The power of boundaries…

IMG_0304
This is where the phone belongs…in my OFFICE

Today I found myself trying to discuss a complex work situation with a senior leader, at the same time as picking my kids up from school.

As I jumped in alarm when the school bell went off above my head, and the cacophony of children released from the prison of school descended upon me…I gravely realised this was not going to work.  “err…sorry? did you just ask me a question?”  Undeterred by the obvious background noise, my work call continued…as I masterfully negotiated the “mute” button with one hand, whilst trying to hand signal instructions to my children and guide them to their bikes for the walk home…let’s just say this resulted in two things…a frustrated work colleague who doesn’t believe I’m listening properly (..no…really…I am…)..and frustrated kids who can’t understand why I’m no longer speaking just waving my arms around like some kind of mad woman.

This is what I like to call…an establishment of BOUNDARIES ….MASSIVE FAIL!

Before I had kids, I didn’t think much about my boundaries.  I guess that many of them were just ingrained so heavily I didn’t have to think about them (for example,  going to the toilet was something I did on my own..strange, I know)… and then others were dictated by the people around me (for example, work told me I needed to start work at 9am and finish work at 5pm, and the workplace culture taught me that I should start work at 8am and not finish before 6pm)….

But then the kids came along,  and all those boundaries started to get broken down.   Suddenly,  I found myself having lengthy conversations while I’m in the shower, or on the toilet (I mean seriously,  does my nakedness not suggest that now is not a good time to chat about plans for the birthday party next weekend?).   I also found myself trying to find quiet nooks in the house (hint:there are none) and put my head back into work mode, because I have made the mistake of  answering my phone on my day off.

It took me a while to realise that in order to create some kind of calm amongst my new chaos,  it was going to require taking control of my own boundaries and then learning to stick to them.  I realised that it was me that needed to help guide my colleagues around my boundaries, i couldn’t expect them to remember which days I was working or whether I was picking up the kids from school.

So now I have boundaries…for example,  never answer a work call in the evenings or on my days off, my answering machine tells them to send me a text message if it is urgent.  If that doesn’t happen, it can wait.  I pick up the kids from school twice a week,  so never agree to a work call or meeting that compromises that time.   No phones at dinner time. etc etc…

I do need to be flexible.  So sometimes, when things are hectic, I might need to break some of these rules.  Although it is a slippery slope, and once I start breaking one, I find myself breaking another.

Which is exactly what happened today.  Work has lots of priorities,  I’m struggling to fit them all into my day, so I’m letting them creep out…and the more I start to be “flexible’, the more I start thinking that I can push the boundaries further.   To the point where I’m thinking “I can manage a work call while I get the kids? That’ll work, I’ll just put my headset into the mobile, I won’t need to talk to the kids, they know the drill”.

Err….no….

This is not a juggling priorities/multi tasking win.  This is just a fail on all fronts.  So what was the point?

Time to get back to my boundaries.  It might mean sometimes I have to say “no” or not achieve something I would like to, maybe put someone else out a bit.. but that’s better than losing on both sides…right?

(Oh…and I’m still working on the toilet privacy thing…sigh)

claire2

It takes a village…

Poor Nitro...
Poor Nitro…no wait…poor mum

Today I am broken.  The straw has broken the camels back.  I am curled up in a ball on my bed, hiding from the children, sobbing into my pillow.

How did I get here?

You know,  it was just one of those days when it all went bad.  Those days which are funny when someone else tells the story, but not so funny when it is happening to you.  My husband is away interstate.  My daughter has an ear infection.  I can’t make my work demands marry up with my home demands, and now they need me interstate for an importance conference and I can’t work out how I can possibly co-ordinate this.  I had to stop midway through a work presentation to answer the persistent call of the school because my son was vomiting and he needed to be picked up.  And to top it off, we are selling our car and the new owners need to pick up the car.

All on the same day.

But the straw?  after months of ongoing skin issues and vet visits,  the dog needed eye surgery.  I had to drop him off and when I picked him up they gave me a laundry list of his new care requirements,  drops in his eyes three times a day,  6 different tablets and as I stood strandled over him, trying to hold the drops in one hand, while simultaneously trying to manipulated my arm round the bucket on his head, and hold his eyelids open as he struggled backwards…then realised I had put the drops in the wrong eye…I finally caved..I lost it…I crawled to the bed and I curled up in a ball.

I surrender.  My white flag is up.  I can’t do this.

And yet…I am extremely fortunate to have a wonderful family who mostly live near by, and a great community of friends from the school.  After all,  it takes a village…right? …we can’t do this on our own…

So why I am standing straddled over a dog, with one child vomiting and another child hitting her head in pain…on my own?

Firstly…little miss independent.  Sometimes, i can be very stubborn.   Spitting out the words ‘I can’t do this on my own”,  feels weak and I don’t like to feel incapable.  I have been known to drag solid wood tables through the house on my own,  because I don’t want to wait for someone else to get home.  I like the satisfaction of achieving things on my own.  I don’t like to feel reliant on others.  I am woman…hear me roar…you know the stuff. But as I lie with my face in the pillow…I finally accept it…I can’t do this on my own (now I’m going to have to wash my mouth out with soap).

Secondly… I made my bed, now I should have to lie in it.   I take full responsibility for the decision I have made in my life.  I chose to have two children.  I chose to go back to work to a high pressure job role.  My husband chose to do a job which requires interstate travel.  We bought the dog.   I made the decisions, now I have to live them. Putting my more logical hat on though, I have to acknowledge that I did not choose for the kids to be sick this week. I did not choose for the dog to need eye surgery.  This is a challenging week.  Maybe it is a product of my choices, or maybe it is not.  If every single week I had was like this, and I was always asking for help, then maybe it would be time to question my choices.  But typically I can manage on my own and the choices we have made serve us well.  So it is OK to ask for help when things are rough.

However,  the final string in my guilty mothers bow,  is that everyone is also in the same (sinking) boat.   Everyone I know is also juggling their own challenges,  some of them have sick family, some of them are also juggling work and kids…I have been taught very well how to look at things from other people’s perspective,  to the point where I find it hard not to think of everything from their perspective not my own.    Why should someone else take on my burdens, when they have enough of their own?

OK Claire, stop with the “woe is me” act.   Time to pump up and ask for help, because you need it.  It doesn’t make you weak or incapable.  And when you’re back on your feet, you will gladly return the favour…you know you will.

So,  I’ve asked the Vet for help.  They are going to care for the dog in the next few days, make sure he gets the medical attention he needs.   I’ve accepted Mum’s offer to bring over some dinner.  I’ve asked friends and family to look after the kids, so I can attend that important work conference.

I can’t do this on my own….but that’s OK,  because the village can…

claire2

Run away stress…

Yep..hot and sweaty really works for me!?!
Yep..hot and sweaty really works for me!?!

It’s early (very early) Saturday morning,  I can feel the sun heating my back and there is a cool breeze lightly touching my skin.  My ipod is softly playing my favourite tunes…I’m sucking in big beautiful deep breaths of fresh of air…and I feel….exhilarated…

Wind back the clock 6 hrs…here’s me…lying in the dark…WIDE AWAKE,  looking at the ceiling (well, i would have been if it wasn’t so dark).  I’ve woken up for no apparant reason and my mind has gone into overdrive.  It has been a long tough week, both professionally and personally.  I can feel the beautiful boundaries of my carefully balanced priorities starting to fall down like a stack of cards.   And I can’t quiet my mind.   Rushing through my head like a freight train, my thoughts are moving from one scenario to another.  Nothing useful, nothing helpful. Just replays of things that have happened and things that might happen.   They are jumping from one subject to another without finishing the thought before it.  It is completely unhelpful and frustrating, but it won’t stop…it just keeps spinning and spinning.

And my eyes are now completely open.

I try to stay completely still,  hope that my mind will take the hint and start to slow.  Each time I feel myself start to fall towards the bliss of sleep, the thoughts drag me back.  I decide to give up, to get up and start moving…be productive…fight the thinking.  But I roll over and see the time…3am…  I can’t do it…I have to stay.  And as the minutes tick by it feels like the night will never end.

And then my alarm goes off.  It is 6am.  Seriously?  was I asleep at last?…and now I am awake…yet again.   I drag myself out of the bed.  I am meant to be running this morning…but I can’t.  I’m too tired.  It has been too rough, i look longingly at my bed…at the calm contented face of my husband as he sleeps…and i just want to snuggle in next to him.

But..no…. I MUST go…

And somehow I make it.  I arrive to the organised run,  to find many others.  Laughing, chatting.  I hear people clapping an elderly couple doing their 50th run.  I see people with babies in prams, young people, old  people, people with dogs, a group of cancer support fundraisers.  I can do this.

I put my earphones in and I start to pound the pavement.  It hurts.  But it feels good.   The blood starts to pump through my veins and as it does, it pushes the stress out of every pore of my body. I feel tears in my eyes.  I’m so happy to be here…this feels so good.  I feel alive.  Right here, right now, all my worries are blown away.  In this moment, I can forget them.   The lady in front of me is struggling,  her partner comes back to hold her hand and get her through.   We can all do this.

And then it is done.  I am so very glad that I made it.

I arrive home and hear the chaos of the family…awake and charged.  But now I think  I can manage…maybe I can get through this tough week…see it through to the sunshine that I always hope is waiting for me on the other side..

claire2

Roadtrip…woohoo

Well…not a roadtrip exactly…but a work trip…on a plane!   Here’s a little post I wrote last week , stay tuned for the rest of the story next week!

I’m writing this post on a plane on the way to India.   I’m traveling to India for work to meet up with some of my team and run workshops.   And let me tell you people…I’m excited.

OK, so the lead up to this trip has been highly intense. As well as all my usual work, I’ve been up to the eyeballs with extra work in preparation for the trip.   I also have extra things to do at home, as I try to get things in order at home and make sure nothing significant is missed.

  • My husband is taking time of work to look after the kids. Check.
  • Visa and passport sorted. Check.
  • Re-arranged all the usual meetings and appointments. Check
  • Made a list of things that need to happen while I am gone. Check.
  • Food shopping completed to ensure no one starves in my absence. Check.

I have tried really hard this ti

me, to let go of the reigns a little more than usual.   I need to keep reminding myself that my husband is more than capable of handling things on his own. I suspect he might also be quite pleased to have all the control for a week…watch what he likes on TV and not to have to check in with me on things. Plus, he has taken time off work because his work aren’t quite flexible enough for him to juggling getting kids from school etc. So he’s getting his own mini break really.

But to be fair, I also don’t want to leave him totally high and dry.   I know what it feels like to be juggling things on your own. The novelty wears off pretty quick, so any prep I can help with eases my mother guilt about going away for a week for work.

And so here I am, on the plane.   All the prep work is behind me. I’m exhausted from my 5am wake up call…and I’m not even half way to my destination. I could just shut my eyes and sleep…

But here’s the wonderful part. I CAN! If I want to shut my eyes and sleep, I can.   I’ve just finished watching a movie. Someone just brought me my plastic meal on a tray, and I ate every morsel. I’ve been served a tea which I am sipping, whilst listening to my favourite tunes.

There are several families with children around me. A baby is crying.

And I can’t help feeling slightly smug that I don’t have to deal with it. Woohoo!

There is only me to worry about.   That for this week, I can just focus on one aspect of my life. Work. I might be juggling a whole lot of work priorities, but I won’t be making lunches or dinners, I won’t be washing , I won’t be driving children around to activities. I feel slightly guilty for feeling this way because I adore my children, my husband…,my life.

But I’m also going to appreciate this little mini break away from the usual. Take the opportunity to enjoy my book without interruption. I’m not going to curse at the lack of space, the delays and the waiting (OK, I might a little bit)…

The thought of finishing off exhausting, intense but fruitful and inspiring days at work, followed by bubble baths and early nights…feels….blissful…

Fingers crossed it pans out that way, otherwise my next blog post could be something…well…something entirely different.

Ahh...bliss
Ahh…bliss

claire2

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I totally need a wife…

freephotosbank.com
freephotosbank.com

I was lying in bed this morning reading a magazine and drinking my tea (I know…blissful, right!), and stumbled upon an article by Annabel Crabb in Marie Claire about women needing wives.   Now, I don’t get on my soap box very often about women’s issues and I really don’t want to start complaining (which incidentally was the other article I read about in the magazine, but hey we’ll talk about that another day) but geez did this hit a hot button for me.

Oh my goodness, how I could do with a wife!

It really is incredible when you think how much women in the workplace has changed over the last 50 years, yet men in the workplace has not shifted much at all.   Pretty much every woman I know is the one who has made some compromise on her work in order to juggle her children.   And I have never thought about it in the context that Crabb presented.     I do feel sometimes like I am working with one hand tied behind my back (literally, sometimes, like the day I presented a plan during a teleconference whilst simultaneously holding a bowl for my son to spew in…again, a story for another day).

When my husband needs to work late or travel overseas, it is one quick phone call to the household manager (e.g me) and so it is done. Yet, when I had to travel recently for work, it was a major production, there were spreadsheets, child co-ordination systems and incredible pre-planning (on my part).

No wonder women find it so hard to get ahead.

I can’t sit here and blame my husband. I do work slightly less hours and have an incredibly flexible workplace and boss. And at least in part, it is my fault. Yep, I confess, I’m a control freak and there is a part..deep down inside of me…that feels proud when I manage to successfully juggle it all.   Mission accomplished. I am woman hear me roar…all that!

But this morning I imagined a world where I came home to a beautiful clean house with food smells wafting from the oven. The washing done, folded and put away.  Where my children had been picked up from school and cared for by someone I love and trust.   Where if I needed to work late I could just do that, instead of mentally trying to work out when I might have an hour free that I could squeeze in that last bit of work (10pm perhaps?).   Would I be more successful at work?   Would I be happier?

Ok..time to wake up, ‘cause that ain’t happening.   However, perhaps it is time for us to revisit priorities in our house. Maybe it is time for me to let go on some things and push a bit harder on others, and not let the guilt eat at me. Maybe things have shifted a little too much out of my favour.

I don’t have a wife…but I have a husband and a family…who are pretty awesome, and capable and amazing (just like me!!)…so maybe they could do a little more to help even things out so that we are all capable of succeeding.

claire2

Things I’ve learnt from bad bad bosses…starting with “Teflon”

This post is the first in a series of posts I hope to do , sharing some of the good and bad manager experiences I have had over the years.     I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic leaders who have been paramount in my success. But recently I’ve also come to appreciate how the bad Managers I have worked for also taught me a lot and could also be credited for some serious growth I’ve made in business.     That said, working for these Managers was not fun, it was frustrating, de-motivating and hard.   I found myself often wishing that my circumstances were different (why did I have to deal with this crappy manager when other people had great managers and seemed to be going onto better things) and crying in the toilets was not unusual for me (I know, not good form, but sometimes you just have to let it out)

Teflon is great for pans but terrible for managers.

When I look back, one of the most significant manager stories comes from several years working under a leader whom we nicknamed “Teflon”. She earnt this name because nothing would “stick” to her. She delegated with such success that she literally did nothing herself.   When I approached her with challenges in my team she would simply say “what do you think needs to happen” and when I was at a loss, she just left me to figure it out. When I did create solutions which needed her support, she failed to support them across the leadership teams and many projects fell to nothing under her leadership.   Not only that but she was dis-engaged and disconnected from what was happening in our business, she was literally absent from the office a lot and would not return phone calls or emails.

I was managing a team of my own at the time, through times of change and pressure. They expected my action and delivery, yet I felt stunted and unable to drive the things required. I just wanted to curl into a ball and give up.

Bring in the cavalry…

But I wasn’t willing to give up…just yet… So I started talking to the other managers in our team and I soon realised I wasn’t the only one in this situation, all my colleagues under the same leader were suffering the same challenges and frustrations. So we united, we collaborated and we promised to support each other. We set up regular meetings across our manager team (yep, without our leader, I’m sure we probably invited her but …surprise…she didn’t come). We talked about our challenges and helped each other figure them out. We started to understand each persons unique expertise and were able to call on different team members to help with certain issues.  We made strategies, plans and we implemented them successfully by working around our leader.

And we laughed…oh how we laughed…

In coming together as a team, we started to feel like “we got this” and our perspective on the situation started to change.   We were able to laugh at the circumstances and find humour in the challenges we faced.

Those were some of the toughest years in my career and yet I still look back at them as also some of the best years of my career.   I learnt so much from those around me, I was forced to grow tremendously as a leader and became far more self sufficient. And now, in the new age of social technologies, I realise that many of the skills we used, around collaboration, sharing of expertise across silo’s and not relying on heirachy, are becoming the new way of working and my previous experience has opened me up to see the possibilities it holds.

So, thank you “Teflon” for forcing me to look deeper and in doing so, working with some of the most amazing people I have been able to learn from and helping shape the person that I have become today.

What strengths does your current Manager bring out in you? what can you learn from your experience …even if that experience may not feel ideal today?