#BookDNA Tribute for Museum Week (#BooksMW)

Books are an incredibly important part of what makes me, well, me. As I have stated many times before, I attempt to read 3-4 books a week. I read a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Not every book is spectacular, and since I turned 30, I no longer feel the obligation to read the book cover-to-cover if my interest wanes. Several years ago, a brilliant idea (most likely due to no sleep) came to me and I mind-mapped every book I have ever read. I was able to visually recognize how one book led to another book and impacted a new way a thought or interest. This map became my #bookdna and I share the books I add to this map on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In honor of Museum Week and the corresponding daily theme/hashtag, #BooksMW, I will share a book that has had the most professional impact. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and published in 19161 remains the book that reinvigorated my drive to improve and evolve communities (physical AND digital). It is an extremely dense book and may be difficult to wade into as a newcomer to urban planning and community organization topics. I highly recommend reading Vital Little Plans by Jane Jacobs. This is a collection of short works that will give you a hint about the formidable Jane Jacobs (my hero). I like to read (or re-read, in my case), an essay in the early morning before I open my email and begin slogging through the day. Reading these essays helps me get into the right frame of mind and navigate the ups and downs of change management…because these woes are nothing new or extraordinary. I start the day by thinking, “What would Jane do?”

Why is this of interest for Museum Week participants? No matter your role in the museum industry, all are struggling to make our cultural institutions relevant. To look forward and fight our way into securing a place in the physical and digital spaces in the 21st Century, perhaps we should look back to those who have forged a path for us? It is only fitting to recognize a female author since the focus of this year’s Museum Week is female power! Looking outside of our industry and to the people who earned battle scars before our time, may help us find new ways of thinking that may be applied to museums. We are not alone in our fight. And never were. Everyone is fighting their own battles. How can we share and learn from each other?

Happy reading! Crack open a book, turn on your Kindle, or listen to an audio book. Consume books any way you see fit and create your own #bookdna.

(Only fitting I write this post while completing my third annual Museum Studies PhD Research Week at the University of Leicester!)

You are not job-shaped

Yesterday, I had the honor of being the Harvard Extension School degree awarding ceremony speaker for the Information Technology and Museum Studies graduates. I tried to remember my own graduation ceremonies and the words of wisdom shared with me by those speakers…and I could not recall a single thing. I know I am not alone in this lack of remembering your own commencement speeches. As I viewed my favorite commencement speeches to prepare my own, J.K. Rowling shares that she too could not remember her own speaker! There was a lot of pressure to get this speech right. The day was not about me, but for the graduates. And, knowing that I would have limited focus and Mark Zuckerberg would be giving the official commencement speech later in the day, I struggled with what to share and why to share it. After intense preparation [THANK YOU, Tamsen] and an epic graduation ceremony yesterday, I now share the speech with you:

In the latest Avengers movie, Tony Stark, is working with Dr. Bruce Banner to build an artificial intelligence defense system or what Stark refers to as a suit of metal around the world promoting peace in our time. This technology would put the Avengers out of a job and replace their somewhat flawed superhero characters with the one-track protocol of artificial intelligence creation, Ultron.

Okay, here it is, SPOILER ALERT. Ultron performs its duty with a single-minded focus – protecting humankind at any cost. Unfortunately, Ultron computes that to achieve peace, humans need to be saved from themselves and the protection of the Avengers. And ultimately, Ulton decided the best way to do this was to kill the humans. Ultron rigidly followed instructions and things went horribly wrong.

I am sure all of us can think of an example when we have weighed critical thinking over critical feeling and simply got this balance wrong.

Beyond my fan girl love of superhero films, I find real parallels with the world we live today. We cannot sidestep the debate of human versus the machine and we can’t ignore the power of and access to data in any field. And that’s a debate we have to face as we leave here and return to or seek new jobs.

No matter if you are here today because you are graduating with a degree in Information Technology or Museum Studies, each of you face a similar challenge: how do you take everything you have learned in this prestigious academic environment and apply them? How are you able to apply what you have learned in novel ways? And, how can you activate what you have been taught and experienced during a time when you are not just competing against yourselves and each other, but also machines?

I have sat where you are sitting right now. [Right about there, actually]. Most likely, you have already started the long slog of job searching and are endlessly scrolling through job postings or parsing through the LinkedIn contacts of anyone you have ever stood next to in line at a conference. 

Job descriptions are unrealistic. Unwittingly they are being written by super-computers and not humans. Job descriptions are primarily being written for a computer search. These descriptions are a frankensteined list of anything and everything the hiring organization does not have the skills or the time to do today, mixed with an equally long list of super human talents envisioned by wistful hiring managers. Ultron represents the danger when jobs are not well-defined and look how that turned out!

In the hype surrounding Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, an already staid job market is becoming further infected with the fear that machines will replace all jobs currently belonging to humans. What we have are fully dimensional humans who are not cookie cutter. We do not all have the same experiences and outlooks. And we have all of these people – all of us – competing for the same job description that doesn’t consist of more than 150 words. And that job description written by and served up by a computer, determines your future.

What is clear is that the jobs being marketed to us do not reflect the personality and curiosity we bring to these roles. We are not job-shaped. 

But we are tormented into unhealthy relationships with LinkedIn or Indeed job alerts by the fantasies of a wishful thinking executive with the expectation that one extraordinary person can do the role of twenty average employees. Not even one of the Avengers could fulfill these lofty requirements.

I know from experience what it can mean to try to be job-shaped and it didn’t work. When I entered the workforce as a communications professional, there were very few accepted varieties of my job. I was simply relieved to have landed a job in a volatile job market, but relief gave way to restlessness. I craved challenge. I felt I was in constant execution mode and never pausing to reflect why my team or I was taking action.

On my own, I discovered I loved numbers. I enjoyed playing with data, crafting it into usable insights, and then packaging the information into snackacble knowledge. This was a surprise because I had shied away from anything resembling math. I wanted to learn what made people tick, so I could become a better communicator. I started by learning more about people analytics. First, I read anything and everything I could get my hands-on and then I started conducting informational interviews of co-workers. I was so excited about what I was learning and how I was making the connection to my current job that I wanted to share this energy with the world.

So I started a blog. Okay, maybe I didn’t have the eyes and ears of the world, but the three readers who were not related to me, asked questions and pushed me to continue this exploration. I made the leap to researching more about customer relationship management systems, attended conferences, networked, and continued to blog. Eventually, senior executives in my department noticed this activity and I was transferred to a newly formed team to do what I had been operating on the side. Working out loud – meaning, sharing the frameworks I adapted or created and openly sharing my successes along with my own failures – had its ups and downs, but it led me to the connection and mentorship of the gentleman who offered me a job in what became a successfully acquired technology start-up.

If you had told me that I would have ended up here on this stage today or in my current job when I was that young woman in her first job after college, I would have laughed in your face.

There will be a frustration. A chasm exists between what is available in the job market and the ideal we have sought after putting in our time and rigor in our academic life. Do not despair. You have all the tools you need to be successful, but more often than not, success is not effortless, rather it is the outcome of continuous learning – but a kind that (at least so far) only we humans can do well.

My love of data began as a communications professional. Continuous learning and development compounded over the years as I evolved into a technical writer and community manager in the tech sector and regulated industries. Today, I am researching data collections and use within museums. The evolution of computation has been a major influence on my career path.

But it is not just computation. If it were solely about computation, we would fit these jobs. Siri and Alexa are phenomenal computers, but they are not great conversationalists. So there must be something more to this problem and solution. It is Albert Einstein who said, “Small is the number of people who see with their eyes and think with their minds.”

There is no doubt technology has improved the quality of our lives. The quality of our jobs, however, and what we make of ourselves is self-made. I greatly admire the work of leading researcher in the field of motivation, Carol Dweck, and her concept of the growth mindset meaning, “people believe their most basic abilities are derived from dedication and hard work.” This is both what makes us not job-shaped, but also what gives us the path to figuring out the future we want.

Case in point: Elon Musk. I think that name should ring a bell for everyone in the room. Musk has built four multibillion companies in four separate fields of software, energy, transportation, and aerospace. Multiple people have noted his work ethic and scenario planning method, but what fascinates me and has been a factor of my own career success, is that Musk has and is learning across multiple fields and not just those areas where he studied academically or had early accomplishments. According to a family source, Musk has routinely read two books per day since he was a teenager. Inconceivably that numbers somewhere around 23,000 books!

A growth mindset is something to be practiced consistently and frequently. I began daily practice the second I realized I was suffocating in the box of my first job. It has not always been an easy or a desired path.

How many of you would rather stick toothpicks in your eyes than crack open one more textbook right now? I know. I know. I felt that way too. But I have never been able to resist the urge of delving into the unknown – first with magazines in my interest of study and then branching out to seemingly disparate subjects and industries. When I parsed apart the concepts, rearranged, and put the pieces back together, the context changed and the product was fundamentally different.

I have been an adult student for sixteen years. I am also a mother of two daughters – one just became a teenager. I have juggled multiple years of course work and classroom time around my daughters, all the while, having a full-time job. I read three-to-four books a week. You will spot me on the train commute to any destination with my nose in a book. I have missed my stop on more than one occasion because I was so engrossed in the novel or magazine article 

I employ the best of technology and a time-turner to also be a PhD student at the University of Leicester. I share this with you not to earn a gold star, but to let you know that you are not alone in the struggle to become more than what you are now or how a job description may define you.

It is not just critical thinking that defines success. It is what I have learned from computation and through the experiences in using such methods. It’s the comprehension. The critical FEELING that all that additional learning brings to critical thinking.

While we need both computation and comprehension, comprehension trumps computation.

Which means that, to truly succeed not just tomorrow but into a future that is sure to blend the lines between human and machine, we must be humans first and technologists second.

And that means constantly learning beyond our job and industry. If we want to do more than artificial intelligence can do for us, then we need to be able to comprehend at a different level. This type of thinking can only happen if we think deeply about those things we have amassed in our structured and unstructured learning and experiences and look for different ways to apply these lessons.

And this is where the hope lies when it comes to job searches, because anybody can compete. Anyone can do critical thinking. Not everyone can combine critical thinking skills with comprehension. Coming out of Harvard you are more than well-equipped for critical thinking. Not everybody works equally hard on comprehension or critical feeling skills.

Carol Dweck captured the essence of this when she wrote, “We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”

Reading or being exposed to insights and perspectives other than our own helps us cultivate our own humanity and become insider-outsiders. The ability to seek out methods of adoption and adaption is a superpower that will get you far in the corporate, non-profit, and academic worlds. Channel what you are observing works well or not so well today and then reimagine what we need to do to change ourselves and our industries for future success.

You have been training for this each and every day you have come onto this campus or signed into an online course. The human ability to continue to learn from our mistakes and experiences is at the core of who we are. The more you learn, the more you can learn. And it is those of us who learn beyond the confines of the classroom and our job – beyond the confines of what we have been trained and explore beyond the concepts introduced to us – it is those of us who will be successful. Commencement is not the end of the physical or virtual classroom.

Because comprehension trumps computation. We have to seek and create jobs that will mold to and welcome our vulnerabilities and the very essence of our humanity.

This is not an “either-or” or a ‘yes, and’ problem to be solved. Computation cannot exist without comprehension – and we would not want them to. If we had computation only, we will have created Ultron, but we know that critical feelings only is just as unrealistic. Rather it is when humanity works with technology, that we gain the best of both worlds.

That is what I have been able to do by writing my own job title and descriptions over the past decade. Some of you may say that is lucky, but I have seen people combine these skills and have repeated success. The Roman philosopher, Seneca, stated: luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. And that is just what I did. I prepared 

I immersed myself in the cultures of these organizations – the majority within regulated industries. I discovered what made these organizations tick buried beneath deafening social silences. I sought underlying patterns and surfaced the missed opportunities and risks. All the while, I attempted to piece together parts of existing jobs with the purpose and tasks of my ideal job. I continue to break apart and piece together these criteria as my talents and skills evolve.

Today, I am ridiculously happy in a job where I did not settle for a position or a company that has me shackled to a fixed set of criteria. I am in a position where I am engaging my critical thinking and my critical feeling skills.

Here are the three things I have learned about how to be a human first and a technologist second. I hope they help you, too:

  1. Combine critical thinking with critical feeling as you find new ways to visualize a sea of data and mold data into information;
  2. Transform information into plain language knowledge to combine computation with comprehension; and
  3. I encourage you, just as I did, to share how you are combining what you learn and experience. Be open with the frameworks you create. Share your failures with each other. Because it is when we speak the truth about the good, the bad, and the ugly of our jobs and what we produce, that we can recognize the real problems, and then get to work on solutions.

It is when we put all of these actions together, that we can only truly feel fulfilled and that we have honored this education. By changing the way the world looks around us, we begin to see that we are bigger than the box the world tries to stuff us into.

So, if being squished into a job-shaped box doesn’t sound like fun to you, I challenge you to be too big for the box. Push from within to shape and expand the confines of the box around you. Or, change the box.

For those of you graduating today in the field of Information Technology, I urge you to not lose your humanity as you program our digital future. Humanize our algorithms!

For those of you graduating today in the field of Museum Studies, you are the culture carriers, keep us human as we absorb more effective and automated intelligence 

Because computation trumps comprehension, when we combine critical thinking with critical feeling we can shape a job to fit us, rather than suffer through trying to shape ourselves to fit that job.

We can all agree that the world is changing and familiar companies and well-established industries are struggling to keep or even recognize disruption is happening all around them. And to them. And within them.

But the real problem is the struggle individuals within these organizations face as they attempt to force-fit themselves into jobs that do not leave room for both critical thinking and comprehension skills.

There’s another Avengers character, known as Vision, that reflects this computation and comprehension fusion. Neither human nor computer, Vision explains to Ultron at the end of the movie that survival is the blended balance of computation and comprehension. He says, “Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t be. But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that.”

Today, we are sitting amongst superheroes. You are extraordinary because you have put in the time and the work to evolve yourself. That doesn’t end today. You have to work at being a superhero each and every day. We are all flawed. You will succeed and you will fail on any given day, but you can choose what you take from those experiences. Because you are human. And you comprehend, you don’t just compute.

How do we become the change we seek? By constantly reassessing what is “normal,” you can shift your view of the world and gain greater perspective Critical feeling is when: You must learn to walk in another’s shoes, see through their eyes, hear through their ears, and speak in their language.

Only then, will we be able to develop products and services made by humans and enabled by technology…and not inadvertently create an Ultron to save the world, but save ourselves by ourselves.

 

What would Jane do?

IMG_2962Last week, I had the opportunity to keynote the Intelligent Content Conference (ICC – follow #intelcontent for great conference take-aways) and deliver an expanded presentation about how I have used urban planning principles to reignite my social media/community inspiration and reimagine the digital ecosystem.

Following me from computer to computer, I have a crumpled Post-it note and in Sharpie, it reads: What would Jane do? Jane, as in, Jane Jacobs – activist and God Mother of urban planning revitalization. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities first published in 1961, rocked my world. Jane took on the status quo to combat the breakdown of the physical community as an outcome of expansive highways cutting through and eradicating culture to further urban sprawl. The problems Jane discusses in the book and her subsequent works (Vital Little Plans is a collection of her shorter works and my favorite publication, if not the easier to read/digest) may be over 40 years old, yet reflect classic change management problems and community behavior regardless of physical or digital space.

The following quotes are Jane’s words.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Before people can participate in any form of social media or community activity there needs to be an understanding of the social contracts and constructs in place. With the ICC audience, I shared the organizing principles I have created in previous roles and honed over time and now the basis of any digital transformation effort. These principles encompass the reimagined digital ecosystem and are meant to be daily reminders and guardrails to compliment any use case and project timeline. There is no end… These principles cover establishing truths, fostering an information ecology, consistent (and understood) and transparent measurement, platform and system integration, business accountability, and establishing a historical account of policy, process, and technology decisions.

“Cities are not just great lumps of chaos. They are a form of intricate, wonderful order, and they seem like chaos mainly because we do not understand this order not the processes by which it works.”

I have said it before – governance is the most unsexy part of any digital transformation effort, but the most powerful. You pay now, or you pay later. The choice is yours. Governance is not a one-and-done activity, but ongoing and must include different voices and perspectives from all business areas and at all levels, to really gain traction. What appears as chaotic, does have a sense of order if you tune into the mindset to observe and analyze for patterns.

“The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”

There are a number of actors with responsibilities on and off the stage and no performance is ever the same. Establishing governance is not a concerted activity to make every building structured with the same gray, faceless façade or (even worse), the same brick and colored awnings for each and every business. The utilities and construction of the scaffolding of social media and community activities require same or similar elements, but how the community manifests itself in design and tone, varies.

I used to negatively react to being pigeon-holed as the ‘governance’ person, but as I have become more seasoned, I am not running away from this classification. When you have barriers, there is focus and a challenge to be creative within parameters and an obligation to push those boundaries. I look at my Post-it, re-read Jane’s words and pretend she and I were chatting about the challenge over tea. What would Jane say to me? What would Jane do?   

2016 #BookDNA

This is my favorite post of the year. Books are my love language. I am always reading a book. My small home is overflowing with books. I bet if you were to rummage through my bag at any given time, you would find at least two books. Needless to say, I read A LOT. Not every book is amazing. Some books I do not finish (I never thought I would be one of those people, but I guess I grew up…too little time and always more books). And at the end of each year, I share with you the books that are now imprinted on my soul – my #BookDNA.

I did not have an agenda this year. I read the books that call to me. It was a rough year – in the news – so any escape from reality was embraced. A theme began to form by the close of the year and it was me that was most surprised because if you had asked if I had read these books or planning to read many of these books, I would have laughed and told you these books were not on my short list. Shows you how little I know. This list is split into fiction and non-fiction and listed in alphabetical order. Honorable mentions will follow this list.

Fiction

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel: This is not your average sci-fi thriller with a lot of meandering prose. This is a high-concept novel weaving the past and present in a crisp format. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you enjoyed The Martian, this may be a book that will appeal to you. This is also a great book to listen to versus read. If you do get the book, I beg you – buy the hard cover. The art on the book jacket is amazing and definitely tattoo material. I am not-so-patiently waiting for the sequel to be published!

The Fifth Season (Broken Earth Trilogy) by N.K. Jemisin: Everyone has been raving about this book. The author is a Hugo award winner. This book came to me highly recommended, but it was not until the end of the year that I was able to find time and become absorbed by the story. The first chapter is difficult. There are a lot of new words and concepts. This author makes you work. Don’t let this be a turn-off! Trust me, you will be glad you put in the time and effort to become engrossed in this dystopian tale. Some of the concepts are difficult to read because they do hit close to home. The best books are those that usually strike at your very core. If you want to get warmed up to Jemisin’s work, I encourage you to read her earlier works or the story published in January 2017 Wired.

Non-fiction

Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich: I did not know this story. Yes, I know it is awful to admit – I am a Communications major! How is this possible? After reading a review about the Amazon series, I wanted to read the book that inspired the show. The book was captivating. I was ashamed that as a communicator and a female, I was not aware of the history that allowed me to have these positions and freedoms that I take for granted today. This book was an eye-opener and will become a must-read for both of my daughters. It was amazing to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. This book was the beginning of a slew of other books I read this year that I had never been encouraged to read or wanted to read, but have helped mold me into a more capable and compassionate woman.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem: After reading Margaret Thatcher’s books (beginning with Statecraft) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent book, My Own Words, I felt I had earned the privilege to read Gloria Steinem’s work. Until now, I had been dismissive of Gloria’s work and that of other feminists. It was not until I read Povich, that I got out of my own way and prejudices, and found myself utterly captivated by the agony and strength of Gloria Steinem and the movement she represents. What a wake-up call. The art of listening took on a whole new meaning after I read this book. At 36, I finally feel comfortable being a woman and beginning to feel a sense of understanding amidst all the chaos of present times.

Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery: You must have been living under a rock if you didn’t anticipate I would include this book on my list! I have read this book at least three times this year and I listen to the audiobook when I need to calm myself and focus. The New England Aquarium has become my sanctuary after reading this gorgeous memoir of sorts. Through Sy’s documented experience, I feel as if I have gotten to know the Earth’s most mysterious creature – the octopus. I have never been scared of these creature…more, fascinated. The writing is fabulous. you are guaranteed to laugh and cry. But most of all, I want you to look at these creatures with the respect and wonder I do, rather than revulsion at that which we cannot and may never understand.

Honorable Mentions

 

A Year in the Life of a Marketing Technologist

This is usually the time of year where people bust out their crystal balls, reviewing personal progress, and preparing goals and objectives for the upcoming year. I have consistently used my birthday (14 December) as an excuse to reflect on how I have/have not changed or matured and evaluate what I have achieved in contrast to what I thought I could achieve in prior year. I have a tendency to judge myself harshly in these annual reviews and never feel as if I have accomplished enough (gasp). 2016 has been my year to really come into my own – upon reflection I have become more confident and discovered my professional and academic voice. It definitely has not been a dull year.

A year ago this month, I made the leap from community management into marketing technology. The response from others within my company about this job transition was mixed – what made this community gal qualified to manage the plethora of marketing technologies at a Fortune 150? In my mind, the chasm was not impossible because over the past several years, I have been questioning and researching (professional and academic lenses) how social media, community practices, and data collection and use meshed within the larger digital ecosystem. Rather than go into the position with an agenda, I incorporated what I have learned when launching / managing communities or tackling a new piece of academic research: I listened.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

-Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland

During the first 45 days, I interviewed over 60 individuals and teams across the business to understand their business challenges, needs, desires, and determine what technology they were using and why. I briefly outlined my role and the categories of technologies my team would be responsible for selecting and maintaining, but focused the interview on listening for short and long term action items I could take back to my team and deliver on throughout the year. In addition to verbal interview questions, I asked each interviewee to complete a maturity survey of all the technologies used (internal and external) by their department.

The first 100 days are critical for any person entering a new job, despite the fact that they may have held a previous position with the company. Using the interview notes and self-assessments, my team crafted a maturity grid for each technology within the Marketing Technology Stack (9 categories and 48 capabilities). The maturity grid is comprised of 16 components across six categories and each component is scored and then rolled up into a weighted percentage score for each category. The grid is a living breathing resource acting as a benchmark to assess technology strengths and weaknesses, as well as, spot gaps and opportunities for investment. Within the first quarters, our team had identified what (and why or why not) technologies would be included in the final 2016 Marketing Technology Stack, the contracts requiring consolidation or termination, and the state of documented strategy and governance for each technology asset.

Inspired by urban planning principles, I reimagined the organization of the digital ecosystem and enabling marketing technologies, and used this metaphor to help visualize the changes we would propose. Rather than organizing around internal function, the ecosystem is designed in clusters of activity centering on the customer experience. (Take a second and roll eyes or groan on the mention of customer experience, but this work goes beyond the hype – and must be continuously informed by the disparate data inputs and outputs from all systems and interactions.) Beginning with the panoramic view of the current state, we dove into each cluster to tease out the marketing and communications pathways and governance serving the many:1 and 1:1 interactions.

Any transformation effort is a slow burn. Yes, it is important to build an environment of experimentation and get some quick wins, but the accountability required to make these wins stick and scalable is a bit of a slog. I have long said that governance is unsexy, yet it is the keystone for transformation. I learned the value of governance in the trenches of social media and community development and found these lessons portable to marketing technology – and actually gave me an advantage because I had a repeatable structure and mature relationships with HR, Compliance, Legal, and Procurement. We started the year without any documented governance or onboarding resources for the majority of our assets and ended the year with a first version of a social contract, policy, and processes for each asset within the Marketing Technology Stack. This is a never-ending project. Internal and external factors are consistently impacting policy and process. Also, many of these categories and capabilities are complex and the policy and process is a twisted web that must be parsed apart into snackable materials compelling constant and consistent internal communication and education endeavors. We took a page from Creativity, Inc. and adopted their Brain Trust in the form of an internal blog/dialogue we have named TechTrust. My team groaned and probably cursed me behind closed doors, but these resources gave us teeth and context to influence 2017 (and beyond) planning.

Along this professional odyssey, I am beginning to discover my academic voice. I have chronicled my intense self-imposed writing deadlines on Facebook. Picture a human trapped in a cage with a very hungry lion à this is me during the writing process as I struggle to transition from my professional/consultant voice and style to the objectivity and depth requisite of a researcher. I haven’t mastered my academic voice yet, but as a result of a massive writing opportunity (details divulged at a later time) with an aggressive completion schedule, I had to stop questioning my abilities and just DO. I cringe when people label me as a serial student. Being in the role as a student and teacher over the past 16 years has afforded me the opportunity to continuously question and challenge the status quo or my own opinions, and most importantly, remain curious.

I am no longer young or yet an elder. I am somewhere in-between. The brashness of my 20s has been tempered with my successes and failures. Don’t worry, the vim and vigor of Lauren is still bubbling just beneath the surface, but I don’t feel the need to resort to theatrics to get my way. There is so much I wish I could tell my younger self. There is so much I still have to learn and want the Dr. Who version of Lauren to jump in her TARDIS and reveal all of the secrets. Until this year, I have never been exactly comfortable in my own skin. I still care what people think…just not as much.

I don’t know what 2017 will bring – I only aim to tackle each challenge and opportunity with grace…and six impossible things before breakfast daily.

Contain yourself

This is an unusual post for this blog. It is personal. My husband and I had dinner last night and I felt out of place with my blue hair down and tattoos exposed. He asked was I not comfortable with what I had made myself? Yes, but hyperaware of how others perceive me, especially in my role and having to frequently go into an office space. My thoughts…

It is that tough time of life when you cannot completely identify yourself with the business man or the kid just experimenting and having fun, seeing what life brings his/her way. It is time to suit up into the high collared shirt. Tattoos play peek-a-boo at the collar. Suck up that gut and button up well-tailored pants. Layer on top a crisp black, tan, or navy suit jacket and heels costing half your monthly salary. Despite the formal wear, blue hair is brushed back into a tight bun on the top of my head.

I am in-between.

Here I am the chameleon. The suit is a way to conform to the space that gives me the security and title I need to ensure my family lives an easy life. We can travel and see the world and expose our children to new cultures. We can buy our teenager a new dress for her first middle school dance. I hear my footsteps in the office hallways – clack, clack, clack. I did not think this would be me.

The suit begins to act as a piece of armor hardening for protection and serving as a way to keep the creative, the different, from seeping out too much. Tell me what start-up companies or other freeform culture companies will accept a woman into the their top management ranks. My husband left his job as a VP because he wanted to work for a place that had the same spirit as he and he found it. Few women are within those ranks. Where could I do what I do now and wear Havaianas, my crazy spectacles, and the occasional blazer?

The suit contains me. I won’t rid myself of my personality so quickly, but I won’t fight. I learned my lesson in my 20s that fighting was not the spirit that made ideas accepted and moved the rock up the hill. Instead, I will wear an under armor of patience and grace to prevent the suit of conformity from becoming a straight jacket squeezing every last drop of individualism from me. I have so much to give. Let me be me. Let me learn to contain myself and what part of myself when appropriate. I long for the day when we can drop the suits and facades and see people for who they really are.

Know I wear the suit to conform and protect you. Look beyond these trappings and see the free spirit trapped in the frame seeking an opportunity to break out, blue hair and all.