In everything give thanks

Every thanksgiving, I invite my dinner guests – mostly our adult children – to share what they have been thankful for over the past year. The request is generally met with a great deal of eye rolling and deep sighs. I think they think it’s just another game, like charades, that their mom/stepmom makes them play every year.

But being grateful and expressing gratitude is so much more.

Not long ago, I received a very heartfelt thank you note from one of my former employees. She used the occasion of my stepping away from the company I started 33+ years ago to tell me how grateful she was for something I did for her five years before, that frankly, while I remember doing it, had no idea it had impacted her in such a profound way. In fact, all of her mentions of gratitude had nothing to do with her actual work, and everything to do with her personal life. She told me that the act of writing the note and sending it, gave her great pleasure, not to mention how I felt upon receiving it.

It was such a meaningful experience for both of us, I decided I would work on expressing gratitude more easily for myself, because the more we practice giving thanks, the easier it becomes to make giving thanks a practice. Since receiving that note, I have focused on both being grateful and sharing with others the gratitude I feel. And in the process discovered that what the psychologists say about gratitude is actually true.

They point out that the benefits of expressing gratitude range from better physical health to improved mental alertness. People who express gratitude are also more likely to offer emotional support to others. Habitually focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I will once again be asking the kids, and now their partners and spouses, to share what they’re grateful for. While I’m expecting more eye rolling, I also know that learning to become comfortable expressing gratitude is a gift in itself.

Leaning Out — Ever So Slightly

I burned my bra in the sixties (although truth be told, I hardly needed to wear one in the first place.) I fought for choice and women’s control over their bodies in the seventies. Birthing two children over the next decade came with the responsibility of lobbying for universal childcare. But by the nineties, I was so busy growing a business and raising a family, I had little time to fight for anything at all.

I leaned into my career in a way that no other generation of women before me ever has. Part of the early boomer generation, we had that perfect combination of mothers who wanted their daughters to achieve professionally what wasn’t available to them; women’s rights advocates like Gloria Steinem and Andrea Dwarkin who assured us that not only could we have it all — it was our inherent right to do so; and husbands who were only too happy to have the burden of bread winning more equitably shared, especially because we still did the cooking and childcare as if we were stay-at-home moms.

Like many of my friends and colleagues, I leaned in. Full time. Flat out. Working as hard, as long and as smart as our male colleagues. (Actually, likely smarter.)

I grew up at a time when public discourse described the four-day work week, and “Freedom 55” — the banks’ advertising campaign that linked sound financial planning to being able to retire early, while you were young enough to enjoy it. What the bankers didn’t know is that life expectancy would increase dramatically, and that for many, there would still be another 25 years or more to enjoy the retired life.

Freedom 55 didn’t work out for my parents because my father passed away at 53, necessitating my mother’s entry into the work world for the first time, and having to stay there until she was in her 70s out of financial necessity. When I turned the corner of 55, I had just sold my PR company — a company I had built from the ground up — to Edelman, the largest PR firm in the world. Part of the sale was an agreement to stay on for at least five years before retirement could even be contemplated. And when that time came, I re-enlisted for a few more years.

I considered whether re-upping was because I loved my work, or because I worried about what it would be like to not work. This turned out to be a topic of conversation among almost every group of women I knew — women who had spent their entire adult lives in the workforce, in satisfying, professional, mostly well-paying work.

For some women, they continue to work because they don’t have the financial means not to. Others continue to work because their identity is wrapped up in their career, and like many men, they don’t know who they’d be or what they’d do without work. And for some, and I’ve learned this is the category that applies to me, it’s because we feel we’re at the top of our game and are still leaning in.

We just might not lean in quite so far, quite so full time, quite so flat out. In my case, I’m going to lean out ever so slightly and return to my roots of being an independent consultant — saying yes to work where I think I can add value, no to where I can’t, and taking the time to know the difference between the two. Whether I can pull this off is yet to be seen — because I haven’t yet left Edelman and I’m already almost fully booked for the next 7 or 8 months. Still, you have to start somewhere, and I’m excited about what lies ahead.

Not afraid to use the F-Word

Not too long ago, we held a networking event for young women in PR. Thirty years after marching for equal pay and equal rights, I would have thought a networking event for women would have been unnecessary. But turns out, the glass ceiling is still firmly in place — made even more insidious because like glass itself, you can see through to the other side, but can’t get there without shattering it. Women’s wages — 30 years after marching — are still only three-quarters of what men earn. Women are still relegated largely to service type jobs, and even in a profession like PR, which is dominated by women, it is men who lead the largest PR agencies.

I’m currently enrolled in the Institute for Corporate Directors’ course for executives interested in serving on corporate boards, and it’s no different here. There’s 36 students in the class, and we meet for three days over a weekend, four times a year. Of the 36 students, six are women — about the same composition of women that currently make up directors on corporate boards. Turns out, there’s a glass ceiling here too, and becoming a corporate director has just as much to do with who you know as what. Since men tend to know other men in business, primarily because women are largely absent in senior leadership roles, the system perpetuates itself — leaving women largely absent around the board table.

While referring to oneself as a feminist has gone out of both style and favour, I think it’s time for it to make a comeback; for young and old women alike to embrace the F-word, and acknowledge that it’s a fitting attribution, because it means we are viewing the world through a female lens — and when we do, what were seeing, just isn’t good enough. Not for ourselves, not for our daughters, not for each other.

Without Fear

My business partner left yesterday for a well-deserved six-month sabbatical, marking the end of a partnership that has spanned almost two decades. June 30th marks the official day we sell the remainder of the shares we hold in our former company, Karyo Communications, to the company that acquired us five years ago, Edelman. (more…)