Blessed Are the Mornings

The tick, tick, tick of the clock is the only sound I hear at the moment, punctuated every now and then by neighborhood cars as people start their day this last workday of the week. In a moment, my oldest will stir from his bedroom and start his routine for yet another day of high school. My husband and youngest two are still asleep, warm and cozy under down comforters in their rooms.

It is unusual for me to be awake so early. Mornings sneak up on me. I am well rested when I rise these days but it’s usually a slow acceleration from awake to functional. In contrast my husband can bounce out of bed with full energy and ability to hold a lively conversation the minute his eyes open.

Not me. Don’t ask me to talk first thing in the morning. Don’t expect me to remember anything either. My oldest son coined this phrase that we laugh about but it’s 100% true: don’t expect anything from me before I gain my “morning strength”. Coffee isn’t the magic elixir that delivers it, either. Morning strength comes only from standing on my own two feet for twenty minutes.

simon-matzinger-633741-unsplashIt’s not that I don’t like morning: I love it. I especially love waking leisurely to the birdies chirping outside and the gradual light of sunrise. I love seeking out a cool spot in the bed when stretching but then curling back up into the warm spot your limbs inhabited all night long.

One of my all time favorite things is when one of the kids climbs into bed in the morning and we get to snuggle and hug.. It’s even better when my youngest makes this little sing-songy whimpering noise, almost to the point of sleep-talking, when he stretches or settles into a new position. It melts my heart to hear it. We’re almost at the point where our kids have outgrown wanting to climb into bed with us. I’m gonna miss the smell of their freshly-showered heads tucked under my chin and the way their little bodies spoon mine. So sweet. So peaceful. Just warmth and protection, trust and love.

But on days like this, where I rise in the early morning as the first one up, I feel like I’m keeping watch over a sanctuary and helping its inhabitants prepare for a new day, except the inhabitants are people you love still angelically tucked away in their little cocoons for the night.

I have a routine when I rise first. I check on each heartbeat, plant a kiss on each cheek, stare in wonder how the faces of my children have changed yet again seemingly overnight, and then I leave to grant them peace, the luxury of sleep for however many minutes longer before their day begins.

Blessed are the mornings, aren’t they?

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Authenticity Matters

wim-van-t-einde-589443-unsplashI’ve never been one to toot my own horn. But a couple of times in my career, I found it necessary to hire someone to help me rethink how I present myself and how my body of work and accomplishments are shared with others. I hired a consultant, a business coach, to help me with it. In plain English, that means I hired a resume writer. I’m not actively looking for a job, but I need the sort of independent critique of my career that I can’t really get from people vested in my day job. 

She gave me a self-assessment that took over five hours to complete. We then spent an hour talking about it and how I want my career to progress from here on. One of the keystone questions she asked me is what I am known for and what I want to be known for.

After considerable thought, authentic is one of the words that came to mind. Let me tell you what this means to me.

I take my day job and professional career very seriously. My reputation, integrity, and ethics have always mattered. Thanks to an enormously influential undergraduate college professor in an honors accounting program, I learned early on that if we lose people’s trust in us as professional accountants – if we give them any reason to doubt our ethics – we were done. He taught us that unquestionable ethics, trust, and integrity were foundational elements in the field of public accounting and auditing where he coached all of us to start our careers. While I can’t say that I was naturally drawn to public accounting and auditing from an early age, this call toward high ethical standards was something that resonated quite well with me because that is fundamentally who I am.  

Fast forward, I began my professional career with one of the Big Eight world-wide accounting firms. Not one to want to screw things up, I was a pretty serious chick in my early work life. Always the arm’s length professional, always formal, and frankly, always a little bit stiff because I thought that’s who I needed to be. I didn’t want to ever destroy someone’s trust in me. But the real me is witty, and likes to use humor. It was exhausting to always be totally on guard, pleasant, and formal, because the real me is not overly formal at all times. 

At one point, I picked up an awesome client, my favorite place to work of all the places I had advised over the prior 20 years, and that’s saying a lot. One of the blessed things about that place was how much their culture values a sense of humor. To this day, the company hangs plaques on the wall to remind employees of what they value, but the thing is, it isn’t just words on a page, or a plaque in their case. Leadership, and therefore the employees, lived it and showed it, every single day.

It was there that I learned how to integrate the real me with the professional me. Totally,  authentically me. I found I could credibly be both trustworthy and light-hearted, yet fully able to deliver the gravitas that is needed whenever it is needed. All of these things are important because as an auditor, you are sometimes required to deal with some pretty heavy stuff, very serious business issues, and you need an outlet to laugh or you’d go mad.

What surprised me is how well people responded to the authentic me. Authenticity feeds integrity, something my husband and I try to teach our kids. What you see from me is what you get at work, at home, at church, with friends, wherever. I am the same person.

If you’ve paid attention to my posts, you may have learned that it drives me crazy to hear a leader say one thing but do another, or talk a lot of fluff or nonsense just to obfuscate a lack of substance. Our country has a dearth of leadership in that regard, and it’s something I can deliver, certainly on a smaller scale, so it’s time I talk about that.

What’s is your “brand”? What do you want to be known for and are you delivering it now? Is it coming across clearly in the ways you network, in the work you produce, and in the life you lead? What steps have you taken to hone what you present about yourself to the world? And how well-aligned are your work and personal lives? Do you want them to be?

Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash

Blog Milestone – 100 Followers!

katya-austin-554633-unsplashHey everyone! I just wanted to send a special shout-out to those of you who took the monumental step of following my blog. Thank you! In just a little over year’s time I have 100 official followers worldwide, in addition to slightly over a dozen email followers.

I realize that not everyone reads all of my posts, and that my blog topics can vary wildly from one to the next, but I appreciate that you take the time, and toss a few likes my way. For that I give a hearty thumbs up back to you, as much as I am still green at this, still very much a newbie. 

I would love to hear your feedback. What drew you here in the first place, what topics speak to you the most, and what would you like to hear more of? I’d even love to hear from you guys with a quick country or state roll call. 

Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.

~Denise

 

Photo by Katya Austin on Unsplash

 

I Get That

A friend of mine and I make it our thing to visit a local vineyard a few times over the summer and dish about life. I look forward to these leisurely afternoons, outside on the piazza overlooking a serene lake circled with weeping willows and dotted with white swans. I feel like I’ve been transported to another world.

One day this past summer, I opened up to her like I rarely do with people anymore.

It was the week that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives and it seemed like all of America was reeling from the news. How did these two people, with so much going for them in life, do such a thing? Were they in pain? Why, oh why, did they do it?

But as I told my friend Amy, I get it.

Her face fell. She was floored. Wholly disturbed by my answer. Made me promise on the spot that I was ok and not feeling suicidal.

I’m ok. I was then and I am now.

But I get it. Of course, I’m assuming a lot here about what led these two wildly successful, talented, and beloved people to take such drastic measures. Maybe it was a moment of insanity, but maybe it was loneliness or despair.

I get that.

I understand feeling so utterly alone you fully believe that your life really doesn’t make an impact on anyone. I know exactly what it’s like to dismiss how other people might feel if I was gone.

It’s times like that when Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote isn’t very helpful:

You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.

On a broader scale, it’s not like I’ve made any major contributions to the world. I haven’t cured cancer. I’m not an entertainer. I haven’t run for office or served my community in any meaningful way. My career was a very big part of my life at the time but the reality is I was expendable. I traveled extensively for work. For years my best friend lived in New York while I lived in Ohio, so close, local, sustainable friendships were not my forte.

So, I get it.

I spent 34 years trying to find someone I loved who could love me in return, someone willing to spend their life with me. No one was interested, including a guy I dated for three years. He broke up with me mid-way through the relationship, then wanted me back. I grilled him on his intentions before I considered rekindling the relationship, and he made it clear that marriage and kids was something he wanted. It gradually became clearer, to him and me after 18 more months, that he didn’t want that with ME.

Everyone I knew was getting married. There were a couple of years there where I had six, then seven, then eight, then nine (!) weddings to attend, until they started to wind back down in subsequent years the same way they ramped up.

None of them were mine.

The lowest point was being asked to sing at the wedding of a family friend five years younger than me. I watched as my family’s anticipation and excitement grew over this wedding; the bride and groom were, and still are, adored. I didn’t even have a date for the reception so needless to say, I wasn’t in a great frame of mind leading up to this event. I wanted to be happy for the newlyweds. I really did. But what I saw was life passing me by in the most visible of ways.

It stung. No one noticed.

As I sang the last note of the final piece after the ceremony ended, I closed the music binder, walked out of the church past the crowd eagerly awaiting the bride and groom, got in my car, and drove straight home while the throng left for the reception to celebrate. I could not bear to witness people’s lives move on, toward togetherness, love, belonging, community. All the things I didn’t have.

dennis-kummer-171041-unsplash

It reminded me of the hundreds of times I flew for work, often at night. I’d look down at the landscape, thousands of little streetlights and houses as far as the eye could see, thinking about how each light represented a family, or at least a couple of heartbeats inside each structure. And yet my heart was not among them. It was the perfect metaphor, in a way. There I was, separated from all of that by quite a distance, that vast, beautiful, twinkling, interconnected web moving past me in slow motion, punctuating how far removed I was from all of it.

I felt like a freak. To celebrate this wedding took an inner strength and grace I just didn’t have. They say you should call upon family or friends to guide you through times like that, but I didn’t want to complain. What was the point? I was living through a chronic condition and complaining wouldn’t change the situation.

Besides, not one family member noticed I was missing from the reception. No one checked on me, not that night, not at any point. I fell asleep full of despair that night, convinced that something was inherently wrong with me. I honestly didn’t want to wake up the next day.

Yet I awoke to a gorgeous, sunny morning while the world learned the news that Princess Diana had died in Paris the night before. I wondered why it had to be her and not me that night. The world misses her, and still does, while I have yet to make an impact of any meaningful kind.

It’s been over 20 years since that day but I remember well those feelings of loneliness and despair. I didn’t marry for another four years or date my husband all that long before we married. I have children now. I love them and they love me. They are my world. While I may not cure cancer or leave any kind of significant mark on this world, maybe I make an impact of some kind on them. I do know I am utterly devoted to them, and God willing, I’m not going anywhere.

But make no mistake: when it comes to feelings of loneliness and despair? I get that. I wish that sort of loneliness and invisibility on no one. If I ever made anyone feel that way, I’m sorry. And if I ever failed to reach out to someone who feels loneliness and despair, for that too, I deeply apologize.

And if it’s you feeling this way, please keep going. It gets better. I would give you a virtual hug of belonging if I could. One day, you will wake to a gorgeous sunny day when life gets better. I can’t promise when. It may take longer than you want. But it will get better.

May we all find a way in the coming days to connect with someone who is lonely and hurting. Check on them, even if you have never given a second thought to whether they’re ok. Let people know they matter.

Photo by Dennis Kummer on Unsplash