A Dream Realized

Edinburgh Fringe Festival #godboxproject

Losing my parents was the heartbreak of my life. But I feel that they left me a gift, first in my mother’s God Boxes of notes but also in the grit and hope they instilled in me as a girl. I had always dreamed of a career in theater but instead poured my years into a business career. But after losing Mom and Dad, I decided I wanted to share their story, not only in my book but onstage.  I started from scratch, at the bottom, at a sad point in my life. But their belief in me gave me courage. And my partnership with the amazing actor/playwright/director Martha Wollner gave me the skills. After many U.S. performances raising nearly $250,000 for charities, now the show is stepping up to a world stage. From July 31 to August 25, I will be performing ‘The God Box, A Daughter’s Story’ at the world-renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was an honor to be accepted by the famous Assembly Theater there. A new journey is beginning. But I’ll pack my bags with Mom and Dad’s love inside.  Come along with me as I share the next few months of the dream of a lifetime.

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At last. And just in time.

OKAY. My work here is done.

Today I opened the Wall St. Journal to read a story that was out last week (why are they just running it today??) that reviews a study admitting the differences between men and women’s brains. It’s not that this is new news to me, but if a conservative paper like the WSJ admits it, guess we have finally arrived.

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And then minutes ago, I saw the even more stunning announcement that Mary Barra has been named CEO of GM. After years of trying to get GM to get women –both as an ad agency head and as a women’s marketing consultant—I am thrilled that now a woman will lead the largely testosterone-fueled company. And I love it that she’s some external golden girl, but one who worked her way up since starting in the Pontiac division as a 19 year old student.  History has shown that often women get the top job when things are darkest but whatever. Women are used to fixing the toughest problems.

So, a woman in the driver’s seat. And a study acknowledging they aren’t afraid to ask for directions. And it’s only Tuesday.

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How Not to Sell a Car

I thought I was beyond bored bemoaning women’s annoyances about buying cars. SO 1999. Or 2005. But I just bought a new car and what I observed wasn’t about how car dealers fail when selling to women, but how the in-person experience has degenerated for humans. It’s a meltdown of magic.

Let me back up. My father loved buying and selling cars. He wasn’t a car salesman but he loved the romance, the engineering, the finish. He studied passing cars on the road and bought his fair share of new and used ones with the relish of a smitten teenager. He LOVED bringing them home for the first time. I remember our family gathering on the sidewalk to ‘ooh.’  And he loved selling them too. Dad helped me buy a used red, 1968 Volkswagen Beetle for $750 to drive to college. He sold it five years later for $750 because he curated that car to its prettiest. He sold it as he bought it—with pride and integrity and flourish.

Fast forward to 2013. My husband and I walked in to a favored brand dealership, with confidence in the nameplate of the car we were about to buy. We had done the research and felt this model would be just right for us. We didn’t showroom shop and leave for cheaper pastures. We didn’t haggle. We were super friendly and easy. And what did we get? Paperwork and a handshake without a moment of eye contact. Though I called him his name a couple of times, I don’t ever remember hearing mine or Joe’s.

When we picked up the car, we brought our little dog. It’s true that Rocky is darn cute, but the staff seemed to think that complimenting him would replace…yes, again…eye contact. (They asked his name at least four times.) As we approached our new vehicle, there was no “Wow! Here’s what you just wrote a big check for! Great choice!” No smile, no cheer, no…romance. I guess car sales are picking up. Maybe that’s why the sales guy was in such a hurry, barely explaining the complicated computer system, ignoring our questions with that ‘I’ll get to that in a minute” mumble. I suppose his Labor Day plans were burning a hole in his iPhone since it kept going off and he bolted the second we left as our check was popped on the pile on the almost last day of sales. But let me say, that he sucked the excitement out of what used to be a moment of magic in my house.

So, my road rules for any car company who is wondering why sales aren’t where they should be:

Look in our eyes. Money is harder to come by. Appreciate us, the people who pay your salary.

Celebrate the sale. The sale isn’t over when we say yes. The pick-up should be staged like a prom. Elevate the emotional energy. Make it memorable.

Explain what we bought. If your sales guys aren’t great at details, get yourself someone who loves the art of describing how a car works. Hearing “it’s in the manual” after handing over many tens of thousands of dollars doesn’t cut it.

And finally, some female perspective. We take it personally when you don’t try to connect. It’s rude. Don’t call the women who work in your back office “girls” and how about hiring even one woman on the dealership floor? And say thanks, with a smile. We say it all the time. We were brought up that way.

PS: Got a “form thank you” note emailed the next day. Dry as dust. Makes buying online look warm by comparison.

 

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Texting 9 to 5: A Generational Throwdown

Lately, I have noticed that my Gen Y colleagues have been spending more and more time pecking away at their mobile phones during the work day, (a boomer pet peeve that I have learned to live with). I assumed my millennial partners were exchanging one-liners or plotting cool parties with friends but in today’s Wall St. Journal, I learned that the person most often on the other end of the text is a mom.

Seems that twentysomething’s are g-chatting parents, mostly moms, as often as 20 times a day, just to dish on the sly or to share an indignity of office life. The article didn’t question whether daylong cubicle texting is a career-enhancing move but instead, asked whether the younger generation ought to be dumping work issues in mom’s lap rather than building independent problem-solving skills. After my initial eye-roll’s, I realized that I have actually embraced this digital reality and can even see the good in this changed office etiquette.

First things first. When I was climbing the corporate ladder (yes, and I walked barefoot to school in the snow), personal phone calls were NOT allowed. If Mom called, which she didn’t because she thought I would get in trouble, I would rush to hushed tones and hang up with promises of “I’ll call you tonight!” I’d been taught that the boss was paying for my attention to the job, not to my personal life.

But that was back when my workdays used to end at 6PM and when that same boss rarely, (make that never), called me at home at night. And there was no email. Can I say that again? There was no email. Today’s jobs aren’t 9 to 5 and haven’t been for years. Work summons us with the beep on the bedside table and haunts us with the last blink of night, while emails pile up on the pillow. So, with the workplace boundaries widened, the window for daytime personal duties opens. So I’ve decided I can get over my reflexive cringe at the sight of a clutched iPhone and admit that I like to text from my desk too–my husband, my friends, my to-do’s zip seamlessly in and out of my day. (Oh, how I would love to still have my Mom to text to!) Distracting? Yes. But helpful. And hard to kick. And I’m the boss, so why not? And if so, why not, others on the team?

And while at first, I felt annoyed reading about young-un’s running to mom with every office bruise, on second thought, maybe it’s not a bad idea. While it’s critical that we learn coping and negotiation skills early on, there’s nothing wrong with turning to “the source” for advice. I know I talked to Mom every night about every little nick and achievement. One friend said to me that her daughter texts her the moment her lunch break begins, her cue to lay out all her morning frustrations. And my friend’s responses are usually wise: “Give it some time.” “Think about why that might have happened.”  “Next time, try this approach.” Sound, thoughtful perspective or, one might say, skills training, which let’s face it, is rarely coming from the boss who can barely keep up with her/his own email avalanche. So, as long as the digital umbilical cord doesn’t extend into the performance appraisal session (“But she’s was so smart in fifth grade!!!”), I welcome the life line of Mom, AKA career coach. If the job gets done, I’m good with it. Ping away!

 

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You Can’t Text for a Raise

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Hey!! Was thinking it’s time the company starts paying me ++$. K?

When it comes to asking for a raise, unfortunately we can’t fall back on our go-to tool of communication. As a Millennial who grew up in the digital era, I understand the reflex response of sending a text to get something done. It’s become too easy to dodge the phone, and because of it we’ve conditioned ourselves to avoid face-to-face conversation.

There’s no shortcut or emoticon you can use to ask for a raise. Talking to your boss can be scary, and asking to put your skills and performance on the examining table…well, that’s enough fear to start hyperventilating into a brown paper bag. Your mind may be racing with a million reasons why you couldn’t possibly ask for what you believe you monetarily deserve. Too often we use fears as excuses to avoid confrontation, or worse, not ask at all. And asking for money is even harder than asking for praise. But ask yourself if surrendering to your fears is worth more than the satisfaction you’ll get from the extra cushion in your paycheck.

Here are three steps that will build up your courage muscle to ask your boss for compensation that matches your value.

Prepare

  • First, assess your own performance. Are you accomplishing all your responsibilities, following up and even taking on extra projects? Have your efforts contributed real value to the business? Be specific. Next, play detective and check out what else is going on within the company. Is the business in a financial upswing? Are raises being offered to peers? And be sure to check out competitive salaries too.  This will give you a factual baseline to help you feel confident that your request is sound.

Plan

  • Ask your boss, either by email or in person, if there is a time later in the week when he or she would be willing to discuss your performance. Asking not only shows initiative, but your boss will appreciate the heads up and control of the timing. Then write out bullet points, or even a speech, and rehearse your pitch with anyone who will listen, a roommate, parent, cat or yourself in the mirror.

Position

  • When the face-to-face meeting arrives, get into a place of strength. Literally, sit up straight, don’t cross your arms and try not to fidget; but even more importantly verbally convey your contribution to the company. Share the topline of your successes and results and explain how you plan to help your boss, your department, your company continue to flourish. And if you get a ‘no’ or a ‘not now’, don’t leave without learning what it will take to get a ‘yes’ next time. (Then text your mom with the good news!)

 

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You Gotta Feel It to Heal It

Recently, I watched as my mind was ambushed by self-conscious thoughts. In a matter of minutes I convinced myself I wasn’t smart, witty, brave or successful enough to live out my dreams. Sadness washed through my body and I felt it ball up and settle in my throat. I tried to cough but it wasn’t a simple tickle I could just clear away.

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I told myself to stop being so darn dramatic!  But when a self-sabotaging monster creeps out from under the bed and starts an attack, it’s easy to forget that all I have to do is turn on the lights to see he doesn’t really exist.

It’s natural to curl up into a fetal position, pull a blanket over our head and decide to wait out the overwhelming, uncomfortable emotions. But hiding and waiting for the morning sunlight is letting the monster win, and I can promise you he’ll be back, most likely with a friend named Anxiety.

I want to share with you an attack plan I’ve found quickly conquers the emotional battle. It’s not the easy route out, but it’s a fight that leaves you feeling stronger than before.

Feeling, Revealing and Healing Process:

  1. Feel the physical discomfort. When we’re feeling mentally pained, our body responds with a not so pleasant physical condition. Mine was the feeling of something caught in my throat, but maybe you’ve experienced shoulder pain, stomachaches, chest pressure or the-oh-so common headache. Simply recognize where it is for you and then really feel it. Acknowledge that there is an underlying emotion that’s the root of the pain. This will relax your body, so you can then focus on revealing the deeper issue.
  2. Be brave and reveal it. Don’t let your emotional monster hide in the dark where he feels invincible. Shine your flashlight inward and start by asking yourself why you’re feeling the way you are? Maybe someone said something that hurt you or you did something that didn’t make you feel good.  There’s always a situational trigger, and when you figure out the root of where it started you can then move on to healing it. And next time you’ll be better equipped to catch yourself before the monster comes out of hiding.
  3. Heal it with action. There are many actions you could take, I’m a huge journaling advocate (as you can read here), but I also like talking to a trusted friend. The goal is to air it all out, let the emotion bubble to the surface, so find the way that works best for you. And it’s okay if you cry! Cowards hide, but it takes a brave, courageous fighter to attack an emotional monster. At this point you’ll start seeing the issue for what it really is, and be able to diagnose the right prescription to heal it.

So I felt my pain. Revealed that it was coming from being too much in my head and taking everything very seriously. And I healed it with laughter when my friend looked at me and said, “you just need to start having more fun.” Point taken, time to party on.

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Riding The Fear Coaster

roller-coaster

Entering the “real world” can feel like our parents dropped us off alone at the amusement park for the day.  At first we’re thrilled to be in the land of hot dogs, water gun games and roller coasters. But it only takes a few rounds on our favorite rides and failing to win the stuffed panda bear before we realize we’re tired, low on cash, and discouraged that we haven’t gotten the courage to ride the biggest roller coaster in the park.

Playing it safe is the most common strategy people use when they are standing on the edge of change (new city, new job, new relationship, new apartment and on and on). But living in the world of comfort can quickly morph into a world of frustration. Enjoyment comes from growing, but unfortunately that requires us to take the terrifying march into the direction of our fears, but there is no greater satisfaction than facing them head on and riding it through.

There are always two choices in any situation, either approach it or avoid it. So let’s pull down the safety bar and go on the ride to fearlessness.

As the roller coaster car climbs up the first hill of the track, anxiety starts building and we start doubting ourselves for ever thinking this was a good idea. But once at the top something amazing happens; there’s a shift from fear of what’s to come to just being in the moment of flying downwards.  Sure, there may be some dips and sharp turns remaining, but after making it through the scariest part of the ride those obstacles become thrilling rather than scary.

Fear of rejection, failing, embarrassment and judgment keeps us from living the most exciting real world journey. Don’t miss the opportunity to grow happier, smarter, stronger, richer and braver because avoiding the line of the roller coaster to your dreams seemed easier.

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Time for a Digital Diet

Paar im Restaurant schaut auf Handys

Last night Joe and I went to Union Square Cafe in NYC. In case you’re not a New Yorker or a foodie, Union Square offers great farm to table food in a special occasion-priced restaurant that doesn’t act that way. This wasn’t a special occasion but the restaurant made it feel like a fantastic Tuesday night so we dressed up and showed up anticipating a great dinner and a chance to talk. But one accessory that I have been trying to leave at home is my phone. Joe brings his as coverage for his elderly parents (okay and to check the Phillies game….) but I realized I had started the nasty habit of checking emails and texts way too often. Even my wrist was telling me to lighten up. Even tucking it in my purse wasn’t working. So home it stayed.

But as I looked around the elegant room, I saw couples and families, even romantic duos, with one eye on the entrée and the other on the lit-up lure on the table. Fingers scrolled, eyes trailed to the addictive screens, and I could sense there was a ton of half-listening going on. ‘Wait, honey, just one more…” At some tables, all of them were doing it. Looking for cooler companions elsewhere?

It’s one thing when electronics keep fidgety kids content but watching so many adults ignoring their dinner companions and their incredible dinner in favor of another tweet, just felt wrong. Are we all really so urgently needed? Must every text be instantly returned, every second of our waking life? When we complain about the long hours we work and how tethered we feel to tech, we’ve got to ask ourselves, who’s holding the leash? We can’t answer what we can’t see. We can’t come up with good ideas if we don’t take in real experiences. And if your boss is so intense that she can’t stomach an hour without you, start looking around for a new one. As for the important people in your life, it’s a mighty lonely world over the long haul if our only friends are digital strangers.

I raise my guilty hand as a woman who’s done her share of sneaking peeks during dinner. But after last night, I am going on a phone fast during meals. Now if I can only stop picking it up as my pre-bedtime snack.

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Lean In, Lean Back or Stand Tall?

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Yesterday I was surprised to see a feature about women’s ‘real’ feelings about work on the front page of The New York Times.

Surprised because the front page naturally favors breaking news or lately, daily worldwide unrest. And surprised because instead of the usual fawning over female Celeb CEO’s like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, this story by Catherine Rampell followed Sara Uttech from Falls River, Wisconsin, who simply wanted to be successful enough so that she could be a wife, a mom, a professional communicator and a woman she was happy to meet in the mirror.

Turns out Sara had ‘made it’ but had made the choice to ask for a flexible schedule. By working every possible angle and hour, she managed not to miss any of the six ballgames her three kids play every week, no mean feat. Now, Sara is lucky. She has a supportive husband, a job that requires little travel, plus she has a responsive manager and her firm is run by a woman with an open mind. Having no kids myself, the boss’s story also touched me, since she acknowledged that despite being childless, her own personal life deserved flex time too. No matter how keenly felt by moms, flexibility isn’t only a mother’s issue, it’s a human one. But we can be our own worst enemies.

According to the Families and Work Institute, only 37% of women and 44% of men actually want a job with more responsibility and yet, we can’t stop leaning in till it kills us. As I travel to speak, I still find women resisting the idea of downshifting, not because of financial limitations but for ego.

Some of the linked-in women’s career groups frankly scare me. In a recent posted question, “Is it okay to be happy where you’re at?” (I still can’t get over the careerist dangling her “at”, but… ), most of the commenting women declared they will never be satisfied until they get the next bigger job. When did “happy” become a synonym for surrender? At a recent speech, I described my own reinvention of a more livable work/life, and one woman raised her hand and asked, “Wait…are you saying the only difference between your busy life then and now, is that now you’re happy?” Well, yeah. That would be the difference. Isn’t it time that we stop defining fulfillment only in the elusive corner office (been there, my friends…it isn’t that pretty) or flex-time as tantamount to opting out, and that we find that center place where we stand tall and seek ‘enough’ space to live happily ever after? Wouldn’t we love to be in that front-page story?

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Just Ask Y: When Your News Feed Tells You to Grow Up

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I think it started when red SOLO cups turned in to steamless wine glasses. Or when pretty costume jewlery suddenly had a diamond in it. It was swift and a bit disconcerting: my social circle was growing up…my News Feed told the whole story.

Every young person is susceptible to feeling intimidated by friends’ social and professional changes. It’s like watching everyone get ahead of you during puberty. I tried to resist that fear of future potholes as I watched my Gen Y cronies take a tumble. But I admit, when I faced yet another engagement candid or new apartment or cool office delicately instagrammed or plastered on my Facebook wall, my pride took a hit.

As much as I worried that some of my peers were moving faster, I realized that I could take proactive steps of my own. So, last Wednesday night in New York City, I made a grown up move. Normally, an early work night meant snoozin’ or boozin’, but I did neither! Instead, with the encouragement of my girl power co-worker Chelsea, I attended the Host in the City event as part of the SHE Summit Series. This was a night of networking with female entrepreneurs, learning about exciting summer entertaining trends and sharing delicious food. The venue was sophisticated and the clientele matched. In that “open-the-door-and-know-absolutely-no one” moment, I patted myself on the back; proud that I had baby stepped out of my comfort zone and into the world of business cards and career chatter.

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Every journey starts with a baby step. Whether this means sending an email to create a network with someone you briefly met, seeking out networking opportunities and forcing yourself to go alone or simply putting yourself on your boss’ calendar to check in…every little bit helps.

Some helpful hints I have gathered in my brief professional journey:

  • Think big. Usually the dreams that scare us most are exactly what we are supposed to do. Set those high standards and let that be a constant motivator. But know that the bigger the dream, the smaller the first steps are.
  • Make a timeline. Create daily, weekly and monthly professional to-do lists and stick to them. These can be small or big tasks but their completion will be gratifying and motivating.
  • Ask. You will be shocked how many people are willing and want to help in your professional journey. Your “network” is in places you may not even realize: professors, coaches, neighbors and family friends. Tap into these resources.
  • Follow up.  Listen to what people share with you.  Say you meet someone who says, I have a big presentation on Thursday. Write to them early Thursday saying “Rock that presentation today! Know, you will!”. Or the day after, “Bet you knocked that out of the park.  So glad we talked…”  These little things matter.

So the next time a friend texts me about packing for a cool business trip instead of our old days of taking a six pack to the beach, I won’t feel we’ve grown boring. We’re just growing up.

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September 30, 2014
by Mary Lou Quinlan

A Dream Realized

Losing my parents was the heartbreak of my life. But I feel that they left me a gift, first in my mother's God Boxes of notes but a...

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The God Box Goes Global!

“The God Box” has grown to include an app, audio book, philanthropic venture and solo show performed by Mary Lou across the US. Now The God Box Project goes global to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
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