Alone Time in Sin City

jonathan-petersson-607955-unsplashSitting here in my hotel room in Las Vegas, contemplating my professional life. I know how funny that sounds. A personally know several dozen people who would tell me my priorities are screwed up and I ought to be out right now, enjoying the night life here.

Eh. Vegas isn’t my favorite city in the world. The incessant ding-ding-ding of the slot machines the minute you get off the plane, the faint but lingering scent of stale cigarette smoke, the couples pushing baby strollers at 2 am, the cost of you-name-it here, the sparkling pasties attached to DDs on the Strip?  Eh.

I mean, God love Donnie and Marie, Celine, and everybody else here who has or ever once had a show.  The shows are pretty good. And I do love me some Cirque du Soleil. I make a point to catch at least one of those every time I come. But that was Sunday night upon arrival.

Now it’s Tuesday.  Tonight I need a little me time.

Besides, we may be back in the spring with the kids in tow! This is not a place I would normally prioritize bringing them, but the hubs is in conversations about teaching a master class at a university here so we all might tag along since his portion of the travel is a work expense. We do try to show the kids every little thing about the US so I guess it’s time to open their eyes to Vegas.

I’m sure the pasties will make an impression. Good thing we are up front and talk to the kids about everything. We don’t hide too much from them. We try to explain what the world is really like so they’re prepared for what they’ll see and encounter when they’re on their own.


Enough of that.

I came for a three-day conference on, get this: ethics and compliance. In Vegas. Isn’t that funny? It’s not really a town known for….ethics.

The conference is good stuff. Hearing the speakers lit a spark in me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but honestly I could have spoken on a few of the topics. I’ve known that about myself for a while, 20-30 years at least. I used to teach our consultants, a few clients, and fellow auditors in the region when I worked at Protiviti and PricewaterhouseCoopers, so this isn’t an epiphany.

It’s simply been a while since I’ve done it and being here reminds me that not only should I teach classes again, but also I should do it on a national level. Besides, speakers often get comped for the conference fee and lodging, so why not? It’s a quick way to get known nationally for your work, and that is incredibly helpful especially during recessions and times like now when whole industries are being disrupted.

And so far, the blog is fun but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Besides, our CFO told me I would make for an awesome college professor because I can take an esoteric topic and make it tangible. Yes. Yes, I can.

Forget for a moment whether I’m doing that in this blog. I’m just sitting here typing tonight, stream-of-consciousness style, because this stuff is on my mind and I needed a little alone time in Sin City.

Sigh….the thing is, it’s been far too easy to just sit back, learn a few things, and passively collect my continuing education credits at these conferences but I get incredibly antsy if the speaker is bad. Or if they pull a bait-and-switch on the topic, like the one session that was supposed to be about artificial intelligence but turned out to be a 101-level class on data analytics for compliance purposes.

I can’t just sit there and listen to drivel. Nor can I just walk out all that easily. Truly, I’m there to learn (ethics and all….) but by the time I get up and try to find another worthwhile session, I’ll miss the crux of the conversation, so I stay put.

Sometimes you can get a nugget or two out of the talk. But sometimes you can’t. It’s situations like that when I start making a personal list of what groceries we need, what tasks I need to tackle for the kids if only I was home, what updates I should make to my LinkedIn profile, what work emails I need to send, and what I should be doing to market myself better.

And that leads me to my final point of the day.  One of the interesting tidbits that came up this week, echoed in recent conversations at work too, is how valuable authenticity is, especially to Millenials. And let’s face it….the torch is passing right now from the Boomers straight to the Millenials so it behooves a “middle-child” GenXer like me to pay attention to what Millenials need since they’re the economy of the future.

Millenials don’t want posturing. They don’t want fluff. They want people to be real with them. And I think I’m a pretty down-to-earth realist. I don’t try to sugarcoat. I DO try to be positive, though. So why shouldn’t I be me, and use humor to teach people the business concepts I work with every day? Why shouldn’t I share the knowledge I’ve gained? I’m a woman who understands technology, risk, and ethics, and I have a knack for communication. Why shouldn’t I give that a go?

Doesn’t this world need new leaders to step up? I’m not a new leader but it is time to step up. Time to roll the dice.

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Unsplash

 

 

 

And this concludes our episode of “The Doldrums”

Yeah, I’ve been in a funk. I don’t like it there. No fun whatsoever. I get down in the dumps about the state of the proverbial this, that, and the other…and yes, I have a lot of life to sort through. I have friends who think I live a charmed life, and while I don’t want to necessarily pop that balloon…cuz balloons are happy and who doesn’t like happy?… it’s not the whole truth.

I also don’t often admit when I’m down in the dumps. I mean, my husband knows. The kids know. Oh boy, does the immediate family know! They deserve hazard pay for those days… But I don’t like to talk about it with people because 1) the last thing I need to be is a complainer, 2) I’m embarrassed by that sort of attention, and 3) most people don’t know me well enough to help, anyway. They try to get me to count my blessings, as if I don’t do that every day. I do. Believe me, I know I’m fortunate and blessed beyond what most people could ever hope for.

So I don’t share much with people face to face. Online, however? I’m a little more of an open book. Funny, isn’t it?

But these last few weeks, it’s been a little harder to hide. I mean, I’m talking grief pouring out of me. CRYING. SOBBING. Showing up at work with puffy eyes and a red nose, and no, I’m not Rudolph! I don’t know when was the last time I’ve cried. It’s been YEARS. I’ve gotten so numb about certain life events I can’t even cry about them anymore, but this last month or so of introspection revealed new insights that left some pretty raw, gaping wounds I didn’t even know I had.

I have been thinking about the trajectory of my life, what I hoped for when I was younger, significant heartbreak I’ve had along the way, relationships that died for no apparent reason I could find and others that did because of neglect on my part. The hard work and sacrifice for a career that doesn’t seem to yield the fruit I was trying to grow, and the aspects of my life that were put on hold either because of my career, or maybe it was more like the career was a very helpful distraction from all of the heartbreak. I had my act together at one time…as close as one could, I suppose. And then more life happens and throws your plans all to hell, and along with it goes your confidence.

The reckoning sucks. It does. I don’t know how to sugarcoat that. Not anymore! 20-30-40 years go by and you can see the arc of events, the forks in the road you didn’t know were there at the time you encountered them, the friends, the foes, the frenemies…. I really dislike those kind of people. But let’s not talk about them because today concludes this episode of The Doldrums.

I can tell I may have turned a corner. Last night before falling asleep, I told myself that if my eyes popped open at an early hour, I would get my lazy butt up outta bed and walk outside. The weather has been pleasant. I’ve had a nasty cough that has started to get better, so no more pawning it off on illness. Besides, my inner voice has been telling me to get up and walk in the early morning since, oh, I don’t know…2002? So I made a bet with my tomorrow self and dozed off into la-la-land.

Wouldn’t you know: my eyes voluntarily popped open at 5am. I immediately wanted to bargain with Tuesday night’s Denise that I really didn’t mean it, haha.
By 5:50, I had sneakers on and off I went throughout the neighborhood. I’m pretty sure I served as the neighborhood rooster with loud coughing fits every .3 miles or so but I got 2.7 miles in today. It felt so good. Why is it so hard to put sneakers on at 5 am when it otherwise feels so good when you do at 6 am?

I deliberately left the earbuds behind, too. No music today…I just wanted to hear the sounds of the neighborhood and mindfully take in the spring sights. I noticed the nicely manicured lawns, pops of light purple flowers carpeting the ground everywhere, the crabtree-109507-unsplashbirds tweeting (oh, how I love it, no lie), and the houses with overgrown dandelions up to my kneecaps, ready to take flight.

So much thinking, planning, conviction. I ace that stuff.

See, back in 2001 I hatched this idea that I wanted to be a life coach. I liked being a consultant, and I was for PricewaterhouseCoopers. But it drove me a little crazy that I was often part of the public accounting audit team and responsible for providing all manner of information technology evaluations for our audit clients who were not required to correct any of the legitimate errors I pointed out. The lead financial auditors argued that as long as the financial numbers were adjusted to be correct, the systems and processes that produced those numbers could be incredibly crappy and faulty. Their job was to confirm the numbers were a fair representation of the business, period. The auditors would swoop in, find the errors, require that the client plug a number to fix it, and all would be happy. Until Enron happened and the whole 2002 Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) law basically made it clear that not only did the financial numbers need to be right, the systems and processes that were used to create those numbers needed to right as well. SOX was the law that gave my old PwC job total and complete legitimacy it did not have when I worked it.

So at PwC, I got paid very, very well to identify these errors no one ever had to fix. That was bizarre for a number of reasons but the most important one was it wasn’t fulfilling to me. That was me, collecting a big fat paycheck doing GREAT work, but not making a positive difference in anyone’s life, in all honesty. I’m probably judging myself a little harshly there. I was a very good people manager and coach. I knew and still know information technology risk, governance, and control very well. But back in 2001, I was burnt out. Done with that.

Instead of working with some of the largest public companies who could not have cared less about my advice at the time, I wanted to work with individuals and small businesses on plans that directly impacted their lives in a positive way. Business plans, job searches, life plans…whatever it took.

I took the plunge to start that new line of work, giving up a six figure income to risk it. I helped a former co-worker land a job with Oprah Winfrey, guided another acquaintance as she transitioned her brick and mortar business to online (or maybe it was vice versa…I am writing this late at night and can’t remember of the top of my head), and coached a former PwC client of mine to navigate the path to finishing his PhD. It was meaningful. I long to do meaningful work. But from the age of 19 I was pretty much financially responsible for my life so a earning a great income was not optional. Plus I had the smarts for it, so why waste that sort of talent?

Now as a side note, I hung my shingle in July 2001. My personal business plan did not consider that terrorists would turn our world completely upside down two months later, and the very people I hoped to hire me would struggle to keep afloat themselves. Still, I kept at the coaching until shortly after our first child was born, roughly 2.5 years later. I struggled with making so very little money relatively speaking yet making a difference in my work, having a new mouth to feed, and knowing that I had the skills and once had a job that paid several times what my coaching business was currently bringing in. Who knew when the economy, and post 9/11 life, would be normal again, if it ever would?

Still, I was pretty gun-ho about life coaching and life planning for that matter, and to improve my skills I attended LifeLaunch in September 2001 (two weeks after 9/11), the first class among several offered by The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara to become a certified Life Coach.

It was there I was introduced to The Cycle of Renewal. I will write about this more formally another time, but to keep a long story short, there are four phases and you can move cyclically through them or slosh between a couple for a while: Going For It, The Doldrums, Cocooning, and Getting Ready. You can only imagine the state of mind of the 20-30 of us attending that class that month. It was a hugely enriching experience.

So I’m not kidding when I refer to The Doldrums. I have known it well. A lot of my career at PwC was spent in The Doldrums. It’s an outstanding firm, don’t get me wrong, and working there was absolutely incredible in terms of the scope and quality of learning. I mean, they even tapped me for a 16-week technology training course, full salary and all expenses paid, in Tampa, Florida. Our motto during that 1991 class was, “It sucks to be us” because we KNEW how fortunate we were to acquire the working-world equivalent of a masters in technology.

But I digress. I’m officially all over the place with this post. The point is, The Doldrums are a heck of a place to get stuck. At the Hudson Institute, I learned the characteristics of each phase in the Cycle of Renewal, and what activities help a person through a transition to the next phase of the cycle.

So ta-da! Yesterday, I essentially assessed my current situation and outlined a plan once again for what I could focus on, what I could do that was positive, and by golly, I had already started taking steps in the right direction. I wanted to take credit for the tiny baby steps I had started without even realizing it.

Nope, I’m not gonna outline all of them here in this post, but let’s just say I’m reaching out to people who are incredibly important to me, even if it is briefly to say thank you for the joy, the love, and/or the insight they offered at one point in time. I realize I have knocked off a big home project off my list of to-dos, freeing up some mental capacity to focus on my health. I’ve taken steps to expand my social outreach, which is a big step for this introvert. I’ve decided I’m going to dust off one of my gifts and start singing again…somehow, someway. (Incidentally tonight I heard an 8th grader sing jazz accompanied by an incredible high school big band ensemble and it lit a fire under me not to be outshined by a 13-year-old!) And I’m going to do some serious professional career planning.

Because gosh darn it, I do a great job of visioning and outlining the steps to make it happen. I have a hard time executing, but the planning? That energizes me. Finding obstacles and knowing how to remove them? Yep, I can do that too. DOING IT is of course, much harder. But you know what? I’ve done hard things. I’ve done them very well. 50 years of hard things. And I know reward. Reward rocks. Anything else is just sissy talk. Time to buck up and do it.

Go all Nike. Just do it.

The best thing about this is I recognize The Doldrums enough to know when I’m there, and while it may be inevitable to visit that place now and then, it isn’t ok to take up permanent residence there.

Nice to be back among the living…