When Life Gives You Lemons….

My post today is just a quick reflection of how I see the most recent turn of events in my life. I will quickly be seeking that next opportunity to apply my skills and succeed. Follow me to share the journey. 20140306-094201.jpg

 

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Attitude Is Everything

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“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Nelson Mandela

Last year I followed a specific pattern for my posts to cover the life experiences that influenced my value system and led to the career I have today. I have decided that for this year my posts will also follow a pattern and the focus will be on attitude and how it can influence your life and how you lead it.

This decision came after reading the following article.

The 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with her hair fashionably coifed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary.

After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window. “I love it,” she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.

“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room …. just wait.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.”

She went on to explain, “Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories Thank you for your part in filling my Memory bank. I am still depositing.”

And with a smile, she said: “Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

1. Free your heart from hatred.

2. Free your mind from worries.

3. Live simply.

4. Give more.

5. Expect less

By: Ripple Kindness Project

I am going to take these five rules seriously and hope that you will as well. Look for more of my thoughts on attitude as 2014 unfolds. Happy New Year!

Having a Career – Where That Education Led Me

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“To love what you do and feel that it matters–how could anything be more fun?”
– Katharine Graham

The place was Ohio Northern University (ONU), Ada, Ohio, the year was 1984, and there I was in my cap and gown with my new diploma in hand ready to conquer the “professional” world. I was both excited and nervous at the same time. Having work experience and having supervised people gave me an advantage, but at the same time I also had the disadvantage of venturing into the uncharted waters of the office environment.  So it was with some trepidation that I began interviewing for positions with local CPA firms. As I commenced the interview rounds, I saw a small posting in our local paper for a position with a local Accounting Software company.  I diligently sent a cover letter along with my resume. Within a week I had two interviews lined up.  The first interview was at a large local CPA firm that supported the majority of the businesses in our community preparing their taxes, giving financial advice, doing their payroll, etc. The second interview was with the Accounting Software Company for a Customer Support Representative. I don’t know which was more exciting, just getting the interviews or the fact that they were both in areas that were very interesting to me.

The interview at the CPA firm came first. I thought it went well. During the interview I found that the offices were plush (by 1980’s standards) and the dress codes as well as the work environment were very professional. I would need my high heels and hose for this job. The only downside was that the owner was an older gentleman who chewed on his cigar during the interview and called me “girlie.”  I can live with that, I thought.

Then came the interview with the Accounting Software Company.  I drove past the office a few times before I realized it really was that pole building in the middle of the corn field just outside of town. The building also served as the offices of an Engineering firm.  I later found out that one of the initial investors and founders of the software company was also the owner of the Engineering firm, so it made sense for him to “donate” office space to this fledgling software company.  The offices were not plush by any standards, but were typical for a small privately held company just starting out in the business. The dress code, while still professional, became a bit more relaxed after you entered the section that housed the programmers.  But I was interviewing for a Customer Support position, so my dress code would be a bit more like that expected at the CPA firm.  The atmosphere was where everything differed. The founders, the managers, and the entire staff were young and excited to be a part of this little company. While everyone did work long hours, they all seemed to be happy to be there and having fun.  Several of the systems programmers even were alumni of ONU.  I felt at home.

After a few days of chewing my nails and waiting for the phone to ring with an offer, it finally did ring and twice. I was offered both positions. So I did what I normally do when making a big decision. I started a list of pro’s and con’s. On the side of the CPA firm the two big ones were Pro- it was extremely professional and was focused on my first love Accounting, but on the Con side I’d be greeted every day with “hey girlie.” The list for the software company was a bit different. The Pro – an exciting and energetic place to work was balanced by the Con side it was sitting, answering phones and listening to customer complaints all day.  Even today my husband is still amazed that I chose the software company. He knew that I hate sitting all day, I especially hate the telephone as a means of communication, and don’t even get me started expressing how much I hate to hear customers complain (remember those darn frozen turkeys). But I did choose the software company and I am extremely happy that I did. My only concern was that when I started work I found out my “office” was a small room shared with my manager and three other support staff and to top it off they ran out of real desks so mine was a makeshift desk made up of two sawhorses and a door thanks to the engineering firm owner. However, the shiny new computer on my desk more than made up for my office and desk.

So that’s the short story of my entry into the professional world and the door to it was opened by my degree. That paper was worth all of the hours spent gaining it. While I left that first software company behind many years ago, at the time I left it was receiving a lot of positive press and awards for the features and quality of the products I had helped produce.

What I learned from all of this is that sometimes what you think is not the perfect job may lead to that perfect job in the future. In my case, I am happy to say that is what happened. I am grateful for those early years and all of the things that I learned both personally and professionally from the founders, the management, and staff at that small software company.

Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

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Walk tall because, as Dr. Seuss said, ” you have brains in your head – you have feet in your shoes – you can steer yourself – any direction you choose.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve been reading my blog this year, you will remember that my commitment was to share my life experiences and what I have learned from them.  When I look back over my posts I have mainly been true to this commitment. What I have not shared is the circuitous path that I have taken to get to where I am at today.  A high level view of this path is below.

  • Early Years  –  Having a mother who had a career      outside the home – March post
  • Formative Years – Choir practice with the Nuns – April post
  • First Job –  Fired for sitting down on the job – May post
  • First Professional Job – I.B.M. and the metal monster – May 17 post
  • Punching  the Clock – The job that put the food on that table – Coming soon
  • Back to  School – Seeking That Professional Career – Coming soon
  • Running a Small Business – The Agony of Defeat – Coming soon
  • Having a Career – Where the education got me – Coming soon
  • Founding a Non-Profit – The Legacy We Leave – Coming soon
  • What’s Next? – Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks – This post

As you can see I am going to run ahead and go to the end of this path and then go back and walk you along with me. The reason I am jumping ahead is because I am experiencing one of those “significant emotional events” in my life. I have a new boss and for the first time in a long time I have someone who is going to give me some coaching to get forward momentum on my career.  The start of this coaching has me wondering if I can indeed change some the things that will help me to progress. When faced with a challenge you may realize by now that I turn to reading. This time is no different. I have purchased three books (I need a lot of help), “Reinventing You” by Dorie Clark, “What To Ask The Person In The Mirror” by Robert Kaplan, and” What You’re Really Meant To Do” also by Kaplan.

I am just starting to read these books, but one theme that they all have in common is the need to solicit honest feedback. They suggest 360 reviews from not only your peers, but in order to get a full perspective, that you include feedback from a subset of everyone that you interact with on a daily basis.   My “coach” has started this with my permission by getting some feedback. The focus of this feedback was what was seen as my strengths and weaknesses.  This feedback was welcome but at the same time a bit daunting and caused me to wonder if there are just some aspects of being me that I may not be able to change. Not that I really see myself as an “old dog,” but let’s face it I have been around for a long time and some of these things that may just an intrinsic part of who I am.

In her book, Dorie Clark writes about changing your personal brand.  She recommends that in order to start this effort you need to understand how you are perceived today and then determine how you need to be perceived in order to move to the next phase of your career journey.  Some feedback that I have received is that I need to be “less casual” and that I often give less informed input on “technical topics.”    I can rationalize both of them, but in the end it is all about how I am perceived. With that in mind, I am trying to determine if what my coach has said are “just small changes to my approach,” or are these really behaviors that will be much more difficult for me to change.

I would like to think that my casualness is an asset in that I treat all levels of the organization with equal respect, from the night janitor who I see often to the CEO who I see less often. I will continue to smile and interact in the same casual manner. As for the input on technical topics, I have found that it is very effective when in a discussion with highly technical individuals to ask a dumb question or make a seemingly less informed statement. This normally causes them to rise to the occasion and explain what is really happening in terms that any layman can understand. It challenges them to think and interact in a different manner. I call this “get the crayons out” we’re going to talk to Doris.

My commitment is to finish reading the books and continue meeting with my coach.  Once I have done that, I will then determine how I can make some changes in my behaviors and personal brand. I would like to invite you to give me your thoughts on my strengths and weaknesses. Please feel free to email them to me at doris.amstutz@sage.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, just write them on a slip of paper and slip it under my office door.

Oh and to close the “old dog” comment, here is an article from Cathy Perme that I find puts it all into perspective. http://www.cmperme.com/pdf/cmp0513.pdf

It’s Not What You Said, It’s What They Understood That Matters.

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Use anything you can think of to understand and be understood, and you’ll discover the creativity that connects you with others. Martha Beck

 

 

Last week I had the privilege of having dinner with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, two people I very much admire. They live in Mexico where they, along with a few local staff and numerous volunteers, continue to run the Genesis International Orphanage Foundation, GIOF. It is always fun to hear the latest stories about the children and the adventures they share that are a part of the day-to-day life for GIOF. One story hit home for me as being applicable for all of us in how we communicate.

Greg was sharing how he was working with the Niño’s cleaning up the dishes after dinner. He was using this as an opportunity to work on his Spanish, the product of many books, tapes, classes, immersion, and exposure daily to the language. He was doing very well. He said, “primero raspar los platos” (first you scrape the dishes), “luego te lavas los platos” (then you wash the dishes), and “y luego te desnudas” (and then you rinse). Now, when he got to the rinse part, he was a bit unsure of the proper word to use for ‘rinse’. Greg asked Gabriella, the GOIF director who is a local, how to pronounce ‘rinse’ in Spanish to which she responded “de enjuagar.” Greg then pronounced it the way that he heard it, “te desnudes.” All the children stopped what they were doing and, with mouths open, just stared at Greg. If that wasn’t enough of an indication that something was wrong, the red flush and look on Gabriella’s face as she came up beside him and said, “Oh no, you will need to apologize to the orphanage director”, was even greater.  Greg said, “Why? What? I just repeated what you told me.” Gabriella quickly replied, “No Greg. What I said was ‘de enjuagar’. You said ‘te desnudes’, which means to get naked!” Of course, by this time the children were all laughing and repeating in sing-song fashion, “now they would all get naked.” You know how impressionable young children are and they never forget and always repeat everything. Oh wow, what had Greg done?

Let me stop for a minute and give you some background information. GIOF works with many orphanages and indigenous groups throughout Baja Mexico. All of them have religious affiliation and can often be considered conservative by American standards.  This particular orphanage could be considered more conservative than most and Gabriella and Greg had been working very hard to have GIOF leave a good impression. I am sure that as Gabriella heard Greg tell the Niño’s that after they washed the dishes then they should “get naked” she swiftly saw all of that hard work being flushed down the drain of misunderstanding.  Fortunately, the orphanage directors had a sense of humor and understood Greg’s unintended transgression from his translation. I think the swift apology helped.

After I finished laughing at Greg’s story, I started thinking about the many times I have made unfortunate misses in communication myself. I just don’t have the excuse of translating from English to Spanish.  While I do try to get verbal confirmation that what I said or meant to convey was heard and understood, it is easy to assume that the receiving party is on the same page. The final step of hearing them confirm back with the action they will take often times gets missed. This is especially important when working with someone for the first time. There are so many subtle ways to interpret things that until you have worked together for a while it is difficult to ensure that what you said was really what they heard. This is especially important for those of us who live in a world of technical terms, local jargon, and of course the ever-present acronyms.

It was a pleasure to reconnect with Greg and his wife Patti and to find that no matter what you do every day we all can, at times, face the same challenges in communicating effectively. So when I am working with someone for the first time, I will from now on think of Greg and his “get naked” faux pas.  This will be a humorous reminder to me to make sure that I get confirmation that what I said was indeed what they heard and what I intended to communicate.

For more information about GIOF visit http://www.giof.org/support_giof.html

Follow Your Dreams

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‘It’s our choices, Harry,
that show us what we really are…
far more than our abilities.’

~ Albus Dumbledore from ‘ Harry Potter’ by J K Rowling ~

Thanks to all of the feedback I received on my post last week, I did entertain the Junior Achievement students with the story of my first job.  After letting them know I was fired and why, I went on to explain to them that had I found out early what was expected of me it probably would have gone much differently. When I was sharing this story with them, I thought it best to also let them know that my first professional job was much more successful. I was a legal secretary and worked with I.B.M. Wow that made an impression, until I told them to beware of acronyms. I.B.M. in this case stood for the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Well the students were still impressed, maybe more impressed than before.  I went on to explain that my employer, in addition to being an attorney, was also a magician and that he held the position of International Secretary for this I.B.M. In that role he was responsible for publishing and collecting the subscription fees for their monthly magazine, The Linking Ring.

Thinking back on my legal secretary days, I had an opportunity to hone my typing and shorthand skills, learn some basic accounting, multi-currency, banking, and money management. Additionally I learned how to run the Linotype machine. For you youngsters, think large metal monster clang and bang late into the night just to get the mailing of the magazine out.  What took me days now takes only a few hours using an Outlook Address book and Mail Merge. Oh how life has changed.

Enough about the metal monster of magazine mailing. The lesson I learned that has stuck with me and still is of value today is that you really can live your dreams. Let me give you some background on my attorney boss. He was a friend of my mothers and came from an upstanding “farming family.” He was a big guy one you might term as a “gentle giant.” His hands were large and calloused from bailing hay all summer and he also had the misfortune to be born with a club foot.  His boyhood desire was to escape the farming life and tour the world as a magician. For those of you who have tried a magic trick or two you will know how important it is to move quickly and have “sleight of hand.” He realized early on that neither of these two most important skills would ever be within his capabilities. Wanting to escape the farm, he studied hard and got a scholarship to Ohio State University and went on to study law and sit for the bar exam. Still a small town boy at heart, he returned home and setup his law practice.

Never forgetting his early dreams, he decided that he still could do some magic so he joined the I.B.M. and performed magic tricks at children’s parties. He used his business acumen to benefit the Brotherhood and for many years held his International Secretary position, publishing and distributing The Linking Ring.  I have many fond memories of those days in that tiny office and the clanging banging Linotype. Today when I look back I realized that he did not give up on his dream, he just let it take on a slightly different form. In doing that he brought a lot of smiles to children’s faces, touched the lives of many budding magicians in far off lands, and helped one very impressionable girl understand that you should never give up on your dream.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

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“I think everyone should experience defeat at least once during their career. You learn a lot from it.” -Lou Holtz

This week has been a trip down memory lane. Let me just say that it is a very long lane and went all the way back to when I got my first job as a waitress. The pay was awesome, a whole 75 cents an hour. That was a super raise from the 50 cents per hour I had been earning from babysitting.  My days as a waitress at the local diner were not long-lived, they were cut short by my behavior. Well, no one had bothered to tell me that I couldn’t clock out for my lunch break at noon to sit and eat with my mother. Humph guess they thought I would just have enough sense to know not to take a break at the busiest time of the day. Who knew that they would fire me for such an innocent offense? Oh well, my second job was way better – frying chicken at the Hardin County Fair where they loved me and I made a whopping $1.25 per hour.

Let me put this trip down memory lane in context. I am hosting a Junior Achievement (JA) Job Shadow Day here at our offices next week. As a part of that, we held a “lunch and learn” session for the staff who volunteered to be the JA job shadow hosts so that they could understand the agenda for the day and learn what was expected of them as a host. During that meeting the JA Program Manager showed a few great video’s. One of them was, “Make a Difference in the Life of a Child” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZLeBFNIUVo ( to learn more about Junior Achievement in Orange County visit http://jaoc.org/) .

While we were having our lunch, we started discussing our first job experiences and how much we did not know about the work world.  For some of the hosts, their trips down memory lane was much shorter than mine, but in every case we remembered how much we didn’t know then compared to where we are at today. This helped us put in context what we could do as hosts for the students. Modeling professional behavior, showing enthusiasm for our work and for the company, and answering the students questions will all be a part of the day. Especially explaining to the students how we got to where we are today. Some of us have taken a very circuitous route to get to the positions we currently hold. This brought me to the memories of a few of my first jobs. I can say that I have learned a bit since then.  One, it is important to understand what is expected of you on the job, two, it is important to show up for work on time and ready to work, and three, repeat one and two each and every day.  The rest is just good manners, be kind, be trustworthy, be respectful, and be a team player.

So it is with excitement that I am looking forward to our Junior Achievement Job Shadow Day.  We will have over fifty students visiting from two different local high schools along with a few teachers. What a great opportunity this is for our staff and the students.  However, I don’t think I will share with the students my first job experience or maybe on the other hand I should. What do you think?

Leading Through Change

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
Winston S. Churchill

When chatting with one of my management friends the other day, he expressed the sentiment that the staff was frustrated by the constant change. Changes in our organization structure, changes in our product direction, changes in our project plans, changes to our insurance options, you name it, if it had “change” in the sentence it was a source of frustration.

While I empathized with the confusion that change can cause in the short-term, I expressed my thought that it is up to us as a leadership team to be able to understand, explain, and stand behind the reason for these changes. Most change is a response to the current business climate and/or our customers changing needs. We all live in a world of constant change and that change is coming faster than ever before. As a leader it is our responsiblity to be able to articulate and paint the vision of the future so that our staff can understand where we are headed.

In an effort to find others who thought as I did, I used my friendly tool Google, and I found the following blog on leadership during change. I’ve include the link along with a short excerpt. http://www.greatleadershipbydan.com/2012/04/how-leaders-can-build-change-friendly.html

“..Think Sherpa. Leaders today need to focus less on traditional methods of strategy and more on preparing people for a very different kind of technical climb: Achieving and sustaining competitive advantage amidst short life cycles. The climb requires more than good equipment. It’s mental as much as physical. A storm or unpredictable conditions can strike at any moment. Leaders must exhibit fearlessness to show people how to expect, notice and respond to anything…”

In this blog the authors outline the five characteristics that leaders must have in order to build a culture that embraces change; Clarity, role models, right-sizing empowerment, bias to act for the customer, and procreate DNA. This last characteristic is not about selection of the right spouse in order to have the best and brightest children, but it is about your company culture. Building a culture that is “change-friendly” and then systematically passing that on in the DNA of the business culture is important to the continued success of your business.  In order to do this, we must consciously build a positive workplace culture and pass that along to the next generation of leaders.

After reviewing the characteristics, I would substitute the “right-sizing empowerment” with “build smart trust.”  This week I listened to a dialog with Steve Covey, Jr. on this topic  detailed in his new book, “Smart Trust.” This book sits on my iPad and as I write this I am looking at it’s predecessor “The Speed Of Trust” on my book shelf (pre-iPad days).  The speed of trust topic is around why trust is so important from a business level and how having trust can speed the decision-making process, speed time to market, and ultimately contribute to profitability for the business. Covey details the five types of trust; self, relationship, organizational, market, and societal.  In the second book, “Smart Trust” he goes on to discuss the balance that we as leaders must strive for between the risk and possibilities, character and competence when we increase trust within our organizations. I think both of these books should be required reading for anyone in a leadership position.

Back to the conversation with my management friend, when faced with staff members who are frustrated, I would suggest that first you should be glad that your staff is comfortable coming to you to discuss the issue and then second make sure that you understand the real source of their frustration.  If it is change in general rather than a specific change that has impacted them in their personal or work life, then ensure that you understand and can present the reason for the change in a positive supportive manner and at the same time use this as an opportunity to discuss the changing climate that we live in today. If on the other hand the change is specific, then depending on what the change is, determine how you can help them deal with that change and support them as they come to terms with the impact that it is having on them.

For myself, I have seen more change in the last five years of my professional life than I have in all of the prior years combined. I too have been frustrated at times, but I can say that having clarity around the reason for these changes and understanding the vision for the future did ease if not banish the frustration.  When reflecting on the quote above from Winston Churchill, I now just look at all of this change as my opportunity to work  toward perfection.

Developing Character Muscles

“We develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.” Stephen R. Covey

What do Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox have in common? They both share the struggles associated with having Parkinson’s disease.

When I read an article this week about Michael J. Fox and the fact that April is Parkinson’s awareness month, I was reminded of the quote by Stephen Covey.  I’ve read the book, Lucky Man, by Fox and I am inspired by his continued positive attitude. Where most of us would use this disease as a reason to hide away or give up entirely, he has not let this disease stop him and has continued to be productive. Since he wrote Lucky Man, Fox has gone on to fight his battle with Parkinson’s and has even written two other books, Always Look Up: The Adventures Of An Incurable Optimist and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Future….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciBMG3WOhIc&feature=relmfu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_x79kYAks4&feature=related

I have not read either of these books, but intend to put them on my priority reading list.

While Fox may have many of his muscles taxed and weakened by his disease, he certainly has strengthened and built up his “character muscles.”  Most of us fortunately will not face a devastating illness like Parkinson’s, but when we do experience the setbacks and challenges of day-to-day life, I think it is important to put them into perspective and always maintain a positive attitude.  As I said in a prior blog, I am a glass overflowing type of person, but even I need the occasional reminder and inspiration from folks like Michael J. Fox.

Just as the steel blade is tempered and made stronger by the heat of the fire, all of us should come out a bit stronger after facing the fires of day-to-day life. Having a positive attitude not only makes things easier to deal with, but it also makes us easier to work with – well at least I hope it makes the doer in me easier to work with, I’ll let you be the judge.

So when you face the next challenge in your personal life or the next Fire Drill at work, take a deep breath and think of Ali and Fox and put your challenges into perspective. At the end of the day, remember how you handle yourself during these moments is not only what leaves a lasting impression, but just the fact that you have had these experiences is making you stronger.

As I think of all the people I know who suffer from Parkinson’s, I am humbled by their continued drive and determination.

Being A Doer

 Last week I said I should title this “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” but decided that this would not do justice to the strengths of the Doer.   I did, however, want to pay homage to the nick name (Taz) that my daughter gave me many years ago.  After yet another stress filled morning getting three teenagers off to school, did I say they were all girls? My daughter started calling me Taz. This was probably due to my frenzied flinging of school books, lunch bags, cans of hair spray, and various articles of unmentionable clothing that were strewn about the house. All of this as I had to fight for the bathroom to get ready for work and eat my breakfast on the run. You can easily see how I earned my name and of course why my pants were often on backwards.

 I would like to say that I am different in my work life than I am at home, but when the pressure of work projects looms out comes the Taz in me.   As you know from my earlier blog, we Doer’s get a lot done, but sometimes at the expense of dead bodies left in our wake. 

When brought to our attention that we may have caused a bit of an issue as we voraciously chewed through a problem, we Doer’s are usually confused as to why anyone is upset because after all we did get the job done. And very quickly at that! So all Doer’s be forewarned while you may accomplish a lot you need to keep the battlefield clear of bodies.

ImageNow in case you think that I am a real “piece of work,” please remember that I am not a Doer all of the time just when I am under pressure. When I am working along as I am today just getting things done at a normal pace, I am really a thinker. I had plenty of time to get ready for work this morning (the girls are all grown and gone) and my pants have that knife-edge crease in them. I am operating in my best thinker mode pondering all the different detailed ways to write this blog and get my points across. As you can tell, I do love pictures and still identify with the Taz.

ImageI’d like to also add that when the conditions are very favorable I can switch into my Feeler mode.  This is when I walk around the office and chat with folks and find out how they are doing, what their children are up to, and maybe even invite someone to walk across the street for a Starbuck’s. More on this next week as I share a bit about the Feelers among us. Perhaps I should dub them more politically correctly and call them the “Connectors.”