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I have great clients who know that I’m a nerd.

I went to visit one of them in March, and they structured our meetings so I could leave in the afternoon and see an exhibit called Van Gogh’s Bedrooms.

It’s an art show based on three paintings of the same bedroom, created by Van Gogh at different times in his life. Whoop dee doo, right?

Well, the paintings are lovely. Full stop. Van Gogh is no slouch.

Van Gogh

The Art Institute of Chicago created an experiential show where you could take pictures, which is unique for an art museum. (Other museums are so stuffy. From Paris to Paducah, art museums are limiting photography.) And you could see different artists who inspired Van Gogh, which is is always helpful. They also used Instagram to promote the show and partnered with AirBnB and let people rent a room based on Van Gogh’s bedroom.

(I like all of that.)

Mostly I like a client who sees our relationship as a partnership. So often, consultants are expected to show up and perform like a circus monkey. It’s as if we don’t earn our money if we’re not thoroughly tired and exhausted after a grueling day of meetings.

I don’t want to go crazy like Van Gogh, which is why I try to keep my life at a leisurely pace. Travel is taxing. Managing a business on top of helping other people do great work is one of the biggest challenges of my life. And it’s pretty impressive when clients are like, hey, don’t you have something fun you want to do while you’re in Chicago?

(Yes. Yes, I do.)

I want to see three paintings from a guy who had Meniere’s Disease (like me!) and lived in relative poverty and then lost his mind before committing suicide.

It’s art. It’s beautiful. It’s a signal. Thank God for Van Gogh!

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Hello, everybody. I’m back from a few days in Florida. I was at a conference called WorkHuman, which is all about work-life balance and purpose.

My husband is like, “Whoa, did you get some sun?”

I’m like, “Uh, what? No. I was inside the whole time doing important things for my client.”

Meanwhile, poolside, I “worked human” and read two books: Presence and All Stories are Love Stories.

That moment when you realize your dress is the color of your hotel wall. #workhuman

A photo posted by Laurie Ruettimann (@lruettimann) on

As expected, I played my usual role of America’s big sister and had a ton of conversations with colleagues who are tired, friends who are frustrated, and readers who are fighting all kinds of battles.

It was pretty intense at times. People are hurting. Working in HR is hard, but more accurately, the struggle to find meaning at work is very real.

I nodded and absorbed the stories — all of them too intimate to share. If I’ve learned anything about business travel, it’s that hotels and airports are universal disinhibitors. We pass through TSA, and we enter a liminal state where we’re forced to spend too much time alone with ourselves and we want to talk about our personal lives with total strangers.

And when you put 1,000 HR professionals in a room and ask them to think about concepts like work-life balance and purpose, they get a little emotional. They’re not ashamed to talk about it, either.

I don’t have much to say on the topic of meaning and purpose, but I know what the experts told me at WorkHuman. They said that sometimes the first, best and only thing you can do is change the conversation in your head.

Shawn Achor told us that incorporating small gestures of gratitude can change your life. Amy Cuddy and Pandit Dasa taught us that meditation, breathing, movement, and posture alignment will help us fake it until we become it. And Michael J. Fox talked about living a full life — with or without Parkinson’s — which gave everybody a fresh perspective on adversity and grit.

I came away from WorkHuman suspicious of my certainty, and I’m totally suspicious of your uncertainty, too. None of us is as bad or as shameful as we believe. And, thanks to the conference, I feel armed with a few more tools and resources to take better care of myself.

I hope my fellow attendees feel the same way.

When it comes to recognizing and rewarding the contributions of the modern HR department, there is no other movement out there that’s paying attention to the needs of HR executives like WorkHuman.

If the story around your mission and purpose in life is all screwed up, and you’re feeling confused about your career, please talk to a professional who can offer good advice. But do find supportive, uplifting colleagues in the free WorkHuman community on LinkedIn. And please see me in Phoenix at WorkHuman 2017.

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Hey, everybody. I’ll be at WorkHuman, next week.

(It’s a conference about work-life balance. Want to go? I know a woman. She has a sweet deal. Just let me know and we’ll find a way to get you there that won’t kill your travel budget.)

I’m excited about WorkHuman, but I also know that I will need a few minutes away from the conference itself. No offense to my fellow nerds in HR, but I have to “work human” in order to attend WorkHuman. It means that, at some point, I will wander away and not talk to anybody for several hours.

This is how I manage my anxiety and keep myself out of trouble.

I’ve already identified a few escape routes for when I’m feeling overwhelmed, including a trip to the Orlando Museum of Art. They have a large contemporary art collection, which means art that’s made after 1960, and they seem to have a nice gift shop. I can buy some postcards.

In a Disneyfied city, I’ll be eager to see what OMA can offer me. Looks like a nice museum. And, if I’m being honest, there are less healthy ways that I could try to manage my anxiety while on the road.

So I hope to see you at WorkHuman! And I hope you’ll let me go for a few hours without asking a lot of questions. It’s not you, it’s me. Anxiety is a weird fear of nothing, and art is one of the most effective cures!

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Photo on 5-3-16 at 7.24 PMLast 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.

IMG_9415But 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.

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chicago marathonI won the lottery and will be running in the Chicago Marathon.

My friend, Tim Sackett, nearly had an aneurysm when I told him the news.

He’s like — Get ready for non-stop updates on what you’re eating, how much you’re drinking, how hard running is, how much you hate it, how much you love it, your shoes, your gear, and all the other crap that goes along with doing another marathon.

And I had to laugh because none of these topics were going through my head when I told Timmy about the Chicago Marathon. I was mostly thinking about how much my husband hates Chicago and doesn’t understand why I want to run the race. (It’s flat!) I was also thinking about how easy it is to stop running, how much harder a marathon is in your 40s than your 30s, and how maybe I’ll just defer my marathon entry and eat potato chips and drink champagne on my couch.

(Sounds great, right?)

Unfortunately, running never gets easier. That’s why I’m training for the race in Chicago right now. It would be nice to run a marathon without getting injured, so I hired a coach who is planning my program. We are going to try to change the narrative in my head from “large and out-of-shape” into “strong and seasoned athlete.”

(Because I am a strong and seasoned athlete. I’ve just been eating a lot more carbs during the past year.)

My other goal is to cross the finish line with a smile on my face. I’d like to feel good about my training and preparation, which means I’m declining travel engagements in the month of September to prepare for my long runs.

(Goodbye, Cape Town. Hello, American Tobacco Trail.)

I know Tim doesn’t want to read another post on how running makes me poop, but I can’t do anything without writing about it. So get ready for marathon-related posts. The good news is that I have my running-and-pooping strategy on lockdown. I can move on to more interesting topics.

Maybe.

Let the journey begin!

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This past year, I began working with a start-up company on a big idea that required more and more of my attention. As the work ratcheted up, I was swamped with stuff to do. My other consulting services needed to be dialed down.

Unfortunately, the start-up company hit a snag. I am now looking for more freelance work to fill the open spots on my calendar. I can do all of this because I’m a woman who has built a successful business and has a little money in the bank. I have no kids and a husband with a regular job who provides our health insurance.

I’m built for the gig economy.

For everybody else in America, the gig economy is a lie.

I could probably make this lifestyle work if I had no partner and a bunch of kids, but why would I? That’s insane. Without guaranteed private medical insurance and a stable bank of PTO, I would have to spend all of my free time hunting for my next gig and chasing down unpaid invoices while simultaneously meeting the needs of my family.

And I’m not exaggerating how hard it is to run a business in America. While you get paid every two weeks and complain about your work-life balance, I get paid net 30 (on a good day) and 50% of whatever I earn goes to cover all the federal, state and local taxes.

But I can float the ambiguity and the taxes because of the inherent privilege in my lifestyle, the small footprint we keep in this world, and the fact that I have a spouse who won’t let me starve.

There are still consultants and speakers out there who talk about the future of work as if it’s a gig economy. Those people are idiots. Workers aren’t paid enough to participate in the gig economy. It’s often cheaper to drop out of the labor pool and let the robots swoop in and do the work. We’ll figure out other ways to thrive.

The gig economy could work if we offered protections such as universal healthcare, free college and a basic income that allows our citizens to pursue an education that meets with their natural abilities. In that way, you’re rewarded for following your passion and interests. If you’re contributing to the world, you’re not penalized for being an artist instead of a programmer.

But as long as we think about employment in 20th-century terms — worker, boss, supervisor, founder, owner, salaries, income taxes, invoices, payment terms — we’ll never get to the point where we can create an economy that grants individuals the freedom to move from gig to gig and contribute to our society in productive and effective ways.

The gig economy is a lie. It’s a myth. At its best, it’s a band-aid for privileged people like me. At its worst, it’s a stupid idea that will continue to create a bankrupt class of contingent workers who can barely afford to work.

And it’s not good for America.

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I took the day off, yesterday. My brain is mushy from writing white papers on HR, and I needed a break from the internet. So I went to the North Carolina Museum of Art. It’s not too far from my house. There’s a beautiful running path that crisscrosses through the campus. The greenway is full of sculptures and interactive art.

I don’t know where you live, but springtime in Raleigh is warm and humid. I cooled down after my run by touring the NCMA’s permanent collection, which includes everything from Baroque paintings to abstract canvases to a Rodin sculpture garden.

It’s a real gem of a museum, and it’s free.

I was staring at a massive installation called Raqqa II by Frank Stella when a docent warned me, “Here come the third graders.”

I thought — I’m not busy. Let’s see what happens.

It turns out, abstract art is the best art when you’re eight years old. Whatever you think it is, you’re right. There are no wrong answers. Kids get restless while looking at a bunch of dark-toned Flemish paintings, but abstract art is much more accessible and enjoyable.

“What do you think that is?”

“A rainbow swimming pool.”

You’re right!

It went on for ten minutes, and I was captivated. Watching kids interact with art just made my day. I’ve always believed that if you expose your children to art — especially consumable art with few rules — it offers a cognitive structure to help them tackle more challenging concepts and ideas as they get older.

Also, it gives your kids a little depth. Trust me, they need it.

So expose your kids to art, give them a slight advantage in the world, and create future adults who have something interesting to say. You can do this without spending any money and while killing a humid afternoon indoors!

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Do you guys know the Gaping Void cartoon? It’s sort of like The Oatmeal and Savage Chickens except that it was early to the internet. The humor is reminiscent of Catbert and xkcd. Basically, Gaping Void is royalty. And because the Obama economy is great, the founder started a consulting firm.

I know, right? America is awesome.

So I was totally thrilled when I got an email from the Gaping Void team, earlier this week. I opened it up, and this is what it said:

“Let’s talk.”

Wow, yeah, that’s random. And slightly unfriendly and presumptive. I get that you’re Gaping Void, but I’m Laurie Ruettimann. I’m not a famous celebrity, but I’m not nobody. Maybe try a little harder?

I responded very clearly.

“Wow. Hi. Hello. Nice to meet you. Aggressive and forward email. I’ll pass.”

I felt good about my email. Every moment is a teachable moment (as the leadership coaches tell us). I was direct, serious and entirely authentic. I’m not a fan of making fun of pitches, cold calls or emails. My response was genuine. I want HR leaders and sales professionals to be partners, not adversaries.

But I’m totally passing on the opportunity to talk to some random dude. I’m busy-ish.

The sales guy forwarded my message to his colleague. For some weird reason, she forwarded the string back to me and wrote this:

Happy Wednesday, Laurie! [My colleague] and I were discussing the alignment between our websites and thought it may be a great idea to reach out to you. If you check out our website, Gapingvoid.com we hope you will be inspired as well. We work a lot with enterprise CHRO’s et. Al. and are always looking for collaborators in our engagements. Feel free to reach out to [my colleague] or myself directly if you change your mind. Cheers. Sent from my iPhone

Well, okay. I’m not sure I was heard, but I embraced the opportunity to start fresh — iPhone signature and all. This was my response:

“Hi, team gapingvoid. I receive 700 email messages a day and only opened yours because I’m familiar with the brand. I admire your founder. I just thought the initial email wasn’t very respectful and didn’t provide any context. “Let’s talk” is what you tell your alcoholic cousin after he says something racist or stupid. So, yeah, wasn’t thrilled with the initial call to action. That being said, I still admire the brand. Let me know how I can be helpful. Best, Laurie”

I meant what I said. I really do receive 700 email messages each day, and I like the Gaping Void brand. I want to be helpful. I’m a nice lady. And here is the response I received:

Totally understand, Laurie. Too many emails is enough to put anyone in a bad frame of mind. This was a very useful lifehack guide I used to clear up my email overload: lifehacker.com/5713914/how-to-wipe-out-spam-email-in-your-inbox. Hope it may clear the spam from your life as well. Thanks for the love for our brand. Really appreciate it. Have a great week. Sent from my iPhone

Now they’re just messing with me.

“Hi, guys. Really appreciate your thoughtful response to my feedback. If you’re interested in sales training, I know a guy who would be great for your team. Best, Laurie”

Obviously, I have nothing but time on my hands. But I do know several great sales trainers.

So all of this is to say that there’s a lot of new money — and talent — in human resources and recruiting. When reaching out to prospects, sales professionals would be wise to remember that civility is your secret weapon. Be respectful and patient, especially if you have a call-to-action.

And maybe HR ladies like me can lighten up. Sales people want to solve our problems. They want to show us a new path. I don’t know if “let’s talk” is the right way to start a conversation, but I’m always open to learning about new products and services in the HR industry.

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mister scrubby

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.

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I am a writer, and I have the opportunity to earn money and work on my craft at the same time. I speak to support my ideas. Speaking also helps me to learn more about my audience. When I’m not writing and speaking, I sometimes earn money by sharing my expertise with marketing and HR departments.

I’m very lucky to have this job. I run a compact business model supported by two primary means of business development: referrals and social media. Clients hear about me through multiple channels and hire me because I’m known for solving problems in an effective way.

It’s a good life made better by a strong economy during the past few years, but it’s a lifestyle that requires constant attention and skin as thick as rhinoceros hide. And I’m here to tell you that you don’t want to be an HR blogger. You just want to be seen as a thought leader and share your wisdom. That’s not what this shit is all about.

What can you do if you have good ideas but you don’t want to invest time (and money) required to publish on a regular basis?

Get promoted at work. No byline feels as good as a promotion and RSUs.

Get involved with students. Teaching is great. You can be benevolent while being an egomaniac. Teach as a means of self-expression and validation.

Talk to writers in our industry who are doing the hard work. Use LinkedIn to connect with the journalists you read in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. Be a helpful source of information. Also, marketing firms are always looking for industry sources. Check out Rep Cap Media and Red Branch Media.

Blogging will break your heart if you let it. Social media doesn’t validate good ideas; it annihilates new voices with swift precision. But if you feel the siren song of writing, do it with a spirit of intensity and urgency. Do it with determination and confidence. Do it because there is no other way.

First, don’t be self-deprecating. It’s nice to play humble and tell people that your goal is to reach a few people and make a small difference. That’s both cowardly and bullshit. You know it. I know it

Second, work on a grand thesis. A big, bold idea will never get old if you engage your topic with energy and enthusiasm. In fact, it’s the very same energy and enthusiasm that will help you develop the necessary rhinoceros hide to shield you from the negative voices in the marketplace (and your head).

Finally, learn how to speak. Strive to talk about your writing in a public forum. In fact, the only goal for HR bloggers is to speak at the SHRM conference. That’s where over 15,000 human resources professionals converge on an annual basis to learn new tips and trends, and that’s the big enchilada.

Don’t play my game as a blogger. My path is my own, and you’ll probably never make money or prove to someone that you’re good enough and smart enough to have an opinion. Instead, play your own game. Undertake the privilege of writing with excitement and heartfelt emotion. Write your guts out. And get to SHRM’s annual conference and talk to people about your big ideas.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

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