April, 2012

I have been talking recently to an old friend…someone I interviewed years ago and whose career I continued to follow. He is married to the (now former) Governor of Michigan and doing something novel: staying at home to raise their children. His expertise is in leadership and his perspective is inspiring: leadership doesn’t just emanate from the perch of an important job, but can come from anyone with vision and who sets standards by which to live. Dan Mulhern suggests we can lead as individuals in our own lives in everything we do.

This message really hits a nerve with me because I just gave up a leadership role, in my newsroom and in my community as a local news anchor. On Facebook, there was even someone so upset about my choice to relocate halfway around the world and leave my career behind, that she publicly chastised me! At least that’s what it felt like. I know it was not what she intended. She was passionate about her beliefs and argued, quite understandably, that women too often leave the workforce, undermining our authority, influence and leadership in the professional world. I winced at that, because I know the facts about how many women make it up the ranks and they are not good. A study of professional women in California shows fewer than one in ten had executive level positions in high profile companies in 2011. This, even though women attain more graduate degrees than men. We know some of the solutions: flextime, childcare and job sharing but they have not been tailored so they are truly effective nor mainstreamed. I realize I was fortunate to have made it to a position of power without any of those solutions offered to me. I sat, as a leader, not at a boardroom table but at an editorial room table, and I let some down when I walked away.

Not everybody, though… There are those who still question why it’s important to have women in the workforce at a decision-making level. Know of any? Then you also know that just this attitude has contributed to a paralyzing inertia in the workplace toward change. Clearly, there is an upside to having a wider diversity in management style: it maximizes problem-solving and getting the best performances out of employees. However, it’s also true that as consumers, many women also make key household and financial decisions. From this perspective, lack of quality female leadership at upper levels doesn’t even serve companies’ bottom lines! The opportunity to profit should make things crystal clear.

In my case, what isn’t so clear is why my intution led me to stop climbing the corporate ladder, to leave a position of professional power. Thanks to my friend Dan, I can now articulate why my move was personally empowering. I made a choice to take a new leadership role – this one within my family and in my personal development. And, though perhaps I don’t need to explain myself to others, I sometimes need to remind myself.

Just a few weeks ago I heard activist Germaine Greer speak. The author of, among other books, The Female Eunuch and Shakespeare’s Wife, may not be everyone’s idea of a role model, but she does evoke reaction and provoke thought. What made me sit up and take stock, was when she said that women need to not just be at the boardroom table, but to upend it as they stand and challenge the status quo. Ouch. It hurt to know that some of my coworkers considered my leaving a setback because my leaving meant the loss of the experience, perspective and balance I was taking with me. Even though the price I (and my family) paid for my career rise was too much to continue, for one brief moment Germaine Greer prompted me to revisit my decision not to stay put and stand my ground. To fight for more solutions that would clear the way for other talented women. But only momentarily.

I have missed critical moments of my boys’ childhood: those weekday evenings at home, quiet bonding over homework sessions and with good night kisses. I made sure I spent “quality time” with them as well as volunteering at their schools, attending their sporting events and performances. But there are so many moments I missed…and there are not many more moments left. I did not sign up to be a parent from afar, and to outsource most of the everyday responsibilities to people I paid (loved and trusted though they were). With the time we spend together now, I have regular discussions with my them about critically important things like values, current events and what they want to do with their futures. I can also just be present and observe. I know in my heart that my clear call to action at this stage in my life is not at a boardroom table, or anchor desk, but at our family dinner table.

During my two decades in the news business, I was often asked to speak to groups of parents. To them, I said what some may believe is a trite cliche´; parenting is the most important job in the world. I said that because every night on the news, we did stories about people who wreaked havoc in society, committing crimes, shirking responsibility etc. Many of them had troubled childhoods, with a lack of real role models and constant caregivers at home. Not that I’m blaming all parents for kids who grow up to make wrong choices. I have, though, interviewed experts who have argued persuasively that responsible caregiving early in life often helps form the foundation of character. Nor is it just that parenting in early life that matters. In my experience of reporting news, it is often people of damaged or compromised character who end up in later life preying on society…or ending up in deep personal trouble.

I still plan to use the expertise I’ve gleaned from 20 years as a journalist, both in helping my children navigate the wilds of adolescence as well as in my professional work. I will work, but in a more focused way, concentrating on projects in which I truly believe. And when I am an empty nester, who knows what new doors will open as I become more professionally active again. Right now, I choose to seize the power I now have to make my own path, and be true to my core values. I can still blaze a trail; setting an example for my children, and maybe other parents and professional women, in what I choose to do. I can now also explain it this way: I am leading with my heart from within.

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18 Apr 2012, by

No Such Thing

There is no such thing as a geographical cure. I’ve known this all my life, and yet still crave the distraction of someplace new…new people to meet, new lifestyle to which to adapt. It started young. I was only six weeks old when my parents started moving. From Turkey to New York state to California to Oregon – all before I was three years old. I not only thrive on change, I seem to need it every few years.

So it was with joy and anticipation that I moved to New Zealand from Northern California – and am happily adjusting to life at the bottom of the world and far away from a full time work schedule. I’ve scratched that itch. Except…I still feel a little bit itchy. The same old challenges still get the better of me. I am still the mother of a teenager who cannot figure out whether to love me or push me away and a younger one whose blue moods I cannot fathom or influence. I still have drawers full of recipes I’ve never fully read through. I am still the person who turns to handfuls of chocolate chips to pump me up when I’m feeling out of energy and weepy. And despite the Kiwi hardiness that surrounds and inspires me, I sometimes feel like doing nothing but hiding inside and watching movies all day.

So, once again I realize, there is no such thing as a geographical cure to what ails me. Then I stop and ask – what do I think ails me? I have friends battling cancer. I have friends whose children will need full time care for the rest of their lives. They need cures…not me. I have slight discomforts at best. We do, however, share one common trait: we are human.

We have ups and downs, weaknesses and strengths. Off days and on. We are parents, spouses, friends, children and have tender hearts that will feel whatever they feel no matter how we may try to ignore it. No matter what obstacles we face or what we are trying to accomplish, we sometimes feel small, alone and defeated. One day we feel as if we can control our destiny and the next sit momentarily paralyzed by helplessness.

But just momentarily. We can make choices, and choose to fight challenges – even those we never would have wished upon our enemies. And we can learn along the way. To laugh, to love, to appreciate. We can even learn to allow ourselves moments just to break down and let it all fall apart. One moment at a time. Moments make up an eternity. And for those who snark about trite cliches, I throw them back in their faces. They are cliches because their truisms are eternal and meaningful. It is memories of those moments that when we get sick or close to death, we reach for and savor.

So, despite my move halfway around the world and a total change in lifestyle, I still have not started my great novel, meditated every day nor cooked vegetarian meals as often as I had promised myself. I have not shed those extra five pounds I will probably always carry around or learned how to be a morning person who exercises before the break of day. I am still the same Pallas, who now has a little more time to indulge in a little blogging and even a little poetry. My walks are more vigorous and I am trying one recipe at time, when I can manage to remember to buy all the ingredients. And I am happy. I have followed my dreams and enjoyed more moments than I have in many, many years. There is no geographical cure but there is a reward for taking risks and not expecting perfection.

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