anonymous letters

Feedback

Feedback is a general term. Feedback is all around us. It can be good or bad. It can be positive or negative. It can be insightful or misinformed. It can be valuable or trash.

As my dad would say, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and they all stink. But when someone is paying you or has power over you, their opinion holds greater weight. You can’t just dismiss it as meaningless, no matter how short sighted or bewildering it may be. I guess that’s when, for me, it goes beyond just random opinion and becomes feedback.

Everyone likes positive feedback. It’s great when people love you. But what about when it’s negative? I used to spin out over criticism. I took it personally. I would spend days hashing it over in my mind, maybe with a friend I trusted. I’d often want to take my ball and go home and not play in whatever arena it was anymore. Why play if I am not good at it?

Now I try to reframe criticism as feedback. I think to myself, this person is telling me what is important to them. If my boss is unhappy with things lying around my workplace? He is telling me that his priority is how things look. If he takes me out of meetings that are about teaching and learning, he is telling me my priorities should be elsewhere. If he gets excited about special events and pizza parties, that’s where my attention needs to be.

Same holds true in sales. If a customer doesn’t like what I am selling and they tell me, it’s an opportunity to listen and adjust. I can learn what a customer values by listening to their feedback.

I may see things differently. I can argue that I didn’t get into education and earn a PhD to spend hours on clerical work. I can tell them all the things I do to help teachers. I can explain to a customer all the subtleties and value that I believe they missed.

Maybe I’ll change their minds, maybe not. Maybe I care, maybe I don’t. It’s my choice to play in the sandbox or leave. I can adjust my energy and priorities to match what others want or I can do something else.

Deep down I am a people pleaser and I like gold stars. But I have learned that I can control the amount of importance I give to others’ feedback, whether it’s positive or negative or somewhere in between. I can shake my head and keep going and not let it pull me from my path. Take it for what it’s worth and know that it does not determine my personal worth. Full stop.

perspective

The Rumor Mill

Recently, my name was put through the wringer. I was the subject of the rumor mill. Three different conversations on the same day and they all got back to me.

#1: came in an email “…a group of us were talking about this and…”

It was an unpopular decision I had made. A decision people had known about for weeks that came along with a deadline. Finally, on deadline day, someone decides to let me know that they didn’t like or understand the decision. And, they were speaking on behalf of some unknown group of people as well. Great timing, long after anything can be done about it.

#2 came a couple of hours later…same decision, different group chat, more complaints. Again, I hear about confusion, “I don’t wannas” and so on. Of course, it is all just second hand, so really there’s nothing I can do about it. After the initial complaint, other people in the group chat piled on with things that actually weren’t true. I did go to the adults involved and got an update so I knew what was said. But if a friend hadn’t clued me in in the first place I’d never have known.

Finally, #3… yet another decision I made ruffled some people’s feathers. Feelings got hurt. Actions got misinterpreted. People made assumptions that were wholly untrue. My name kinda got dragged through the mud on this one.

All of these on one day eventually brought me to tears. Most days I can ignore what people think of me. If I find out and it’s negative, I just blow it off it for the most part. I can’t do anything about it.

This day was different. All of these were decisions I made with reasons. I made them with doing the right thing in mind. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone or take advantage.

I am glad I have friends who look out for me. Who keep an ear open for how my name is being used or misused. And who take the time to tell me if it is important.

I’m also thankful for person number one, even if they did speak on behalf of a bunch of people who did not share her courage. I was able to explain myself and my reasons, which then helped her understand. We happened to run into each other later that night, and she thanked me for taking the time to explain. Overall, a win.

As for the others, since I technically didn’t know about either of these conversations I didn’t have the chance to respond. It makes me sort of sad, but what can I do?

Back to not being bothered by what people think or say.

perspective

The Middle Seat

I was on a flight squished in the middle of two strangers. Like sardine in a can. It was an evening flight making the cabin dark. The exception to the darkness was the glow of phones instead of reading lights. This kind of made me a giggle a bit.

I closed my eyes briefly and reflected on my day. My week. My past few months. It’s been a whirlwind but I didn’t expect anything less as I’m on the road to the big 5-0! Today I woke up to the chilly fall air. I had a tennis match with a new partner: I had no expectation other than don’t freeze to death. 

I layered up my clothes before heading out into the tundra. I mean it was 40 degrees which is cold for me. My new partner was nervous. I was cold. It took us a few volleys to get in unison. The gelling is what I like to master. I’ve been told I need to lead on the court but normally I don’t. For me tennis has been about relaxing. Changing up my routine. Meeting new people. Having fun. What I didn’t realize is others were expecting me to lead. Somehow I missed all the cues.

I scratched my head until my team coach chimed in with, you are strong and lead in every other aspect of your life and the partners you are paired with expect nothing else than the same on the court. I scratch my head again. Can I still do all the things I mentioned above and lead? Why yes I can. Once I modified my attitude we began to play better. Communicate more clearly. Win or in some cases or battle to deuce, deuce, deuce and so on. We hung in there for hours. Ultimately losing in the end but that’s okay because we get mimosas at the end. It’s always a happy ending if you look at it that way!

This little tennis match got me thinking when I sat in the middle seat. How much have I led this week? This month. This year. What is still left for me to conquer before 12/31. I love when I get a chance to shake things up and sit in a middle seat. A chance to be idle and drift into that creative space of thought.

I opted to take out my phone and glow. I figured I already had a night light to my left from a laptop and decided a little glow from my iPhone would be a fine accent. Off I went to type away on my teeny tiny keyboard.

It’s a million dollar year for me. It’s been a bunch of firsts. It’s many many new adventures and beginnings. It’s milestones. It’s new friends mixed with old. It’s another year winding down. Just like that. In the blink of eye, 2021 rolled in and began to fade. 
as I pause my writing in my middle seat, I closed my eyes and focused on some deep breathing. Something I enjoy at the gym but find ways to mix it into my days as well. During those calm moments a weightlessness feeling appears. It allows my mind to relax.

Signing off from my middle seat. The squishy uncomfortable spot that nobody wants to pick. The fear of who you are stuck with as neighbors. Today I had the courage to greet others. A new perspective of flying that you may never experience. Eew! Yuck! Nasty! Who in the world thought that was okay?

I am also thankful for my mask on this flight as it’s somewhat masking the stink of the putrid lingering fart. A nearby passenger just fully unloaded something and they might have left a skid mark in their pants. I am so very thankful I was finishing this note instead of doing deep breathing when he/she chose to glow or blow in their own special way way up high in the sky where fresh air space is so limited. No manners!

health, working women

A Girl in Uniform

“If you ever get lost or need help, look for someone with a name tag or uniform on.”

These are the words we told our kids at places like Disney World when they were little, just in case. People in uniforms should be able to help.

I’m an avid sports parent. I love to show up and watch my daughters play, no matter the sport, no matter the team. I even try to go cheer for them when they are coaching or officiating games. Both of my daughters are refs for girls lacrosse.

Recently, one of my daughters had the honor of officiating youth championship games. I showed up to watch her in action. Hundreds of little kids, googles falling off, uniforms that don’t quite fit on their tiny bodies, all trying to get the hang of a sport I love, it brought back so many good memories. Games on Saturdays. Cheering for your team. Trophies and snacks after the game. And my daughter, once a youth player, now the ref.

Being a ref is not for the faint of heart. I know my attitude toward refs changed when my older daughter became one. Suddenly the heckling from the fans and coaches felt very personal. Why are they attacking her? Do they really think she is being paid by one team to make those calls? Don’t they know she’s a human and can hear their nasty insults? And if she can’t, I can?

My daughters each have very different personalities but they exude a cool, calm confidence on the field. They address irrational adults when necessary. It seems it is always the adults, very rarely the players who are ill-behaved. Unfortunately, bad behavior by at least a couple of adults is more the rule than the exception at these games.

In the end, though, it’s about the players. I remind them that the little girls are looking up to them. They are learning how to be fair. How to accept small setbacks like fouls and share the wins with their team. They are learning how to lead from a girl like them, just a few years further down the road.

I also tell them that some of the best refs are also teachers. Each of my daughters has almost a decade of field playing on their resume. They often know much more about the game than the coaches and spectators. So when a young high school team kept making the same fouls over and over, my daughter offered to demonstrate ways to prevent getting those fouls. They share knowledge and grow the game.

It’s a proud mama moment for sure, to see my girls nurture young players through their role. I cheer for the refs.

Before the championships, I called my youngest over to the fence for a quick pregame chat and picture. A minute later, a little girl, goggles half off, uniform all askew, came up and got her attention. My daughter walked her to the stands, helped her find her parents, then waited by the fence until her dad returned from the car. The little girl needed a jacket during warm ups.

I love that this little girl still thought to ask someone in uniform to help her. Despite what some adults might tell you, the ref is there to help.

fitness and nutrition

Keeping Pace

When I was growing up, July was all about the Tour de France. It was on TV for hours a day at my house. Before TiVO, my Dad would get up in what seemed like the middle of the night to watch. For the most part, I found it completely boring. Hours and hours of rolling along. The scenery was nice…French towns and the occasional sunflower field. I was mainly irritated that the TV was occupied for so many hours a day.

Inevitably, my Dad would try to explain some of the strategy to me. How the teams worked, drafting, and so on. After many years of boredom, I became sort of fascinated with the many roles on these teams. Most of the athletes were not there to win for themselves. No, most of the guys had specific jobs that served to ensure the team’s leading rider came out wearing the maillot jaune.

Imagine it: you’ve been chugging over kilometers by the hundreds, even the thousands. You’ve summited mountains, taken treacherous downhill curves at high speeds. You’ve churned your legs day after day, through training and trials, and it all comes down to the final mile of the day. It’s a sprint finish. Your team sets up, a few of you lurking toward the front of the pack, staying out of trouble and in good position. Watching…watching…as so many other teams are doing the exact same thing….then….

BOOM. Almost imperceptibly, there’s a nod and someone flies off the front of the pack, his trailing teammates sprinting to stay in a cluster. Over a few hundred yards the tip of the spear, then his right hand man eventually peel off, their work done, their legs spent. If all goes as it should, the team leader comes out the winner of the day. Wears the yellow. The leadout men, who did the heavy sprint lifting, are left to come in 18th, 20th, 40th, who cares. Wherever their spent legs will coast them in.

After years and years of watching, I came to appreciate the pacers and their role. The dedication to a leader. The special craft in that support. All the teams working and split second strategy did make it an exciting few seconds of sports.

Sometimes pacing isn’t so hectic. We ran a half marathon a little over a year ago. One of the surprises at the pre-race expo was learning about the pacers. There would be people in the race running while holding up signs with times. Fifteen minute increments…2:00, 2:15, 2:30 and so on. If you were trying to meet one of those finish times for your race, you could hang with that pacer. In my case, I found a pacer and kept them in my sight. She had a flock of people running with her. Interestingly, she would stop and walk every once in a while, I guess to be sure she was hitting her goal on the nose. I passed the pacer a few miles in and in my mind I knew if she was behind me I was doing ok. I later wondered, was she a professional pacer? Her whole job was to make sure people made that goal?

I’ve noticed this in other contexts. Hearing my daughter tell stories of running alongside her teammates to help them make their benchmarks. People in health and fitness challenges jumping in to pace others over their personal finish line. And then there are people I pace off of, in the gym and in other areas of life, who may not even know they’re playing that role for me. People who just work hard naturally and I use their example as a model to keep in my sights.

It’s not really keeping up with the Joneses. There will be people who have habits and lifestyles I admire but pacing off them doesn’t make sense. It’s more about knowing the path I am on…sometimes the path I want to or need to be on, and finding partners or examples to pace off of. They’re moving along that path, ideally a little bit faster than me. Hopefully they’re willing to let me draft off of them for a while to make the path easier. At some point, like in the Tour, it may be my turn to take the headwinds at the front.

I am a helper. Maybe that’s why the idea of pacing people to their goals fascinates and resonates with me. Being a part of them moving along. Helping on the way. I’m not often the leader but I like being on the team that helps a leader succeed.

Who is pacing you out in life? Who is on your team, explicitly or implicitly? Who is on your path, smoothing the way or lighting the direction? Lifting your cadence?

On the flip side, are you pacing someone else out? Maybe without even knowing it? What does that mean for the choices you make? What direction are you leading in?

Another little something to think about.