Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Promotion

I remember the day in 2007 I decided that I wouldn’t go for the promotion.  I was 8+ years into a career with Thomson Reuters and had been waiting for 2 years for this position to open up, preparing myself mentally to take over the Regional Manager role.  I had won several President’s Trip awards, the highest award achievable for an Academic Account Manager and I was ready for a new challenge. And I was 6 months pregnant.

What would it mean to take on TWO new jobs at the same time? I had no idea, really. “Mother” was a job that I felt totally unprepared for, even at 35.  I actually felt more confident in my ability to be a good regional manager, taking on the responsibility of 8 account managers, than I did for taking on the responsibility for this one tiny new human. There were rules for managing those 8 people- at least the job description was pretty clear.  But this new human?  She didn’t come with a manual OR rules for successful job achievement. And this new human wasn’t planning to shower me with accolades and financial rewards, I was fairly certain.  Even the ingestion of 15 parenting books and 5 or 6 parenting blogs a day couldn’t give me a clear indication of what being MOTHER was really going to feel like for ME.

I agonized. I cried. I talked. And talked and talked.  And cried some more. (I was in my third trimester, after all). I just wasn’t sure I’d be successful at taking on both of these new jobs at the same time. I knew that the regional manager role would require quite a bit of travel, quite a lot of hours on the computer and phone, and a lot of extraverted energy. I knew that pre-baby, I could have immersed myself into the role and I would have KILLED it. But post-baby?  Amidst sleepless nights, breast feeding, baby puke and rocking, I just wasn’t so sure. Actually I was sure. I couldn’t do both.

I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted when I grew up. A marine biologist, psychologist, psychoneuroimmunologist (we made this one up at the time, but apparently it has since become an actual thing.) President. Whatever I wanted. And my mother’s generation fought for the right for me to be able to have this option while at the same time being allowed to embrace femininity and have a family. HAVE IT ALL. 

And then I ran smack into my own limitations. Mid-life crisis at 35.

Fortunately I realized these limitations before I made the mistake of trying to take on both roles. I stepped away from competing for the regional manager position because I recognized that I simply did not have the energy to operate effectively in both roles. Sure I could have tried. I could have muddled through and hired a nanny and a housecleaner, and not seen my baby for weeks at a time. I could have turned away from that tiny new human’s need for me.  But for that role- as MOM- I truly was the only person who could do that job.  There were many others who could do the job of Regional Manager, and my teammates would do just fine with any other manager.  But that tiny little girl needed ME. So that is the promotion I took. 

I still grieve a little over the loss of my professional advancement opportunity at Thomson, even 7 years later. I ended up leaving the company altogether 9 months later because I wanted to give my all to this new job for a few years.  I delivered another tiny new human 19 months later and then learned that the job description had again been changed on me- Mom to two is entirely different than Mom of one.  And it still changes, almost daily. The benefits of this job are less concrete, I get paid in hugs and smiles, lost teeth and inches grown.  And the management is often mercurial and arbitrary.  But the role of MOM is the one that I will value most when I’m at the end of my life.  At the end of the day, that’s what is most important to me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Choosing to Lead

Good leadership. 
Thoughtful, visionary, compassionate, supportive, self-aware, trustworthy. 
These are some of the words that participants in our first Mindful Leadership program tossed out when asked for qualities they see in excellent leaders they've known.  But it took some time for everyone to dig in and find the right labels. Good leadership is something we can feel- in the heart and gut, but maybe we don't often stop to identify the actual qualities that generate these good feelings. 

It was much easier to apply negative labels. Arrogant, self-centered, demeaning, disrespectful, jerk, ego, insensitive, unaware, untrustworthy... This list was longer, more accessible and generated a lot of energy in the room as everyone's emotions became stirred with memories of upset and injustice.

Interestingly, when we stopped to examine the traits that we, as leaders, aspire to achieve, and those that we wish for in our own leaders, we noticed that mindfulness underlies them all.  Leaders who slow down to pay attention, who listen fully, who can see the big picture- all demonstrate mindfulness of the present moment. Whether they recognize this label as the foundation of their skill is questionable, but most certainly we, as those being led, we can feel it. 

Looking back at the other list, we noticed that underlying every single negative label was fear. And fear-driven behavior is most often mindless, because we are rarely aware of the fear, nor do we like to acknowledge that it is in control. Our habitual reactivity runs the show when we're being driven by fear- fear of failure, fear of looking bad, fear of making a bad decision. I'm reminded of "Otto" the autopilot in Wall-E, the Disney movie (a recent fan favorite in my house). Given its instructions 700 years ago by some terrified humans driven by fear, "Otto" insisted on continuing to follow that ancient protocol, even though contradicting evidence was right in front of it.  A massive struggle commenced when the Captain of the ship, himself a creature of habit, realized that he had a choice to respond differently because he was human. He chose to Live. 

This activity in our workshop confirmed to me that mindfulness training is increasingly important- in our leadership development programs and in development programs everywhere. At the root of human choice is awareness.  We do have the choice to live and lead according to that "good" list.  But we can't choose if we don't see that there are options. 

Living Mindfully, Leading Mindfully - a course through the UCSD Rady School of Management's Center for Executive Education - will be offered again in the Fall of 2014. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Truly Mindful Workplace

We launched the UC San Diego Workplace Initiatives program this past week via a post I submitted for the UCSD Center for Mindfulness blog.  I am thrilled with the partnership and the possibilities!
You can read the entire blog HERE.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mindful Clarity Launch

Welcome to the launch/re-launch of Mindful Clarity. I have actually merged my two previous blogs (Logic & Harmony and The Daily Altruist) and imported them here. I don't post frequently enough to manage two blogs, much less three!  And all of my various ventures blend together quite nicely- kindness, self-awareness and mindfulness in harmony to bring peace to the world!  Because, as you may know, world peace IS my Life Purpose.

So what is Mindful Clarity?  I am revising my core business to incorporate my newly blossoming love of mindfulness meditation.  Mindful Clarity encompasses my coaching model, my consulting approach and also my determination to bring mindfulness to the world.  It is the vehicle to offer mindfulness and self-awareness programs for schools and workplaces of all kinds.

So much has transpired since I last posted about my then upcoming seminar, Life Skills for Lawyers. This class has begun and been completed, and I am extraordinarily grateful to the brave students who volunteered to participate in the small pilot of this program.  Considering that most lawyers, being of the "Thinking" persuasion, likely pre-judged the seminar to be "fluffy", my students' commitment to themselves and their future-lawyer-selves was inspiring. Lawyers have such a challenge, in blending "normal" life and ideals with the demands of the job. They are paid to fight the fights of others as hired guns. And the difficulty of bringing passion and commitment to these fights, while remaining connected to the humanity of society is one which can break them. 

My experience with the seminar, and the fruits of this initial effort are fodder for an entirely separate post. In the meantime, additional exciting opportunities have arisen that demand mention. 

I have recently partnered with the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness (UCSD CFM) as their Director of Workplace Initiatives, to bring the expertise of their trained MBSR staff to offices through workshops and multi-week programs. I am guest blogging for their site and will shortly be officially made part of their team. I intend to also further my integration by becoming trained to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction this summer, 2013. This training and partnership will allow me to not only coordinate workplace programs, but also participate as an instructor and facilitator.  

I have additionally become part of a budding effort to bring mindfulness to the legal community in San Diego:
  • I have written a post for the New Lawyer Division of the San Diego County Bar Association, found here.  
  • I have published a similar article in the Cal Western Law School paper, the Commentary.  
  • I have begun the San Diego Contemplative Lawyers, which is an effort to build a community of like-minded people from the legal field. 
  • I have developed and given a short talk on the benefits of mindfulness meditation, called "The Mindful Minute", to a few workplaces. (This talk is perfect for lunch and learns, by the way- contact me for details.)
I have also conducted my first full Myers Briggs Type Indicator Workshop for a group of lovely law librarians in San Diego (SANDALL).  The reviews made my heart warm- Click here to read them and scroll to page 9. 

So all in all, my non-full-time-independent-consultant career so far has been fun. And I have appreciated the ability to go on a field trip with my daughter's class, attend the Holiday programs for both my girls, and maintain sanity for a busy family. Another blog forthcoming on the challenges of mindfully balancing it all as a professional, mother and spouse, later. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Back to school!!

But this time, I'm the teacher! 

I taught in law schools for a long time, but as a vendor, teaching students how to use a product. This fall, I am officially an adjunct professor for one courageous and forward-thinking law school- California Western School of Law. And to make it even cooler, I am teaching a brand new, cutting-edge class, that I developed myself! (with a little help from a lot of friends) Please allow me to toot my own horn here for a moment, because this here is something that I am incredibly proud of.

I get to teach law students how to be happier. What could possibly be more fulfilling? OK, it will also teach them to be more effective leaders, more productive lawyers and will likely increase their chances of becoming incredibly successful in the practice of law or wherever else they end up. But to me, those are side-benefits to the real reason I wanted to create this class, which is cultivating the conditions for World Peace. 

I know that this is somewhat of a lofty goal for the tiniest seed of a 10-week seminar including only 16 law students. But my goal is to make this a mandatory training program for all law students in every law school in the country.

This course is called Life Skills for Lawyers. I will be teaching a combination of mindfulness meditation and emotional intelligence and will be using one of my favorite tools, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI©). Here is the course description:

Life Skills for Lawyers is a course developed and taught by Christy Cassisa, Esq., an attorney, coach and certified Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI©) Practitioner. This seminar will cover various tools and practices that will enhance and expand the student’s view of what it means to be a lawyer. We will explore aspects of mindfulness and emotional intelligence including self-awareness, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships. Students will also learn about and take the MBTI© personality assessment, and will use this information to learn about natural variations in themselves and others. Students will also be introduced to several contemplative practices, such as mindfulness and meditation, to aid in stress reduction and increased concentration. We will also explore the natural consequences of incorporating mindful practices into our lives, such as increased empathy and ethics. Students will keep a journal and will be expected to discuss their thoughts and experiences in a confidential, open and non-judgmental way. 

Lucky students. 

Classes of this sort have been taught at law schools all across the country, including Berkeley, Missouri, Miami, Florida- Levin, and many more. But this appears to be the first time a course has incorporated all three components into one course. I developed this course and proposed it in February of 2012. It was accepted by CWSL in March of 2012.

Then something amazing happened. Google's Chade-Meng Tan released his book, Search Inside Yourself, on April 24. It was a road map for a course that was being taught at Google, and had been in place for more than 5 years. I incorporate the MBTI into my course, which is different than SIY, but essentially this book is has the same goal as I do.  AND it has created a massive buzz around mindfulness and emotional intelligence in the business world, just in time for the launch of my class. Brilliant Minds... (Yes, I just compared myself to "Employee 100" of Google.) So now it's my turn to give a TED talk, meet the Dalai Lama, and be on the front cover of the NYT.

In the meantime, I can't wait for September, and I am eager to meet the curious souls who will be undertaking this amazing opportunity. It is free and credit-free, which means that while they won't have to pay for it, neither will they receive course credit. But the skills they will learn will change their lives for the better forever. Guaranteed, or their money back.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Gift of the Present Moment

I am 4 weeks into an 8 week course called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, being offered by UC San Diego Extension. This course was originally developed by Jon Kabat Zinn at UMass Medical Center in 1979 as an effort to help people manage chronic pain and illness through the power of mindfulness, self-awareness and compassion.  I am taking it in part to prepare for a class I am teaching this fall, and in part as a gift to myself. 

I discovered mindfulness in the summer of 2010, almost a year after the birth of my second daughter. I was struggling- emotionally and physically- to recover from the sheer exhaustion of two babies in less than two years, the complete loss of my previous identify and the challenges of reinventing myself as a professional woman with an entirely new set of priorities. I had my first daughter at 35, my second at 36, and before kids (BK) I was able to maintain the facade of control that I thought was the main requirement for a successful life. As a lawyer and then academic account manager, BK, I could control my schedule, rely on my brain and feel confident that I would successfully GSD (Get Shit Done).  With the onset of mommy-brain and the rigor of infant-driven schedules (insert laughter here), I no longer believed that I would GSD. In fact, I felt pretty sure that everyone on the planet could tell that I was no longer qualified to participate in the professional world. I was adrift, disconnected from myself and from the beauty of life. 

Enter the happy discovery of a mindfulness retreat at Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, a buddhist monastery in the beautiful mountains of Idyllwild.  The retreat was conducted by a skilled teacher, Beth Mulligan, and the entire weekend was about reconnecting with self through the tool of mindfulness. Simply paying attention to the breath- something that is always always present- in the present moment. Cultivating compassion for whatever the body is feeling, and being aware of whatever the mind is doing.  That's all. So simple. Being ok with whatever IS, rather than trying to direct it. It was an introduction that likely saved my sanity.  And it turns out, set the course for the rest of my life, as coach and teacher. 

I attended the retreat again in 2011, and while I was in a much better place than the previous year, the gift of meditation was again that of a renewed spirit and refreshed body. 

This past year has been an exercise in remembering to pay attention to the breath on a daily basis. For most of the year, I practiced mindfulness without the daily structure of a formal sitting practice, but with this class, I am committing to a daily practice. (Well, most days....)  And it is a PRACTICE- I am far from perfect, but I am practicing.
So much research has proven the physical and mental benefits of meditation, and the relatively new field of neuroscience is providing the language for explaining the whys and hows of these benefits. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that I am committing to this practice for myself, as a gift. 

Here is the poem I wrote in August 2011 during my mindfulness retreat.  It applies equally to a daily practice or a weekend retreat.

The Gift
why am I here?
simply a gift for myself
time and space
to just be
to rest, relax, recharge, refocus
be still, let go
let go of the million small hurts
let go of the fewer humongous ones
the incidental, the inadvertent, the intentional
focus inward and be kind, be compassionate
acknowledge my fear, my guilt, my anger and sadness
and let it go
find my joy, my peace and harmony, my pure soul
and let it go
what could ever be so important that I would allow it to taint this glorious life I've been given?
meditation is the gift of myself, for myself
Every Day

How many other gifts can you say are really truly free?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

There is no try. Do or do not.

I take issue with Yoda here in the absoluteness of this statement. In the context of kindness, ANY effort is better than none. And there is a balance between quality and quantity- sometimes small efforts over time are better than one big shabang. Sometimes nothing but the best will do because you only get one shot. 

I am trying my best to be kind whenever I can. I am conscious of the Daily Altruist sticker on my bumper and allow people to merge, and try to be an intelligent and kind driver on the road. I think about how I would feel if a reporter popped up and said, "SO, Daily Altruist, is THAT how you REALLY behave?"  I want to walk the talk, be kind to change the world. But it is an acknowledgment of my humanity to confirm that there are days when I am distracted and not thinking about anything (other than the fact that my husband has recently inexplicably switched to decaf coffee.)  There are times when I do in fact do something unkind, or stupid, something that inconveniences someone else, or hurts someone's feelings. I am not perfect- that's why this is the PRACTICING kindness blog. My "Do" is to Practice.

Last week was teacher appreciation week at my daughters' preschool. And let me tell you, I appreciate the HECK out of them. Shout out to Ms Sarah, Ms Claudia and Ms Rachel for taking such wonderful, amazing care of my girls, and for dealing so graciously with their 2 and 4 year old foibles. Especially re: poop and Momo.  

But I had a major moment of insecurity last week. On Monday I was reminded that it was Teacher Appreciation Week. There was a note requesting "no sweets" on the bulletin board. OK, so no cookies. On Monday night, I sat down with my girls, who picked out beads for me to make into a simple bracelet for each teacher, with their name. I thought they were sweet and the girls "helped" so it was a mutual effort. We took them in with a flower for each teacher on Tuesday.

On Thursday I took the girls in to school and noticed a gift for each of the 2 teachers in my 2 year old's classroom.  Each gift consisted of 4 gift cards, totaling $125. Each. Ouch. I have to admit, if I were the teacher, $125 worth of gift cards would make MY day moreso than a bracelet- simple economics of a preschool teacher's budget. However, it made me cringe and feel guilt. 

I wish I didn't still feel inadequate. I want her teachers to know that we appreciate them. I want them to know how much I care about them as people, in addition to their roles as teachers. So how do I share this with them, without breaking the bank? 

Daily practice.  This is where the frequency comes in as the alternative to the big shabang. Every day I look them in the eye when I pick up the girls and ask them authentically how the day was. I try to spend 2 minutes chatting to get to know them as people. If they need something, I try to help. If the school asks for volunteers, I will try to be there. Is this enough to outweigh the fabulous dinner they will have at Roy's?  Maybe, maybe not. But it's what I have to give. And it's my practice- authentic kindness in MY way, not someone else's.

So much of life is a competition- practicing kindness should not be.  DO Practice.