Taking a blogging hiatus

For a variety of reasons, I’m taking a blogging hiatus. Instead, I’m posting a lot of good information on my Facebook page – I hope you’ll visit me there! Click the “read more” button for the link, or just search for Elisa van Dam, Executive Coach on Facebook.

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Book Report: The Orange Line – A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family and Life

I have mixed feelings about this book20659417, but ultimately I think it’s worth a read.

It’s great to find a book that focuses on how to integrate career, family and life. I like that the authors don’t talk about “balance” and that instead they advocate following a middle (i.e. orange) line that is between the “green line” of focusing on career to the detriment of everything else, and the “red line” of stepping completely off the career path.

The book introduces the idea of the orange line and a set of assumptions that they think most women make about their careers and home life. They also provide a set of core skill sets for living an orange line life. Then they show how those assumptions play out at different stages of women’s careers, and how you can apply the skill sets to that career stage. Assuming you fit one of their defined career stages, you can focus just on those sections of the book, making it a quick read.

The skill sets are definitely my favorite part of the book. They include developing self-awareness, building a support system, and expanding your universe, among others.

Unfortunately, the tone of the book makes me a little crazy. The authors mean to be empowering, but lines like “while organizations may have offered a hostile environment, it was actually the women who held themselves and each other back” strike me as overly simplistic and a “blame the woman” approach.  I agree that most of us do have limiting beliefs that are getting in our way, and it can be very helpful to become aware of those beliefs so we can question them. But calling those beliefs the “feminine filter” suggests that all women share these same beliefs and that they are intrinsic to being a woman. 

So my recommendation is that you pick up a copy if you feel like you aren’t living an orange line life. Take the ideas that are helpful to you, and ignore some of the over simplifications and ideas that don’t fit with your world view.

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Thoughts for New Working Moms

I know this is a bit of a departure from what I usually write about, but several women I know are new moms or are pregnant. So I have dusted off some advice my sister and I put together years ago in case you find it useful.

  • In the immortal words of Calvin Trillin: “Try to get one that doesn’t spit up.” (Note – I totally failed on this front)
  • Do get all the stuff you can fit in your house and afford–swing AND bouncy chair AND Exersaucer AND sling AND Baby Bjorn. if it buys you even 5 minutes of respite, it’s worth it!
  • Don’t eat after midnight! Just because you are up doesn’t mean you need food. For most women, it takes 9 months to put on the weight, and 9 months (at least) to take it off. If you get to a year and you still are carrying extra weight, join Weight Watchers.
  • Don’t be the expert on all things baby. If you have a partner, leave him or her in charge while you go out (even if all you do is drive to a mall parking lot and nap in your car) so your partner can do things his/her way and learn some tricks of his/her own. Don’t micromanage what s/he dresses the kid in, or how s/he plays with the kid, or how s/he changes the diapers–it’s way better to have the help, than to have it done the way you would do it.
  • Don’t make any promises about being back on email within a week of delivery. It’s hard to know how you’ll feel at that point, so it’s better to under-promise.
  • Don’t think that your maternity leave is going to be the time you get all your projects done around the house (or feel free to think that, but let yourself off the hook if it doesn’t happen!). If the baby is still alive and gaining weight at the end of the day, your job is done. There’s nothing wrong with sitting on the couch watching A Baby Story on TLC for 6 hours a day if that’s what you and the baby want to do.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask for help! It takes a village. Ask any mother, we are all part of the sorority, and we will be there for you.
  • A corollary to the above –  do figure out what you’re going to outsource and/or significantly lower your standards on. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry – all are fair game. You definitely can’t do it all the way you did pre-baby.
  • Do make sure you have a pair of comfortable, supportive slippers or shoes to walk around the house in, in case your baby is only happy if you’re on the move. Barking Dog Shoes is a great resource for recommendations.
  • If you decide to try pumping at work, do make sure you have a high grade pump, and practice at home so you get the hang of it. Figure out where you can pump, and if that turns out to be your office, think about how you’re going to maintain your privacy. You’ll also want to work out how you’re going to store the milk, and what supplies you need so you have to do the minimum of washing up during the day. Pumping straight into storage bags is easiest, if you can manage that.

And my last do – savor this time with your newly expanded family! Having a baby is an incredibly fun and rewarding experience, and it only gets better.

Working moms, I’d love to hear your thoughts and other dos and don’ts in the comments.

Final thought: here are two of my favorite books for moms to be:

Child of Mine: Original Essays on Becoming a Mother, by Christina Baker Kline

Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott

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Book Report: Situations Matter

situationsI heard Sam Sommers from Tufts University speak on The Hidden Power of Context (in your work and your world). His thesis, which is detailed in his book, is that if we can learn to do a better job of fully appreciating our context and acknowledging how our environment shapes our thoughts and actions, we can be more effective. Here’s his argument:

We see people in our environments and we assess their personality type and expect them to have a consistent character. That’s a short cut, it’s our default way of thinking, but it doesn’t give us a full picture of how human nature actually functions.

For example, one of the strongest external forces that affects our behavior and thinking is being in a group. Three things happen to us in a group of people:

1. In the presence of other people, we are less likely to notice what’s going on around us

2. If we are in a group and we do notice what’s going on, we pay attention to how other people are reacting to the situation. In a corporate context, we make an assumption that there must be a good reason for why we do things the way we do, because no one else is talking about it. This is a major roadblock to innovation.

3. When we’re in a group of people, we assume that someone else will take care of things. In organizations, if something isn’t assigned to a particular person, we will assume someone else will complete that task.

In fact, just thinking about being a part of a group is enough to elicit this behavior.

So that brings us to the question – how can we minimize the impact of the group context?

1. Force ourselves to take off the blinders – foster interactions and relationships with new people, because when you know someone, you are much less likely to fall victim to the kinds of inaction described above

2. Don’t assume everything is OK – if you think there might be a problem, investigate it even if no one else seems concerned

3. Stop diffusion of responsibility – assign specific tasks to specific people

For a more in-depth exploration of this idea, see Prof. Sommers’ book, Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World.


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Book Report: Positive Intelligence

positive intelligenceI heard Shirzad Chamine speak earlier this year and was really taken with his message. That message is detailed in Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential.

Chamine has developed the concept of Positive Intelligence (PQ) which measures the percentage of time that your mind is serving you vs. the time it is sabotaging you. As someone who really values happiness and peace of mind, I love the idea of being able to quantify how much time I spend in that positive frame of mind, rather than letting my “monkey mind” take over and dwell on negative or anxious thoughts. But even better is the promise of being able to learn to quiet that monkey mind and strengthen what Chamine calls the Sage.

One of the Sage’s powers is to help you choose between alternatives based on an internal compass. To activate that power, Chamine suggests you imagine yourself at the end of your life, looking back on the choices you are facing. Then ask yourself, from that place, looking back, what do you wish you had chosen? What values do you wish you had exemplified? I think this is a great way to gain perspective, and to “go to the balcony” as one of my colleagues puts it.

I’m doing a 30 day challenge to strengthen my PQ – I’ll report back in early February to let you know how I made out!

For more information on Positive Intelligence, visit  positiveintelligence.com. They have assessments to measure your PQ score, tools to strengthen your PQ, and a lot of other resources.

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