Green Eyes

Having just gotten back from Israel, I was struck by some of the attitudes moms there have towards moms in America. There’s a perception that exists among some Israelis that, in America, moms don’t work. I didn’t mean to disappoint but while I was there I shed the stereotype with at least 2 working moms I met. To boot, they seemed to think that the hours we working moms log in the US (namely me) are less than desirable. I can’t blame them. I feel the same.  Per usual, guilt followed, and had me reeling and second guessing every decision I ever made with regards to my son. Disclaimer here: Yes, I’m this sensitive.

In short, as a mom and a working one you’re always going to feel guilty. The bigger over-arching theme here is that if you’re predisposed to feeling guilty being a working mom sucks. Scratch that. Being an over-achiever and a mom sucks cause there’s not enough time in the day to be awesome at any of them. The most you can hope for is being great at any one of them and for a girl that always needed a star on her homework assignments and could delineate being the “Good,” “Very Good,”  and “Great” attached to those very same stars and whose mood was dependent on which modifier I received… well, let’s just say “sensitivity” is not a word that’s taken lightly in my household without at least a coat of defensiveness running a few inches deep.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t leave my son in the morning that I think to myself, “Shit, I forgot to tell his babysitter this and this could have potentially affected that which ultimately affects this which could cumulatively could affect everything. ”

If I was always borderline neurotic post-baby, having something left to my responsibility more precious than anything in the world put me over the edge. I spend so much time exhausting scenarios in my head, I wonder if my analytical mind is being put to waste here. Is it possible that the very career I’ve trained for which requires me to break things down to their very essence and rigorously assess schemes and their feasibility works against me in my role at home?

At the end of the day I have to hope not. I have to hope that the sum of all of my experiences only empowers me in my most important role – that of mom.

What do you think?


Turn & Face the Prospect of Change?

A few weeks ago when I was a woman on the verge of ending up the “Inside Edition”  docu-trama-du-jour, I took it day by day. Truthfully, it was all I could do since it took that much out of me just to make it through the day. Now, however that I’m a bit better health-wise, my mental faculties have resumed their full throttle hyper-worried pace where they operate and while I wish I could focus solely on the existential as opposed to being thrust head first into the here, now, and future, as pertains to life-altering, big and scary decision with serious repercussions, turns out I need to start coming up with a plan and fast at that.

Here I am faced with the option of going back to work in a month and a half full-time and working at a pace that tired me out before my son for a job that didn’t ultimately fulfill me even if I did love some of the people I worked with (yeah, not so much...), possibly dialing it down a notch and seeing if I can work part-time, or simply throwing in the towel on being a web producer. If I do go back to work it means sucking myself back into the vortex of working to live rather than loving my work life.

Am I demanding too much at this point in my life if I want to love what I do professionally AND have a rewarding home life that permits me to see my family and spend time with them almost as much as I work?

I’ve read the articles that dictate to me how to navigate effectively the work-life postpartum high wire – the Mayo Clinic articulates the pre- and post-preparation of maternity leave quite well with wonderful step-by-step instructions. Unfortunately rationally dictating these steps to a new, first-time mother who is in denial that she will ever have to part from her son for 2 straight hours to run to the grocery store- let alone 60-hour-week sacrifices – proves utterly futile.

And while there is something to be said for not living in squalor due to low cashflow and finding a compromise that works, I’m also worried I won’t be able to conjure up the exact scenario I want. I guess the key is starting with the scenarios you don’t want  and in the past few weeks I’ve met a few people which make me want to never leave my kid in anyone elses’ care ever.

There was the chain-smoking, toothless grandma whom I wasn’t sure if her lack of oral hygiene offended me more or the White Diamonds perfume she doused herself in to mask her nasty nicotine habit. Then there was the woman with 7 kids of her own whose experience in childcare attracted me but whose “belagan” (Hebrew for “mess) mantra of learning to live with mountains of crumbs piled up like snow drifts on the living room floor and “no-gate” policy whereby my kid when he crawls could potentially end up at the bottom of the 19 winding, narrow stairs leading up to her apt. after bathing himself in matzo crumbs – well let’s just say wasn’t something I wanted to entertain.

The key is to keep my options open and to give myself time (hopefully earning $$ in the meantime) to really carve out the here and now I want for my family. That will be my pledge to myself for the time being.

Not Your Mama’s Minivan

As I’d mentioned in a previous post, growing up my mother was a stay-at-home mom. This meant that terms like “daycare” and “latchkey” were pretty much foreign to my vernacular. While I realized I was in the minority, I also knew that my mother’s choice was largely borne of her traditional upbringing and what she felt was expected of her as a woman.  As far as societal norms go, all around my mom were working mothers flooding the workforce in the early 80s feeling the after-effect of the women’s lib movements of preceding decades.

My mother’s choice also resulted in her laying all her hopes and dreams in us – to say we had to be over-achievers was putting it lightly. I liken it to Tammy Erickson’s spot-on observation in “What’s Next: Gen X?” regarding the generational differences in rearing children:

Boomers want their children to be successful. You [Gen X] want to be successful as parents.

So here I am 8.5 mos pregnant, making preparations to go on maternity leave, and unable to ponder what will be in 4.5 months, let alone 1.5 months.  I also know that after my leave, barring anything majorly traumatic, I’ll go back to work, but I’m also not crazy about the idea of dropping my kid off at daycare at 7 AM and picking him/her up at 7 PM only to be a stranger to them. I can’t help but feel I don’t work my ass off (pardon the French) to fall short of being a parent and sacrifice valuable time I won’t get back. Hell, I don’t work my ass off to feel I’ve fallen short on anything in my professional life. Why should my personal life be different?

I know this struggle is not mine alone. There are groups dedicated to women’s work-life balance when it comes to raising kids.

But I also know that more and more of my peers I grew up with and those I went to college with are opting to stay at home with their newborns and don’t seem particularly driven (at least superficially) to get back to work.  These are women with advanced degrees who would rather talk Maya and Moby wraps (baby slings) than opt to re-enter the workforce.

According to the Pew Center for Research, when it comes down to it the world is still a very traditional place when it comes to gender roles in the workplace and at home – mamas tend to the decisions at home while baby daddies/partners go out and work and bring home the bacon, even with the growing trend of women being the bearers of advanced degrees and attaining nearly the same earning potential as men.

Maybe I can’t have it all but there has to be an in-between. Simply put, I don’t want to be stuck in mommy yoga overhearing bored moms obsessing over the little one while they slowly stroll their Bugaboos over to Starbucks for their daily shot o’jolt – flirting with the gay barrista there. I’ve been there, done that in a past life when I was a nanny where I worked for a stay-at-home mom. And I know there’s just got to be more to the whole work-life thing than that.

The Baby Boom: Cultural Divide, Part Un

I’ve waxed a bit on this blog on the generational divides that exist between Yers all the way on up to Baby Boomers. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is whether generational labels apply uniquely to our American culture, whether its a broader Western phenomena, or we can find enough commonalities across different cultures and varying generations to apply these labels liberally.

Baby Boomers are a generation defined by the big baby boom post-WWII. Theirs’ was a generation characterized by catalyzing social change, demanding more social reform and equality from our government, and ultimately fighting for a better world. This gave way to them becoming Wall Street, money-hording yuppies of the 80s, the ones living in the McMansions and at present making Xers’ lives none-too-fun.

My personal point of reference for the baby boomer generation is my mother and father. They never participated in any protests, knew what “Laugh-In” was but were most likely fuzzy on what smoke-ins were, no bra burning transpired, and the closest my father ever got to a doobie was a pipe he used to smoke which I was convinced was more affect (he was a professor) than anything else.  In short, as a kid, I was a little disappointed that they weren’t really what I deemed bona fide members of the hippy generation.

Despite all institutional and academic pressures to mainstream my dad into more PC thinking over the course of nearly 50 years, he never gave up on his philosophies – even at the cost of career advancement, more $$, and all those material pleasures that might have made life for his family a little easier. My mom decided to stay at home and raise my siblings and I so the latch-key hardships that other kids of my generation endured were never known to me. In a time in which women were encouraged to go out into the workforce and looked down upon for staying home, I knew my mom’s decision was the decidedly unpopular one too.

So how does all this relate to whether or not Baby Boomers share commonalities with other cultures?

Certainly the internet has revolutionized on a global scale the way people think, communicate, their access to information and how readily they digest that info. That’s a given. It’s made us all a little more aware that a greater world exists out there, that in this world exists organizations that harbor the ability to crush us at a moment’s whim, and that in order to survive we must band together more globally than even before.  It’s also allowed us the ability to connect with others around the world, to be influenced by those other cultures and for other cultures to be influenced by us. But the internet revolution is a recent one and one that as a result most likely would impact Gen Xers and Yers leaving Boomers in the dust.

While my husband and I grew up in very different cultures and worlds apart (me, a Midwest transplant to the East Coast at a young age, and him in the Middle East), with little shared cultural references to get by on,  I would be hard-pressed to find evidence that we’re not of the same generation as evidenced by our approach to work, life, relationships, and family.

The same can’t be said of our parents’ generation. Most of my parents’ adult life was spent straddling ethnic identities and religious sensibilities they wanted to instill in their children but also assimilating into a more homogeneous American culture – one that doesn’t really exist anymore. This created a paradox for us, but also a heightened awareness when it came to our collective “otherness.” As a result, my parents and their peers are more like other Americans their age than they might be my in-laws.

In today’s diverse world, fewer cross-cultural generational disparities will exist. But how those that do exist, especially in cultures with very different world views on the individual vs. community, manifest themselves remains to be seen.

Motivation Matters

Being that my quasi-new magazine crush-du-jour is Entrepreneur, I happened to be eye strolling through some posts online, when I came across a feel-good, albeit spot-on post by David Javitch about the right way to motivate employees.

One of the key points relevant for workerbiatches: If you are a manager or employer, don’t assume that just because you have a smart employee that is highly self-motivated and is comfortable assuming more autonomous roles, you don’t need to be involved in nurturing and supporting that individual.

Javitch gives 10 tips to motivate (and since I can’t think of a way to better paraphrase his tips, I’m going to re-post them here):

  1. Praise the employee for a job well done–or even partially well done. (From an employee perspective, praise is always something we can afford to hear more of. It’s also especially important that this praise and thanks come from different stakeholders directly involved in your work and impacted by it and not just the boss.)
  2. If an employee is bored, involve that individual in a discussion about ways to create a more satisfying career path, including promotions based on concrete outcomes. (Eh, workerbiatch works too hard to condone this one. In fact, I like it so little I’m going to strike it out.)
  3. State your clear expectations for task accomplishment. (Paraphrase and/or regurgitate your manager or have them clearly state back to you what you just said often. Ask questions if you’re not entirely comfortable with direct route or follow via email with a, “This is what I understand the task-at-hand to be…” You’d be surprised how often miscommunications happen and can be the culprit for future tension.)
  4. Ensure that the job description involves a variety of tasks.
  5. Ensure that the employee sees that what she’s doing impacts the whole process or task that others will also be part of. (I’d also add that once said employee is at a certain level and assuming more responsibility, he/she should be owning more pieces.)
  6. Make sure that the employee feels that what he/she is doing is meaningful.
  7. Provide feedback along the way, pointing out both positive and negative aspects.
  8. Allow for an appropriate amount of autonomy for the employee based on previous and anticipated accomplishment. (This is especially apropos with regards to Millenials.)
  9. Increase the depth and breadth of what the employee is currently doing.
  10. Provide the employee with adequate opportunity to succeed.

As an aside, I feel pretty grateful to have a work environment at present that pretty much hits the mark on all of the motivational points Javitch addressed. Having worked in a lot of different environments, I realize, like true love, it’s a pretty rare thing and  requires the same level of care and effort to sustain it and keep it healthy.
Read more:

Career Advice You can Swallow from the 2 Hot Dudes from “Y tu mama tambien”

I happened to catch the newly released soccer flick, “Rudo Y Cursi,” this weekend and while I’m no fan of soccer (much to the chagrin of my husband), I’m usually up for some Gael Bernal Garcia with a twist of Diego Luna. The former more than the latter, but no need to get choosy here.

The movie tells the story of two brothers – Rudo, played by Luna is the brighter and more motivated of the two and is determined to be a soccer star at all costs to himself and his family and then there’s Tato (nicknamed “Cursi”), the more likable of the two, and possibly the more talented, but also the more foolish one. Each of them has their own vice (for Rudo it’s gambling and cocaine; for Cursi it’s women and his short-sighted desire for fame in the form of becoming a singing sensation).

So while the movie is a cliche in its own right – not to mention another variation on the theme of what happens when you take 2 neglected hicks and feed them into a world of overnight success and lavish attention on them, there is something deeper that the flick hints at which I think a lot about in my own career – the distinction between passion and talent.

The most successful people are the ones that can objectively (if that’s possible) look inward and package their talents in a way that makes them desirable candidates for the work they pursue. It may not reflect their passion, but it speaks to their ability to know their strengths and work it to their advantage.

 While Cursi is drawn to music, soccer is the device that allows him to pursue his passion and what makes him such a tragic figure is that he unabashedly takes for granted the very thing that enables him to follow his passion.

But the glib side of me thinks, “How much $$ is this guy shitting through and complaining about?”

For many of us our day jobs aren’t our passion. In my vernacular, this then translates to it not being my career. The tension builds to frustration when our talents ARE completely aligned with our passion, and yet we can’t seem to make it work so that our day job = talent + passion.

But I also think it important to not take for granted the very thing that acts as my form of self-expression for the 9-10 hours I work a day because as John Lennon might suggest, “Your career is what happens when you’re busy making things happen all day long.”

Why Pay Structure in the Workplace is Stupid & Senseless

Maybe fake money is the answer.

I don’t know about you, but where I work, no one talks money. By $$, I mean salary. While some have their theories about why it’s in management’s best interest to remain conspicuous and buttoned up on subject of money (TheJobBored’s Brian McCullough asserts it’s in a company’s “best interest to keep salaries secret so that they can keep labor costs down”). His logic isn’t far off from my own. Personally, I can’t see an age of true transparency, such as a New York Times article suggested where such discussions are commonplace and every employee knows every other employees salary.

Would I want that?

I’m not so sure…But there are places that do a good job of setting employees at ease by making the work less about the $$ and more about the culture (and seem to succeed at this). For those of us a little more pragmatic in terms of wanting to pay the bills, other places, such at Motek, a firm that the NY Times cited in the article I referenced offer identical salaries for employees at the same level. When someone wants a raise, a raise is negotiated at the team level. This concept were the brainchild of the company’s CEO who spent her formative years in Israel and wanted to extend the socialist ideals of a kibbutz and people pitching in for the good of the greater community. She also someone who had experienced first-hand gender inequity with salary.

I can’t help but think for all the emphasis that’s put on the term “teamwork” in both agency and consultancy workplaces, very few American Fortune 500 companies adopt such practices, which inherently contradicts all the lip service that’s paid to this concept. By not having the very thing that drives and motivates individuals to move up the ladder correspond directly with a overall financial well-being of the greater team or have any consequence, the cynic in me wonders why anyone would bother.

What are other less innovative places doing?

Universities tend to do a good job of scaling salary expectations with pay grades, but then again unless you’re more senior, universities aren’t known to pay too well either. Still, people who work at universities tend to stick around since the work-life balance is optimal and they get other perks (free tuition, access to university facilities, etc).

The Weather Channel keep salary info confidential, but claims it doesn’t fall into “that black box” either and people are given data to explain salary.

While it’s natural to seek out math to to do the #s, employees also want to be talked like people – not like lemmings. We want to know that what we do is important and that the teams we report into NEED us. It’s more than an email every now and then, it’s more than a pep talk, it’s showing me & my peers the appreciation. If pay is directly correlated with performance (as is stressed to us) and corporations emphasize teamwork first and foremost, than the next logical step is streamlining HR policies like the one Ann Price innovated.