I have a mean aunt who lives on the west coast.
I’m not sure she would call herself mean, but she’s an elderly woman who is angry with me because I’m basically a worthless family member. And, you know, she’s right. When it comes to my family of origin, I don’t do much for the people who love me.
(Turns out that familial love is subjective, and, often, a one-way street.)
Anyway, about a decade ago, my aunt was infuriated with me. She sent me an email that said, “You’re nothing but a childless liberal.”
She meant — you’re selfish.
But my mind went elsewhere. I thought, wow, that liberal word is wrong because I’m actually very conservative when it comes to keeping government out of my private life. I understood that it wasn’t the moment to debate politics, so I let her call me a childless liberal and haven’t communicated with her since.
(Families, man! The only thing that manages drama is an email filter that bypasses your inbox and sends shit like that to the garbage!)
But, being a childless liberal, I’ve come to realize that she was right. For years, I lacked empathy for people who struggled with work-life balance issues. I helped my mother through several illnesses while working full-time in HR, but I always did it with a chip on my shoulder. And while I’m all about work-life balance for myself on a beach in Bermuda, I haven’t always been sensitive to individuals who have kids by choice.
“Of course it’s hard. What did you expect?”
(I’ve learned that you don’t say that kind of stuff to parents who seemed surprised when their kids are sick in the middle of the workweek. You just nod your head in sympathy and go wash your hands so you don’t catch norovirus.)
Now, in my 40s, I’m having my version of work-life balance issues. The husband and I both travel for work. I have an elderly cat. I don’t have any family in town, and I have to rely on housesitters and paid help to manage my life when I travel.
It almost always works, but when it doesn’t, things come to a halt. This week? I had to reconfigure my schedule because life wasn’t smooth. And you know what? Nobody died. It’s stressful and I’m missing out on a lot of fun, but I’m going to survive.
The people in my social circles are listening to me complain about this week’s work-life drama and saying, “Hey, aren’t you that childless liberal who doesn’t really pay attention to work-life issues?”
And I’m saying, “No, I’m the small government Democrat who thinks you shouldn’t have a bunch of kids and complain about the price of daycare. But I’m going to keep those opinions to myself because someone has to raise our future doctors and science geniuses. I’m glad it’s you.”
But it sucks when work-life balance issues get in the way of work. Or life. Or both.
Maybe the conversation isn’t about work-life balance or priorities. Maybe it’s about compassion and community. You help me out, I’ll help you out. No judging. No expectations. That kind of vibe. There are places in the world where that happens, right? Scandanavia? Small towns in Iowa?
We’d be happier human beings if more of us — childless liberals, exhausted parents, crabby aunties — dropped our emotional armor and asked for help. Which is why I decided to stay home a few days, this week, instead of trying to make HR Tech happen.
I miss you guys. I’m coming later in the week. And I hope to see you at my session on Thursday.
My sweet kitty, Emma, is allergic to the world.
This poor boo has been on shots and meds over the past few years to decrease her sensitivity to pollen. Emma’s personality is sweet, though, and she doesn’t give us a hard time about taking medicine.
(Well, it’s no more complicated than any other cat. We wrap the tablets in a pill pocket and shove them down her mouth.)
Emma detects patterns and avoids us at certain times of the day, which is surprising because we never thought she was all that sharp. I prefer to dispense her medicine at night, so she started hiding after 9 PM.
I’ve had to become stealthy, for sure. I’m now focused on continuous improvement so that the whole process can happen at any time of the day and well before Emma knows what the hell is going on.
I’ve also been trying to bring some of that continuous improvement into my life. When activities become a drag, or when events become obligations, it’s good to shake things up. Change my routine. Stop old behaviors and start new habits.
In July, I tried to give up bread and pasta. That lasted until I went to London and ate my way through every restaurant by starting with a bread course. But it was good to be mindful and pay attention to my default behaviors (“get that bread in my tummy!”) and to try to behave in different ways.
So this month I’m not giving up anything. I’m going to shake things up, for sure, but I’m giving up “giving up something” for 31 days. Whatever happens, whenever it happens, will be okay.
And I’ll continue my shock-and-awe medicine strategy with Miss Emma. Pills at night? Meds during the day? Skip a day? It’s going to be just fine. I’m giving up the quest for perfection. I’m happy to give her medicine when she just lets me.
Look at that face. I need less stress and rigor — and more chill Emma — in my life!
I’m traveling a lot for work, over the next few months, and I’m sorta worried about my cat.
Jake is 16 years old. He’s nearly deaf. Has a whole host of problems. We’re coming at him twice a day with medicine. And there’s nothing more that he wants to do than crawl up inside of me like a reverse-fetus-kitty.
My other cats are happy when I come home from these trips, but Jake turns into a velcro cat. And I worry about that because I’ve tried to instill “together but separate” in my cats.
We can be together on the couch without you being in my grill. We can be in love with one another without being the same entity. You can sit on my lap, but you can also sit other places, too.
“Together but separate” is of particular importance to me because — if anything happens to me on the road — I want my cats to feel some level of attachment to my husband.
And I take this concept into all of my relationships, by the way. It’s great to hang out with you. I love you a lot. But I’m my own woman. There are no squads.
Jake is beyond annoyed when I enforce the “together but separate” rule. (Like, you know, when I’m eating or peeing.) But that’s okay. A little personal space is a healthy thing.
And I am trying to make sure the “together” part is meaningful. For example, I don’t try to jam a syringe of prednisolone down his throat the moment he wakes up in the morning. Let’s ease into the day and do some rubs before I dose you with medicine.
I’m excited about my upcoming trips. I know my cats will be in good hands. And while I know that Jake will miss me a lot, I know he’ll be happy to receive attention from my husband.
The medication part? Yeah, not so much!
My cat, Roxy, is mesmerized by the M.I.L.F. $ video.
If you don’t know anything about it — and why would you because you have taste? — here’s the description from Wikipedia:
Set in a candy-colored town called “Milfville,” it features Fergie with a group of famous mothers, including Kim Kardashian West, Chrissy Teigen, Alessandra Ambrosio, Ciara, Gemma Ward, Tara Lynn, Devon Aoki, Angela Lindvall, Isabeli Fontana, Amber Valletta, and Natasha Poly as lingerie-clad 1950s housewives.
Later in the video, Fergie is shown waitressing at a soda shop, teaching a classroom full of rowdy, letterman jacket-wearing teens, and taking a bath in a tub filled with milk. The video ends with several mothers each shooting their own “Got Milf?” ads. Male models Jon Kortajarena and Jordan Barrett appear as a milkman and a bartender, respectively. Ambrosio’s daughter Anja and Teigen’s daughter Luna make appearances.
In the video, the milkman’s truck says “Milfman – Moms I’d Like To Follow.” Fergie said: “Changing the acronym [“MILF: Moms I’d Like to F**k”] to Moms I’d Like To Follow is about empowering women who do it all. They have a career, a family, and find the time to take care of themselves and feel sexy. With a wink of course.“
Yeah, uh, barf.
I read enough mommy blogs to know that commentary about motherhood from mothers in the midst of being a mom is tricky. It’s like asking Donald Rumsfeld what he thought about the Iraq war while it was still happening.
“Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.”
“Don’t blame the boss. He has enough problems.”
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
Jesus, that guy was a moron.
However, without the benefit of time or emotional distance, all insights are tough. Moms generally don’t have the benefit of time or emotional distance because you’re never not a mom and there’s zero emotional distance.
Fergie’s attempt to talk about motherhood wasn’t great, but she made me think of all the fabulous mothers in HR that I follow who are role models for both parenthood and HR. There are some good ones out there who are authentic, honest, and share their incredible experiences with the world.
If you want some mothers to follow in HR, here’s my list. (Note that some of these accounts might be private. Don’t be jerks, but ask to follow if you’re interested in following business professionals who are immersed in both motherhood and HR.)
I could do this for hours.
You won’t see HR ladies pouring milk all over themselves and pretending like it’s a feminist statement, but you may find some working mothers you’d like to follow.
My cats are all about monkey-see-monkey-do.
- Roxy observed how my cats liked to sit on our porch furniture. She went ahead and claimed a spot — just like the big kids.
- Roxy likes to poop at a particular time of day. Now Jake wants to poop at that same time.
- Emma uses the scratching post before she eats her noshes, and now Roxy does her nails before dinner.
- Molly loves treats, and so Roxy loves treats. Do those treats taste good? Who knows!
It’s a constant cycle of écoute et répète in my life, and it’s delightful. My house is a tiny ecosystem, and feline behavior is contagious.
I see the same pattern in the HR ecosystem, too. Just a few weeks ago, Jennifer McClure wrote a blog post about the five things that speakers shouldn’t do on stage. I promoted the hell out of the post. I shared it broadly across all of my social channels.
Then I blindly wrote an article with a similar title and theme. Seriously. I had no idea that I was mimicking her. A week later, I realized that I was a copycat!
My only comfort is that there is no new art. Nobody is coming up with groundbreaking theories on how to change anything. Most of us in the world are reading the same websites and watching the same TV shows. Our politics may differ, but our news sources are consistent.
So if you ever feel like someone is copying you, they probably are. And you’re probably copying them, especially if you’re writing about the Microsoft acquisition of LinkedIn. And Roxy is definitely copying Emma, who copied my dearly departed Scrubby, who copied Molly, who copied Jake, who copied my dead cat named Lucy.
Our lives are smaller than we think, and our ideas aren’t as unique as we believe. For all of our unique capabilities and interests, most of us are influenced in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by homogenized sources of media and art.
Instead of worrying about mimicry, I choose to celebrate influence. Thanks for influencing me. I hope I influence you, too.
Now let’s get back to watching my cats mimic one another.
Working from home can be a lonely and isolating experience if you let it. Here are some ways to ensure you don’t go crazy.
1. Have some animals in your house. It’s easy to sit on your butt for 10 hours, but cats and dogs will bother you for food and attention. Animals force you to get up and away from the computer about 100 times an hour.
2. Talk to somebody new each day. There are periods of time when I only talk to my husband and my cats, which is unhealthy. I can feel my brain grow mushy. Set the goal of speaking to one new person each day to ensure that your conversational skills don’t shrink.
3. Keep the TV off. There’s nothing more depressing and isolating than watching daytime television.
4. Eat lunch outside of your home when you can. Even when I’m eating by myself, it still forces me to interact with the world.
5. Run at least one errand each day during business hours. First of all, it feels good to be out when other chumps are working. Suckers! But, more importantly, run your errands when your productivity levels are low. Get off the internet. Why not make use of your downtime by hitting the dry cleaners or the gym?
6. Volunteer during the day. You have a minute. You can be helpful. Not-for-profits love it when people have free time during business hours.
7. Have a Skype date. Do you hate video conferencing? Do you hate looking at the screen like a hostage victim? Yeah, Skype and Google Hangouts are universally wonky and unflattering. Get on there, anyway, and make eye contact with someone.
8. Join a local association. There are thousands of people just like us — working from home, sitting around, and not talking to anybody. Many organizations host meetings, breakfasts, networking opportunities, and all sorts of structured ways to interact with people without wasting a lot of time. And sometimes it’s nice to have a free meal and learn something new, too.
Working from home is awesome, but being alone all day can manifest agoraphobic behaviors in even the most extroverted people.
Get out, get moving, and get talking to other human beings. Don’t be like me — the kind of unhealthy woman who prefers talking to her cats over people.
Although my cats are awesome and pretty. Just listen. They’ll tell you so!
Last year, Mister Jake was having trouble breathing. I took him to the vet. He has asthma, probably some nasal polyps, and maybe some growths in his chest. Also, Jake has massively high blood pressure.
I got this news while things weren’t going well with Scrubby, and I’m like — what should we do? I’m totally ill-equipped to make any decisions except drink heavily.
Vet was like — He’s fifteen. I wouldn’t do invasive tests. Treat him for his symptoms, keep an eye on him, and you’ll know when it’s time. Maybe six months. Maybe a year.
So we went home with steroids and blood pressure medication. Later on, I started giving him Vitamin B12 shots because that’s super easy and cheap.
Fourteen months later, he’s now 16 and still alive. The prednisolone makes him aggressive for attention, but I’ll take a needy cat who’s alive versus a chill cat who’s dead.
But look at this insane medication calendar — with white out! We overlay our life on this thing like it’s 1999.
We’ve tried switching to an online calendar, but as many of you have discovered with your own families, you can’t remember life events and tasks unless you write them down and tick them off upon completion.
I don’t know how you manage your family schedule, but in ours, we write things down. And when we tick them off, it feels like a mini-celebration. Jake is alive! He made it another day!
That cat is a champ. His parents are okay, too.
Today marks one year since my beloved cat, Scrubs, passed away. He was Scrubby, Mister Scrubby, Big Beef & Cheese, Mister Doop-Dee-Doos, and the Mayor of Chunk City, USA.
(My seven-month-old nephew is the new mayor, by the way.)
I wouldn’t say it’s been the worst year of my life, but I’m in no hurry to feel this way anytime soon.
I’ve been pretty good about holding it together. I’m not insane. I know he was a cat. In fact, I was calm during the euthanasia. We donated his body for a necropsy, and I insisted on picking up his ashes from the crematorium. I didn’t even cry when they handed me his urn wrapped in a purple velour bag that looked like it should hold a bottle of Crown Royal.
I only absolutely lost it when the vet sent me a coaster of Scrubby’s paws. It came in the mail about a week after he died. Apparently, it’s part of the package deal when you euthanize your cat. You get ashes, a poem about the rainbow bridge, a Crown Royal bag, and a coaster. It’s the worst swag ever.
In retrospect, I’m super grateful for the gift of Scrubby’s coaster because I kiss his paws prints daily. My friend BZ Tat also sent me a portrait of Scrubby, which hangs in the basement where we feed the cats. I get to see him daily, and his picture offers some comfort.
So it’s fair to say that I miss Scrubby dearly, but I take comfort in his memory. He was the most scrubilicious cat ever, and he meant the world to me.
But I’m glad this first year of grieving is over.
There is a universal force that unites all successful and happy business professionals: a love of animals. Some people like dogs, others like cats, but everybody likes animals except for a few cranky people in the office.
In fact, I can go through my career and identify a half-dozen miserable people. They had bouts of depression, mania, and paranoia. They had delusions of grandeur and anxiety. None of them had animals. Not one.
I worked with a woman who was all about her family. I knew she was all about her family because all she did was tell me, hey, my family comes first. You know the type. But she was also one of those super moms who worked by “choice” because she felt especially fulfilled by her job in human resources.
IN HUMAN RESOURCES. Whatever, I still can’t wrap my head around that.
So while she loved being a mom and being a VP of HR, she was a miserable human being who never missed an opportunity to stab a colleague in the back. Or in the face. Or the arm.
One day, this horrible woman happened to overhear a conversation that I was having about my cat, Lucy. Now let me tell you about Miss Lucy. She was the spruce goose of all cats. She was the apple of my eye, the cream of my wheat, and the honey bunches of my oats.
My conversation about Lucy was an opportunity for this HR lady to knock me down. I happened to have a few pictures of Lucy in my office, and this crazy bitch sprang at the opportunity to jump into my conversation and lecture me on how childish and immature I looked with photos of my cats all over my office.
And my first instinct was like — who asked you?
But I was so shocked that I said, “I’m sorry?”
So she repeated it. All of it. Guess what? In version two, I still looked like a moron with all of my cat photos.
I was just like — how is this my life? Working in HR with this witch? How much harder do I have to work to pay off these student loans? Should I let this woman kick me in the face, too?
And it should come as no shock that the mean HR lady didn’t have any animals in her house. Not a guinea pig. Not a beta fish. Not a goddamn dust bunny. No animals. None.
So all of this is just to say that people who love animals are great and happy. Everybody else will just bring you down. Especially if they are HR ladies without cats or dogs.
These are my tips to work at home with your cats.
- If you have something important to do, save it for later. Cats are your priority.
- Before you start a Skype meeting, warn everybody that you have cats and they like to jump up and watch the screen like it’s TV.
- If you’re on a conference call and your cat begins to meow, get up and leave the room. Your cat isn’t going anywhere.
- It never hurts to give your cat some treats before a meeting.
- It also doesn’t hurt to give your cat treats during a meeting.
- Give her a few more snacks at the end because she’s been a good girl.
- Keep a peacock feather in your office. It’s just fun to play in the middle of the day.
- Have lots of perches and cat beds around your desk. They’ll probably go unused because the best spot is right in front of your monitor. Have them, anyway.
- The minimum number of required lint rollers in your home office: 4.
- Be prepared to walk away from your project at any point because your cat finally settled down and you wonder — Hey, where is she? Is she dead? How come she’s not bothering me? Oh, she’s sleeping somewhere else and looks cute. Let’s wake her up!
That’s how I do it, anyway.