Category Archives: Mom

Unwavering Commitment on an Icy Day

This weekend we had some weather that made it impossible to drive. Travel was not advised in our area, and public transportation was stopped because it was so bad. This reminded me of one day around 1980 when I was a kid growing up in Ames, Iowa.

On that day, travel was not advised as well; however, that day wasn’t just a day, it was Palm Sunday. Growing up in a Catholic home, every Sunday was important, but Palm Sunday is one of those special Sundays—not quite like Super Bowl Sunday, but definitely comparable to the conference playoffs.

Our home church, St. Cecilia, was about 4 miles away. With no car travel possible, I’m sure that I thought I had this free-of-church Sunday in the bag. After all, if you can’t drive, you can’t go to church.


My mother informed us that we were going to St. Thomas that morning. St. Thomas was the second Catholic church in town, and on campus at Iowa State, about 2 miles from our house.

“But how are we going to get there?”, I pleaded.

“We’re walking,” said my mother.

And so we walked.

Today as I reflected about that Palm Sunday, the story was less about religious conviction and more about simply demonstrating an  unwavering commitment.

All of us could commit to things in our life in a more unwavering way. But those justifications and excuses always get in the way, convincing us why giving less than 100% effort to something is okay. It could be our school work, or our relationships, or our work, or the need to lose that weight, or to exercise more, or to listen, or to just give the person sitting next to you your full attention.

As real opportunities to demonstrate your unwavering commitment present themselves in 2020, what are you going to do–talk yourself into staying at home or walk?

Over My Stretched Out Body!


I was excited to get a new hire and find a location for him to sit.  Right outside of my office was this beautiful empty cubicle—his new home, I thought.  The cube had been empty for months, it was a perfect spot.  My excitement was building, until I saw the black and white sign, mocking me in 72 point Calibri:


Right in front of my own eyes, the office equivalent of stretching across 5 folding chairs.

After searching around, I discovered that someone had placed this sign and reserved this spot for an open and not yet filled position months ago.

When you come from a big family, the concept of reserving or saving things is foreign.  Take food, for example.  If dinner is on the table, and you’re late, then you just don’t get the good stuff.

“Show up on time,” my mother used to say when I showed up late and the only dinner portions left was a copious portion of red beets.

This theme is all around us.  You ever been to a parade and see those empty chairs you’d take to a kid’s soccer game just lined up in the front row?  They put them there days in advance.  Deep inside the recesses of my mind I wish someone would steal them.

How about at a school play?  It’s like someone raided the lost and found table hanging a bunch of tattered coats, hats and scarves across a bunch of folding chairs.  At least have the dignity to just make your kid lie down across the chairs…

I wonder what this says about our culture.  Do we respect showing up on time?  Are we trying to protect those in our clan that are just a little slower than the rest of us?

Sometimes, we all just need to experience eating the beets, teaching us to show up next time just a little earlier.

What’s your favorite “saver” story?

The Next Chapter


Taking my oldest son to college for the first time was harder than I thought.  My wife and I left with him Wednesday night and moved him in on Thursday.  Then, we left.

All the clichés are true; it happens more quickly than you think.  I can attest to that.  One day you’re putting him on the school bus for the first time, and then almost without blinking you’re hugging him in the dorm parking lot saying good bye.  You feel this extreme loss of his presence, knowing that it will never be the same.

But then my 88 year-old father, who did this 7 times, said it’s like he’s starting his next chapter.  For some reason that made me feel better, that somehow, for him, he’s getting to start something he’s been waiting a long time to start.  I then remember how happy I was for my next chapter after my parents dropped me off at college.  These additional perspectives helped me balance my own feelings of loss and fear I felt by dropping him off.

Maybe it should be about him, and not me?

I talk a lot about the “change cycle.”  This is a model that tells you no matter how big or small the change is that you are experiencing, science tells us that we always go through the same sequential 6 stages—Loss, Doubt, Discomfort, Discovery, Understanding, Integration.  The pace in which one goes through the cycle is dependent on several factors.  One thing I like about the model is that just knowing you go through all 6 stages—and you will eventually get to Integration—in of itself is comforting.  By using this model, I can self-identify that I am in the Loss and Doubt stages, and that is OK.

This one will take me a while.  The text messages and once a week phone calls help too.  After we got home, his younger brothers launched a multi-phased project where everyone was switching rooms.

“We keep no shrines,” my mother used to say when the exact same thing happened 45 years ago with my 6 sisters.

Peyton moved into Will’s now empty room.  Henry moved into Peyton’s room and Eddie stayed in the room he previously shared with Henry.  We moved clothes, dressers, beds–the works.  Now the remaining boys all have their own room.

Feels like they moved through the change cycle pretty quickly.  Have to love your siblings.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

My mother said this often and had incredible resiliency coupled with an unwavering focus both on moving forward and not dwelling on the past.  In fact, if something bad happened to you, she’d give you license to be upset for 24 hours, and then, in her mind, you should be ready to “move on”.  She was very consistent in her approach, whether it was dealing with one of her seven children, or the cancer she died from 16 years ago.

These traits are somewhat unique from my own self observations and those of other people.  Mom had the perspective that bad things will happen to good people, but it was more about what you did about it than commiserating about why.  My college friend Bob Bell was injured when we were freshman and became paralyzed.  He ended up writing a great book on the topic, and I remember someone in an interview asking him “Why do you think this happened to you?”  His response: “Why the F* not me?”

At work, many of us have been through some significant challenges with reductions in the workforce.  These initially are devastating –I know personally—and leaving on someone else’s terms is devastating.  I remember one leader lucky enough to leave before “the date” saying that leaving on his own terms was the most difficult decision he’s ever made.  At least he was in control, and I remember questioning and being angry about his use of the word “difficult”.

Difficult is having to tell your family you’ve lost your job–leaving them speechless–except the 9 year-old who asks if you are going to lose your house.

Others, in organizations that have provided job stability for decades, do not even have context that employment is fragile for many of us.  To some of those folks, getting reorganized into something they don’t want to do—and keeping a job—is like the end of the world.  To them, laid off people would say, “at least you still have a job.”

Each of us has our own context and perspective about a given situation.  But in all contexts, it’s about adapting, overcoming, and making the next steps be on your own terms.  Simply put, moving on.

When we experience some difficultly, whether it is a layoff or a reorganization, fundamentally we all still need to decide for how long we want to analyze and dwell.  Mom would apply the 24 hour rule and recommend that we get on with it and ground ourselves in the reality that this is where we are planted–right, wrong, or indifferent.

What holds us back?

Well, blooming forces us to take action and be creative, which is hard and scary.    It forces us to eliminate excuses and complaints, which makes us vulnerable.  It forces us to reach out to our networks and ask for help, which can be embarrassing.

Someone close to me lost their job about a year ago.  Just recently he accepted a position to teach a college course, something he likely would have never have had the chance to do without the job loss.  He told me that was the best news he’d heard in 52 weeks, and was always something he wanted to do.

Me?  I can’t believe that 9 months later, I’m in my dream job.  It took a lot of support and help to get here.  To those that supported me, I’m forever grateful, for all of it–the phone conversations, the text messages, the coffees, the lunches, the LinkedIn messages, and the hugs.  I’ve vowed to help anyone I can—day or night—who needs help with job transition and networking.

Mom, I’ve “moved on”.

Seeds can be planted and flowers can bloom in the least expected places.  Bloom where you are planted—you are in control, it just sometimes doesn’t feel that way initially.  But you are.

I Don’t Know

Those three words instill fear with some people. Part of a leader’s job is to ask questions, sometimes difficult questions. I think we have to be conscious of how we are asking the questions, but I wonder why people don’t just say “I don’t know” when they don’t know the answer.
Many people feel that talking their way through an answer, even if they don’t know the answer, is better than just saying they don’t know the answer.
I disagree. I believe it’s much better, and not a sign of weakness, to just say you don’t know.
I remember my Mom telling me that you don’t have to have a good memory if you always tell the truth. I think Mom was onto something.

We often are coached to be confident. I would argue that confident people can say they don’t know the answer to something. When faced with this situation, ask yourself “why” you would be inclined to “wing it” instead of just saying it. Then keep asking “why?”

Why #1: Why won’t you just say you don’t know?
Answer 1: I’m afraid that I’ll look stupid
Why #2: Why are you afraid that you will look stupid?
Answer 2: Because I think my Boss thinks I should know the answer
Why #3: Why do you think your Boss thinks you should know the answer?
Answer 3: I don’t know.

Bingo. In this example, the core issue might be expectations between you and your Boss. Have a discussion with your Boss about expectations, and level of detail you should have in your role given your scope. Likely this conversation will be enlightening in that your assumptions of what your Boss expects do not actually match what your Boss expects. Having this conversation saves you from losing credibility when you try to “wing it” but inevitably admit to not having a clue.

If we were all much better about being open and honest about this type of thing, then we can be liberated, and not fearful, when responding to a question for which we do not know the answer.

“I don’t know, but I can find out.”