's why I love scrapbooking. It takes the pressure off the photography side. Yes, it is always better to use a good picture. But scrapbooking is about the STORY behind the picture. It is forgiving.

This picture is one of a series of 6 photos that I took of my daughter while she got a tattoo on the inside of her foot. Please don't email me and tell me how stupid I am for letting my daughter permanently deface her body. I already know how stupid I am. At least her tattoo was well thought out and meaningful. She got 2 small stars, one for each of the people she loved that died. A blue one for her Dad and a green one for her Mammaw.

The six photos begin with the first time the needle touched her foot and progress as the tattoo becomes a part of her. Her expressions range from innocent surprise to her lips pursed in preparation of a "wirty durd" that cannot be said here. They are priceless.

Today I spent several hours at my local scrapbook store with friends. I worked on the pages for this series of photos. It was fun to share the story and her expressions. And to preserve the story forever in our scrapbook.

One day when my grandchildren see the pages with these photographs of their mom, they will laugh. And they will be able to know why she got her tattoo. But I bet they won't discuss the ways I could have adjusted the white balance. Hopefully!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Glad To Be Home

It's been a long week. I haven't had one of those in a while. I have not blogged since early last week. It feels like forever. But this is a busy time of year at work and that makes things busy for me at home also. This week, it was all about planes, training, and playing catch up.

I was asked, along with a coworker, to do some training in Chicago. I love to train. I am a trainer by nature. But I haven't done formal training in a while. So it took a little extra preparation and I had to wrestle with a copier that hates me, but I got everything done by Monday night prior to flying out on Tuesday morning. The copier still hates me but I left it in working order. For now.

I need to thank the Weather Gods and my guardian angel because January in Chicago could have been ugly. On Monday, there were tornadoes. They were predicting snow and ice for Thursday and Friday. So we were there on the perfect 2 days - 50 degrees with only a periodic drizzly rain. Thank you Weather Gods and guardian angel!

The training went very well and I think the trainees went away better able to do that part of the job. I think that's why I love training. You get to provide knowledge that allows someone to succeed in their job and that makes their lives easier. Love that!

Since I returned home, it hit me in the face that I needed to pay bills, buy groceries, and prepare for a meeting coming up in which I have to do a huge presentation. This presentation occurs, thankfully, once a year, in front of executives 2 and 3 levels above me. If this was school, it would be like a test worth 75% of your grade! Since I am more of a relationship style manager than a numbers manager, I really have to prep for the numbers pieces. Got to get on it.

But what I would really rather do is to sit with my feet up and drink a yummy, steamy cup of coffee like in the picture. I think I will.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Personal Obsession

Look at my pretty, pretty shoes. I love them. I told the kids that all I wanted for Christmas was Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. They came through even though I don't think they fully understood how serious I was. There are people out there that have hundreds of pairs, all different. If you check the internet, there are hundreds of styles and you can even get them custom designed. I am not there yet. But I do love them for the expression they allow.

The history of my obsession:

Sometime in the 70's - white Converse all stars, low tops, worn with overalls. Then I also played basketball in blue and white leather Converse high tops.

Sometime in the 80's - red high tops, worn just hanging out. I dressed my son in them in every color. He was a toddler, what could he do about it?

2005 - black high tops. I bought them for Casey to wear with her bee costume but they "became mine" soon after halloween.

2006 - Pink, shiny, quilted. I wear them all the time. One of my favorites.

2007 - White with red and black flowers and cherries. That pair re-ignited the obsession. For Christmas, my team bought me the ones that are black with white and hot pink flowers and cherries, the ones that are burgandy and tan plaid, and the white ones with multi colored patchwork. Zack got me the red and white gingham with red and white flowers.

I work in a professional environment for the most part. Only rarely can I wear these to work. But I wear them on the weekends all the time. And I still want more. I have a list. It's a sickness, really.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

And Ringo Was His Name-O

This is Ringo. He is a German Shepard/Australian Shepard mix. He is a FREAK!!! He belongs to my daughter. He makes me crazy. She was not supposed to get a dog. I threatened. We already have many dogs:

Sanka - our first dog and we all love her. She is a black lab/dalmation mix and the sweetest dog ever. We raised her from a 5 week old puppy and she is the best. She is 10 years old.

Colby - we got her for the kids for Christmas a year after we got Sanka. She is a golden retreiver and she was about a year old when we adopted her. She is like a bull in a china shop and stubborn as all get out. She is 10 years old and was supposed to be the last dog.

Zsa Zsa - Zack got Zsa Zsa when he turned 18. She is a yorkie/poodle mix. He moved out and she went with him. He moved home and she came back with him. Now he moved out again but Zsa Zsa is still here!

Liza - She belongs to Zack's friend Chris. She is some kind of maltese mix. We were just going to keep her temporarily until he could get into a place that would allow pets. Yeah, right. A year later, still here. I keep saying I am taking her to the no-kill shelter but always manage to allow myself to be talked out of it.

Cleo - We got her from the shelter when Zack worked there. She is a pomeranian. She was going to be classified as unadoptable because she was older (about 10 years old), one of her back legs is deformed and virtually unuseable, and she had a collapsing trachea. We kept her and she is a great dog.

Yes, that was 5 dogs I listed. And (don't email me when I say this) but I am not a pet person. I am not against them, I just know my limitations (and my kid's limitations) in caring for them. And we have too many dogs.

And then, Casey brought home Ringo. When he is put outside, he runs from one glass door of the sunroom to the other. Not just a couple of times. The whole time he is outside!!! Whining. And he stands against the door on his hind legs, resting his muddy paws on the glass. I quit trying to clean the doors a long time ago. He can almost get the door handle down with his mouth. Thank goodness the doors open out. Casey plays with him and gives him lots of attention. It is NOT for a lack of attention. He is a freak!

And Ringo was his name-o.