Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sticky Situations

I caught a glimpse of my own reflection in the shimmering glass of the pristine case.  It was my weekly outing to the nearby grocery story – the only type of outing I’d afforded myself for several weeks now – and now, this.  The glass case had been cleaned, buffed and shined beyond recognition, and it had precisely zero pastries in it.

Now mind you, I’m not one to succumb to the lure of the pastry case with any regularity.  But when you only leave the house once a week, you begin to feel like maybe you deserve something.  I’m doing my part to flatten the curve.  Haven’t I earned something for that?  The truth is that I haven’t – that my contribution to the solution is so much easier than the contributions of others – but that hasn’t stopped my indulgence thus far.

We humans are prone to suffering in any uncomfortable circumstance as a familiar path of least resistance, and I wanted a donut to ease that pain, dammit.  My gaze went downward toward the shelf beneath the case, and I saw there were dozens of pre-assembled plastic containers of donuts strewn about.  Long gone are the days where we can use the tongs and little pieces of folded tissue paper to choose our own sugary treats, we simply can’t afford the risk of that right now.  Unfazed, I perused the dozen or so options before me.  It felt like a lot of too much of this, not enough of that.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it.  My mind could have been playing tricks on me, but I could swear a lone sugar-encrusted, raspberry-filled donut popped out it’s hand, gave a quick wave, and winked at me.  I glanced to my left, and to my right, and then hastily threw the container in my cart like it was a dirty secret.

You will be mine, sweet lover.  You will be mine.


Surprised, But Then Again Not

It has been  tradition for a good decade and a half now, and this year was going to be no exception.  I had to have a summertime meet up with my very best friend, Mindy, or  Mila as I like to call her.  In years past we have traveled to far away places, each one hotter than the last.  She’s a school teacher, so our travels are limited to the summer months.  So why not go to Costa Rica, Washington, D.C., Memphis and San Antonio in the sweltering, oppressive, god forsaken, hotter-than-balls heat?  Year after year, we’ve been undeterred.

In recent years, things have scaled back a bit as Mindy prepared to send her first born to college.  We have set out on a staggering trail of visits to mediocre-at-best Midwestern towns.  Places like Dubuque, Prairie du Chien, Waterloo, and Cedar Rapids.  Proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that every city has a little (sometimes really little) something to offer, at least one passable restaurant, and fun to be had if the two of us are there.

Early this summer I had sent a message to Mindy with all of the weekends that were possibilities.  Summers slip past us these days, the velocity and speed intensifying with each passing year.  Wisdom tells me when it comes to the non-negotiable summer musts, it is best to book early.  Summer will be over in the blink of an eye.

So Mindy got tangled up with little things like getting her son graduated from high school and taking a two week trip to Costa Rica with a group of high school Spanish students.  When she returned in early July, she sent a message and inquired, “Are you still free the weekend of July 15-17?”  It was only about ten days away, but indeed I was and I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to see her.  I scanned the map for a new mediocre city, and we landed on La Crosse, Wisconsin.  It was a three hour drive for each of us, and someplace we hadn’t been together.  On short notice, it simply would have to do.

We arrived on Friday night and didn’t miss a beat.  Our time together was comprised of all the usuals – talking for hours on end, Mexican food, booze, raucous laughter and a bit of being ridiculous.  On Saturday, went to the stunning shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, did some shopping, had some lunch, nursed a blister on my toe and took a little nap.  By the time we got showered and ready to find our way to dinner, the sun was dangerously close to setting.  We headed out quickly and made our way to the weekend’s premiere and necessary photo op – The World’s Largest Six Pack.

As is generally always the case in our kind-of-like-an-old-married-couple relationship, I researched and picked the place for dinner.  Situated on a bluff overlooking The Mighty Mississippi, the bar and grill I selected had consistent rave reviews.  It was busy – even though it was later in the evening – so we plopped ourselves down at the bar in order to patiently wait for a table outside.  There were a couple of musicians plunking away in the backdrop and we laughed at their repertoire of music – oldies, then country, then reggae – they had it all. We chatted up the locals and sipped our Spotted Cow.  We were in heaven.

The conversation took one of the more serious turns for the weekend as Mindy and I reflected on her joining “The Club” in the last year, membership indicative of having lost a parent.  Mindy’s dad had passed a little over a year prior, and she had made it through all the treacherous hurdles of The Year of Firsts.  I commented how four days prior had marked the 20 year anniversary of my own father’s passing and how implausible that seemed.  How could something feel like a nanosecond ago and an eternity at the same time, I wondered.  I told her that I always feel his presence with me and she said she felt the same about her dad.  What was strange, I said, was that every year on or right around the anniversary of his death, I hear Dad’s favorite song, Amie by Pure Prairie League.  But I hadn’t this year, and I wasn’t sure what was up with that.

Mindy and I finally got seated on the patio and proceeded to order what seemed to be the best fish I ever ate in my entire life.  No joke.  This was some amazing fish.  I don’t even know what they did to it.  Maybe the fact that I was really hungry impaired my judgment in some way.  Or maybe the fish was really just that good.  Truthfully, I may never know.

With my belly full, I looked down at my plate and had one more piece of this most delicious fish left to devour.  I almost wasn’t sure I couldn’t do it, but who was I kidding?  I could.  I reached for it, and Mindy stopped me.  “Listen,” she said.  “It’s your song.”  And yes – right then, right there, I heard it.  The two-man band inside a riverside bar and grill in La Crosse, Wisconsin was playing Amie by Pure Prairie League.

You can imagine, I’m sure, that a chill went straight through me.  I got goosebumps.  I got tears in my eyes – lots of them.  I grabbed Mindy’s arm.  I accused her of requesting it, even though I knew she hadn’t left my side since we got there.  I said over and over that I was so surprised this had happened.  And Mindy, my soul mate, my best friend, the one who gets me every time, simply said, “I’m not surprised at all.”

For those of you who are grieving, who are hurt, who have lost and not yet recovered –   know this.  Even though you can’t see someone, you can’t touch them, you can’t hear their voice – I promise you this:  No matter how much you are missing someone after they are gone, they aren’t really gone at all.  They are right there with you every step of the way.

The Pursuit of Everlasting Love

“Enough already,” I thought, and just like that I had moved on.  It was as if my mind were a high school gymnasium. The janitor had swept up the last of the paper streamers and confetti from the homecoming dance, had stacked all the chairs, and had decisively switched off all the lights before heading home.  This shit was done.

What was done were the abject relationship failures.  I was over it in the biggest possible way.  And just like that, I made a decision.  It wasn’t so much a decision to embrace my singlehood – though I did – it was a more decision to sit with it.  To understand it.  To become a better version of me.  I needed a break from a ten (or more) year streak of poor choices, attracting the wrong people, being the wrong partner, chasing the wrong things and awkward first dates followed by days and weeks of over analysis.  My poor friends. We all needed to be done with it.

I boldly headed into a new era.  It’s one thing to be single by accident. It’s quite another to be single by conviction.  I knew in my head and in my heart that I had a couple of solid truths:  1)  I sincerely wanted everlasting love, and 2) in my current state, all things being equal to what they were, I wasn’t getting it.  It’s easy to find faults in others, and a more delicate and daunting task to find them and fix them in yourself.  But this I knew for sure:  however challenging and difficult and broken things had been in any of my relationships, there was one common denominator.  That was me.

On the inside, I knew I was doing the hard work, the close examination of myself to recalibrate all my love chakras.  But to the outside world, I needed a name for it.  “I’ve taken a Vow of No Sexual Impropriety,” I declared to my best friend one sleepy Saturday afternoon in a small town Iowa bar.  Yes, it was sassy and cheeky and to someone who didn’t know me better you might think, “A vow?  You needed a vow for that?!”  And while images of a sex swing hanging from my bedroom ceiling and a suitcase with sexual accoutrement spilling out of it might conjure up in your head, I assure you that was not the case.  But I needed a declaration that stood on its own, that was decisive, that said something and meant something. The Vow of No Sexual Impropriety fit the bill.

My best friend looked at me and arched her eyebrow, signaling her wish to know more.  “It’s like this,” I pressed on.  “I know what I want.  I want everlasting love.  And the truth of the matter is, nobody is going to self-actualize if they have some random guy’s dick in their mouth.” I said it strictly for shock value effect – again not because of its relational value to my own life – and knew in an instant it had worked.  My best friend, not missing a beat and as only my best friend can do, lifted a napkin and raised it to wipe an imaginary tear away from her eye.  “It’s just so beautiful the way you say it, Jen,” she said while pretend sobbing.  And then we laughed and laughed and laughed. It’s so freeing to bring out the absurd with one who really gets you.

But truthfully and all sassy kidding aside, I knew that if I were going to find the love I wanted, the love I knew I deserved, I had to make room for it to fit in my life.  To settle for anything less than what I deserved – even for a moment – was to signal the universe that I didn’t believe in what I said I deserved.  I was going to have to be patient.

I stayed the course on this love fast for two full years, believe it or not.  Two years in which I did not go on a single date nor did I entertain the notion of a single love prospect.  Two years in which I deepened my meaningful friendships, worked hard and smart professionally, focused on my writing, traveled, read, cooked great meals, and tried a whole bunch of new things.  Two years in which I ended every day by listing all of my gratitudes for that day, including all the love I already had in my life, even on the really crappy days.  Two years in which I reminded myself over and over again what I want and what I deserve:  everlasting love.

A ways into the exercise, I felt a shift.  I knew I had achieved an almost laser focus on my desires and my belief in what I have to offer in a relationship.  I believed, and still believe, that I had become a better version of myself in the process.  I also felt it coming.  Kind of like when you are waiting for a friend to pick you up, and you see the headlights of their car approach your block. In that moment, they aren’t at your house yet but you just know they are almost there.  I had that kind of almost-there-knowing.  It’s out there I would tell myself.  It’s coming.

This past August, taking me quite by surprise, it did come.  I didn’t just sit back and wait for it, but rather put the new and improved, happier and more focused version of me back on the market.  Almost instantaneously, I met a fantastic person.  We talked for hours and hours and hours on the phone and within days could not stand it any longer and had to meet.  We met at a park for our first meeting where we encountered a whole bunch of human oddities and laughed our fool heads up.  From there and every day since we have forged a relationship that has had all the usual fits and starts and occasional pitfalls of a real relationship, but that is sealed by a common respect and sheer admiration of one another.  This is a man who can handle all that is Jen Wittwer, who gets a kick out of me, who is just the right amount in balanced awe of me but who can also confidently stand up to me when it needs to be done.  This is a man who makes me belly laugh and gives the best hugs in the world and I admire as having one of the kindest, gentlest, most thoughtful hearts I’ve encountered.

Is it everlasting love?  I guess I don’t really know.  I am not sure how anyone can ever say for sure.  But I do know this.  It is the love I deserve right now, and it was definitely worth the wait.


Be Nice to Jen

This past week marked an incredible accomplishment on behalf of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division.  The doors to the long-term care unit, a locked unit and one of the only of its kind in Wisconsin or anywhere, really, closed permanently.  The last of the clients were moved into their thoughtfully arranged, beautiful and custom-built homes made specific to their unique needs.  Was closing this facility and finding new homes for those who lived there a perfect process?  No, because it never is when you are dealing with human beings – let alone human beings with remarkably complex lives.  But I can say this.  It is a new day – for those clients, for the Behavioral Health Division, and for our community.  A new day that will have challenges and triumphs and a whole new round of considerations.  A new day that my incredible team helped make.

On Friday after the last client had moved out, my team and I just happened to be spending our lunch hour together for a potluck because we had never had any sort of holiday celebration.  It was fitting that we had come together on this historic day, and I took the opportunity to say a few words of sincere appreciation.  It’s not easy working for the public sector system.  There is a lot of scrutiny and criticism and back seat driver-worthy assumptions that can make even those with the purest heart occasionally fill with doubt.  But those of us on the inside know the truth, and we have to remind each other of it:  We work hard, we care deeply, and although it might take longer than we like, we overcome barriers to do the right thing for the people we serve. We are in it for the right reasons.

When I got home on Friday night, I  mindlessly ate the sandwich I picked up from Culver’s and sunk down in my favorite chair with my feet propped up on the ottoman.  I’ll be damned I thought.  We actually did it.  I wasn’t sure the day would ever come and when we first set out on the venture, I surely didn’t know how we’d get there.  But we did, and at the end of it all I felt equal parts disbelief and pride.  That team of mine, I am telling you, they are something else.

By about 7:15 that night, I felt an exhaustion so deep and so unrelenting that I had no choice but to make my way to my bed.  It was as though I had run a marathon and collapsed at the finish line.  I slept a deep, peaceful, sound sleep that had evaded me many nights over the course of the last two years.  When I awoke early Saturday morning, I knew what I needed to do.

What I needed to do was take care of me.  Without hesitation, I declared Saturday, January 16, 2016 “Be Nice to Jen Day.”  I’ve instituted such days before, and in fact I try to make sure they happen a couple times a year.  Now don’t get it twisted, this is not a community-wide event.  The only person required to be nice to Jen on Be Nice to Jen Day is Jen.  It is merely optional for everyone else.

Most of my Be Nice to Jen Days look similar.  A little sleeping in, a little getting my house in order, a little time alone, a little time with those I love the most, a little pampering, a little eating something wonderful, a little snuggling with my kitties.  Yesterday was no different from any of that, and I loved it every bit as much as I always do.  The combination and the details may vary slightly, but the restoring of my soul is always the same, beautiful, well-deserved outcome.

The truth is that part of the human experience is craving love and validation from those around us.  I can agree that it’s wonderful when it happens, but I would also say it’s too big a gamble to wait on it.  Instead of always focusing externally, why not start with you?  You are the one person – the only person, arguably – you can directly order to be nice to you.  If you do it enough, others just might take notice and decide they’d like to join in, too.  But that’s their deal and for them to decide.

Your deal, for you to decide, is not if you are going to lovingly tend to yourself, but rather how.


Pockets of Emptiness

I’m not sure how or why or when it happened, but somewhere along the way our society decided that busy-ness is the new black.  When people can squeeze each other in for a quick cup of coffee or a hurried dinner, the conversation often turns to the laundry list of tasks that have been done, need to be done, want to be done.  Although all this busy-ness is presented as a complaint, it really comes across more like bragging rights.  The busier one is the better they must be, surely crowned as the more important one, the one who is winning.

But not me, I’ve decided.  Maybe I am getting old.  Well not maybe – I guess I actually am.  At the end of a day where I was decidedly homebound and happily so, I wondered if I would someday do a life review and feel like I had squandered my time on these lazy Sundays.  Days like today that are made of decadence like fresh linens, the smell of banana bread wafting through the air, hours sorting through future travel options, naps and thoughtfully planned dinners.  This is not about busy-ness or what needs to be done, other than needing to tend to my soul.  I just can’t imagine I could ever regret it.  Has it furthered my progress, made me a better person?  Got me closer to any of my goals?  Not really.  Do I care?  Not really.

My friend described it perfectly recently and I’ve clung to her words, taken them on as my own.  She said, “I have a really full life, a life that I love.  But part of that fullness includes pockets of emptiness that I must fiercely protect.”  Yes, yes, yes.  That is beautiful.  The space and time created by pockets of emptiness matter a whole lot, too.  There is no need to overthink it. I’m keeping them.

Top Ten of Jen – 2015

Man oh man.  Another year has come and gone. Another year with laughter, challenges, love, lessons, grit.  Another year with life.  This life of mine, it is charmed I tell you.  Must be all those angels I have watching over me.  So that being said, in no particular order, here are my top ten most remarkable experiences of 2015:

1)  Did some adulting.  There’s no denying it, kids.  I’m officially a grown up.  I do turn 47 in a few months, so I guess it was inevitable that I face up to this truth.  So in 2015, I decided to take this adult thing by the horns.  I met with an attorney, and together we drafted my will, my living will, and my power of attorney for healthcare and finance documents.  I grappled with the hard questions, and I gave some careful consideration to my mortality.  Which I know is coming, but hopefully not soon.  But when it does, I’ve made life for my family a little bit easier.  Yaay, me! It feels good to be a grown up….most of the time.

2)  Did some experting.  It’s been said that to be an expert in one’s field, you must first acquire some knowledge, and then you must travel more than 300 miles to share said knowledge.  In February, I did just that.  I traveled a whole lotta miles, made my way through customs, drove a couple hours and eventually found my way to Guelph, Ontario.  While there, I conducted a series of workshops and a video recording of continuous quality improvement practices in behavioral health settings.  It was fun.  It was exhausting.  It was scary.  And I can’t wait to do it again and again.

3)  Did some laughing.  Anybody who knows anything about me knows that I love my girl Mindy.  This past summer, she and I met up in Waterloo, Iowa for a weekend of fun.  Is there fun to be had in Waterloo, Iowa, you ask?  Why yes, yes there is.  That is, if you have Mindy, Jen and the booster powerpack of our friend Mike.  Fun, it turns out, can include tractor museums and eating giant tenderloins the size of your head and doing a little late night shopping at the local Kum n’ Go for some swag.  I love it when I get sore cheekbones from laughing.  Even in Waterloo, Iowa.

4) Did some staycationing.  I had a day off this summer where my original plans had fallen through.  I could have gone to work, I guess, but – wait, catching my breath from laughing there – no.  No I could not go to work.  That’s just crazy talk.  I decided I had one day and not a care in the world and I was going to turn this town upside down.  So one by one, I ticked things off the Milwaukee to-do list and one by one, I realized how much I love this little town of ours.  I went to the domes – because they were free that day – and while there I ran into a friend.  I had an impromptu lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen in forever.  I went to the art museum with yet another friend and saw the wonderful Modern Rebels exhibit.  I sat by the lakefront and drank local beer. And at the end of the night, I decided I needed custard, because – well, custard.  At the custard stand, I ran into yet another friend.  This is a city, right?  It is – I promise you – it has all the amenities a city should have.  But it is a town, too.  And that is why it is just right for me.  Love you, Milwaukee!  Mean it.

5)  Did some celebrating.  Here is what I believe is a well known fact about me, but lest there be any confusion let me be explicitly clear:  I love my birthday!  It’s true.  I love being the center of attention for one day.  Actually, it’s not one day.  It is, at minimum, one fortnight.  One of those celebratory activities during said fortnight is Birthday Eve.  Birthday Eve is, as the name would imply, the night before my birthday.  And it is always spent with my work homies, of which I have many.  I am lucky in that way – I have really, really great work friends.  In fact, I could never survive my job without them.  So this year, like every year, we went out for Birthday Eve.  But this year, I didn’t feel like talking about work, so I brought a tin with little slips of paper for possible conversation topics.  Topics like Burt Reynolds and black jelly beans and people named Larry and traumatic childhood memories.  That little tin of random topics made for one energized, hilarious, very different evening.  I think it will be a staple at every Birthday Eve. Because Birthday Eve is totally happening every year.

6)  Did some dating.  Yes, that’s right.  You heard it here first.  I got myself back in the game.  The dating game, that is. Which is not always an easy game to be in, I might add.  Don’t get me wrong, there has been much to love about my single life.  But, I am finding, there is much to love about not being so single either.  So yes, I have been spending time with a thoughtful, funny, affectionate, handsome gentleman suitor for the last few months.  And, I would say, it has been good for me.  Good because I am reminded that even a 40-something, strong-willed, set-in-her-ways woman like myself has plenty to offer someone who gets to be with me.  Truthfully, it’s been a little scary, a little exhilarating, a little challenging, a lot of fun.  And, for the record, I’m still all in.

7)  Did some friending.  There are many things that make my life great.  My house, my family, my job, my opportunities.  But few things contribute to my life the way that my friendships do.  I cherish them and protect them, love them and honor them.  This year, I’ve had some friends go through some things.  Some things that haven’t been so easy.  And the things is, those same friends have turned to me to be there for them.  This is not a burden, it is not a chore.  Rather, this is a privilege.  This is the kind of thing that gives friendships staying power.  I love that the foundation we built over time has made me a safe harbor for the difficult times.  And I trust that when I need them, they will be there in the same ways for me.  That is a good feeling. A feeling so good words can’t do it justice.

8)  Did some roadtripping.  My friend Danielle and I had been talking about taking a road trip for years.  This year, we finally did it.  What started off as contemplation of a four day weekend in Kansas City ended up instead as a 7 Cities in 7 Days epic tour all the way to Myrtle Beach and back.  Our mantra from the start was “it’s just one day.”  So if it’s terrible (like Myrtle Beach) you can laugh it off because it was just one day.  (And laugh we did, that place is dreadfully, hilariously awful.)  But if it’s amazing (like Charleston) you can only do one or two incredible things because all you had was just one day.  (And we did those one or two incredible things as well.)  We loved traveling by car, having a cooler at our disposal, being in charge of our own schedule and stopping at any given time to do precisely what we wanted to do.  I can promise you this, another epic road trip will be happening and the plans are already underway.

9)  Did some lanterning.  OK, lanterning isn’t a real word.  But it should be!  My girl Alex turned 40 this year. She’s a baby, I tell you!  She happened to be in town for the big day, so she assembled a group of her best gals for a night out on the town.  After a fantastic dinner, one of her friends arranged for us to have dessert and champagne at the lakefront.  Now mind you, it was cool, and it was damp.  But not just a little damp, the fog was so thick we could barely see.  So we walked for what felt like a mile, and there was our little picnic set up.  As an extra special part of the plan, there were paper lanterns for each of us to light and send off into the sky as we made a wish.  Sounds beautiful, right?  Well it was, but part of the beauty was the knock down, drag out, nearly pants-peeing hilarity that ensued as several of us had great difficulty lighting our lanterns and had to chase them as they tumbled across a plot of tall prairie grasses.  In the end, the deed was done.  The lanterns went adrift in the sky, the wishes were made, and our girl Alex had a most memorable birthday. All without starting the entire lakefront on fire.

10)  Did some family bonding.  My beautiful little family and I made a big decision this year:  No Christmas presents.  Maybe it sounds a little harsh, but I assure you it is not.  It’s not, because we all have everything we could ever need.  How lucky are we?  So this year, in lieu of gifts we agreed to make a charitable donation and focus on spending time together.  We saw a comedy show.  We went out for a lovely dinner.  We went to the movies.  We played board games.  And at the end of it all, I think we all knew in our hearts that we are rich in many ways – but we are especially rich in love.

So that’s a wrap, 2015.  Thanks for another great year!  Onward and upward for more adventures in the year to come.  As usual, I can’t wait.

Billy Joe

He taught me everything I know about grace and humor, and I miss him every day.

In short, he was the coolest cat I ever met, and while most of his family called him “Billy Joe,” I was lucky enough to call him Dad. There are so many things I admire about him, that I am not sure I can put them all to paper. He was funny and patient and tolerant of the most trying of circumstances–far beyond anyone’s comprehension.

Born on October 1, 1941 to Harold and Kathryn Swearingen, Billy Joe was the baby of his family. (One of his all-time favorite jokes: “They named me Bill because I came on the first of the month.”) There is something about being the baby of the family that lends to a special brand of charm, and he had oodles of it. He just had an easy way about him, and was always the life of the party. Need a spot-on impression of one of the…

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The Competitive Edge

At the risk of sounding like a crusty old crank – and let’s face it, it’s a descriptor that isn’t all too far off some days- the generations younger than me are getting more and more entitled.  Perhaps it is that they are the output of helicopter parents who structured every minute of their time (unlike my upbringing, which was of the “free range” variety), but I worry about our future knowing this is who we are relying on to care of us as we age.  I’m terrified, actually.

I’ve been watching the workforce get younger and younger over the years, while impressively I seem to remain the same age.  Funny how that happens.  I’m forced to contend with the fact that I have to hire, train, lead, inspire and develop this younger crowd.  It’s no small task, and there are days I wonder how I will manage to pull it off.

I would estimate that in my 24 years in the adult workforce, I have probably interviewed no less than a few hundred people.  Interviewing and hiring is actually my favorite thing to do, and arguably it’s what I do best.  I’ve often said – and I have sincerely meant – that the only important thing I have to do is hire well.  The rest will follow, and I know this because it’s been proven time and time again.  And so when I am in the midst of a search, which is honestly almost always, I take it very seriously.

Part of my strategy in hiring is to simplify what I am looking for.  That is not to say that I will simply accept anyone – quite the contrary, actually.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am famous for quipping that “I only hire stars.”  But how do you find a star, a proverbial diamond in the rough?  You find them by knowing exactly what matters.  And for me, I really only care about two qualities for any key candidate:  a positive attitude and an ability to learn.  That’s right, kids.  Yes, you have to have the right qualifications to get in the door.  But more letters behind your names or rings in your tree trunk won’t get you far with me.  Because truthfully, once we get you in the door we can teach you anything.  Almost anything, that is.  We can’t teach you how to have a good attitude or a desire to learn.

What I’ve noticed over the years, however, is a complacency -an entitlement I want to call it – that is disconcerting.  It’s as if no one really cares.  If I bring you in for an interview, I want you to treat it like it’s a big deal.  It’s like going on a blind date.  You are checking me out, and I am doing the same to you.  We have to establish if we could have a good thing going, if we should take this to the next level.

So now’s the part where you should sit up straight and listen.  Because it’s everyone’s favorite part – the part where I dispense unsolicited advice.  If you want a competitive edge in your job search, you don’t even have to work that hard.  This because no one is working hard.  So to stand out, you just have to be a little better than the rest.  My advice is this:  Dress one step above what you would wear to the job.  Show up five to ten minutes early.  Be polite to the receptionist.  Silence your cell phone.  Bring a folder with clear, crisp, perfectly formatted and spell-checked copies of your resume and your reference list.  Read the company website ahead of time and interject questions about company initiatives in the interview.  Come with a list of your own questions and make sure they aren’t just about things that are self-serving.  Be bold, but not arrogant, in selling yourself.  And, here is the one thing that will set you apart from almost everyone:  Send a thank you note within one day of the interview to everyone who was part of your interview process. I swear, give me a hand written note that makes me feel like it is your goal to be part of my team, and I’m practically a puddle. Because it almost never happens.

Now I’m guessing you just read all of my unsolicited advice, and you thought to yourself, “Well, duh.”  Well guess what?  Hardly anybody does all those things.  Remember that every decision you make in the interview process – which really isn’t that big of an investment of your time – is an opportunity to impress, or not.  Don’t be the girl that showed up to an interview with me with half (and only half) of her nail polish picked off.  I took one look at her and knew she was not of the star quality I was looking for.  It would have taken her one minute to clean up those nails with some polish remover and make them uniform and neat.  But when I saw the mish-mash of a mess on her hands – which was the only thing I could see –  I thought she either doesn’t care if the gets the job, or she’s so lacking in attention to detail she might not know the difference between Zantac and Xanax.  Next!

And believe it or not, that’s really how it happens.  You get one chance to make a first impression, and a whole series of chances after that to get it all right.  It’s all up to you.


I Would Buy Me a Coke

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “I Have Confidence in Me.”

I’ve been told that I have presence, a way of carrying myself, that exudes confidence.  I remember someone once commenting to me, “I wish I had just the amount of confidence you must have in your little pinky toe.” It’s funny to me, because I’m not sure where it came from.  I hear that, and I cringe, because the last thing I want to be is pompous or cocky, and I know it’s a fine line.  On the inside, I still feel like the seven year-old girl clinging to the back of my mom’s pant legs, frightened of my own shadow and afraid to try anything new. But  forty-some years later, I’m not that scared little girl, and it seems I’m someone very different. It’s hard to even begin to connect the dots of how I got here from there.

What I do know is that I didn’t get there on my own. If I look back across the years, I see people – the people who in time became my people.  One by one, they stepped forward and decided they were going to believe in me.  My first grade teacher who, upon hearing I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, told me she thought I would make a wonderful teacher. The neighbor who took me under her wing, and let me hang around and admire her for reasons I don’t even know.  The uncle who decided to treat me like an adult and tell me the truth, when no one else would. The college residence life staff who thought I had what it took to lead and then showed me how.  The professional mentors – many of them – who gave me chances I hadn’t even earned, and then supported me in all kinds of ways that helped me succeed.

And so, what I know is this:  I am me – “more confidence than some people have in their pinky toe” me – because of them.  Because the difference between one who flounders and one who succeeds is a very simple difference:  the one who succeeds has someone – anyone – and maybe just one, who fiercely believes in them.

I got home a week ago after doing my very first consulting gig in Guelph, Ontario of all places.  I planned but didn’t over-plan, I took my bag of tricks, and I went in and I did my thing.  After months of questioning myself, wondering if I still had it, I got a gentle but exhilarating reminder:  As a matter of fact, I do still have it.  I’m even willing to bet that I had it all along.  I just forgot.

So there I was at 1:25 a.m., grime from the flights tarnishing my clothes, my hair, and my soul.  I felt two opposing emotions at the same time; strikingly content and still a little shaken from the adrenaline rush of the week that had just passed.  And I sat on my bed in this compromised but perfectly blissful state, eating a chicken shish kabob sandwich from the gas station/Greek diner drive through, and I thought this, for the first time in a long time:  “I like me.  I would buy me a Coke.”

And while I like myself enough to buy me  a Coke, I know who gave me the change to do it.  It was my people.