November 20, 2015

Does Thanksgiving Stress You Out?




It may just be me but I find Thanksgiving to be stressful. It started when I got my first job and I had to work the day after Thanksgiving. While everyone else seemed to be at the stores, I was stuck in my office. I stressed over whether to take a vacation day, whether to cut out early or whether to just grin and bear being an average American worker with limited time off.

As the years have gone by, there are so many additional aspects of Thanksgiving that stress me out -- the cooking, the setting up and cleaning up. And, of course there's the family dynamics to fret about. Someone is bound to say something that offends someone else. I have seen a simple compliment of a recipe lead to a big brouhaha.

This year, my husband is stressed over potentially overeating. He's trying to lose weight by year end and already is worrying that he won't be able to resist pumpkin pie. 

I have friends that are stressed over Thanksgiving travel. This year, travel experts predict more than the average travel craziness so there's good reason to be stressed.

I have friends in retail that are stressed about having to work on Thanksgiving and others who are stressed about whether or not to cut their holiday short and shop the sales.

Of course, even with all this stress, most of us need to realize that we have a lot to be grateful for. At a time when the world seems to be volatile, we are fortunate to be able to find a sense of peace and hope. 

I offer these five tips for making it through Thanksgiving with the least amount of stress possible.

1. Smile and nod. There is very little you can do to control your relatives. However, you can control how you respond to them. The other thing to remember is that when it comes to conflicts between family members, they don't necessarily need to involve you. Don't take sides and don't assume it's your job to resolve those conflicts on Thanksgiving. Practice self-control. Smile and nod and don't let anyone ruin your day.

2. Make your life easier. Order what you can. Make what you can. Ask for help with the dishes. Use paper, plastic and foil. If someone doesn't think your holiday meal is fancy enough, let them shop, cook and clean up.

3. Enjoy your company. My young cousin was around to celebrate Thanksgiving last year. This year he is gone. His death certainly made me more appreciative of the people at my holiday table and made me realize I want to make my meal last as long as possible. I can hit the sales the next day.

4. Take a walk. Let's face it, we probably will eat more than we should on Thanksgiving. We probably will find travel exhausting and we probably will deviate from our normal exercise routine. But taking a walk is an amazing stress reliever and great bonding time with family members. Do it, you won't be sorry!

5. Make a pact. Agree going into the Thanksgiving weekend that you will not argue -- not with your spouse, your friends, your parents, your cashier, the jerk in the parking lot who takes your spot or the pushy customer who butts in line in front of you. Telling yourself (and reminding yourself) you will stay zen regardless of what craziness you encounter will lead to a much more enjoyable holiday weekend.

Do you find Thanksgiving stressful? Have retailers added to our stress levels or made it easier by starting sales earlier?

October 27, 2015

REI's Work Life Balance Move Gets a Big Thumbs Up

I already loved shopping at REI and now I love the outdoor/sporting goods company's CEO. REI President and CEO Jerry Stritzke announced he will close its stores on Black Friday and give all of the company's 12,000 employees a paid day off to enjoy the beautiful outdoors. 

Wow! What an amazing idea! It's not only an endorsement for the products his company sells, it also says something about his commitment to work life balance.

While its online sales will remain open, no sales will be processed until the next day. There will be a message on the corporate website encouraging people to spend time outside.  With the hashtag #OptOutside, REI will ask people to share what they're doing on Black Friday on social media. REI is hoping to convince consumers to start a new Black Friday tradition, one that encourages relaxation and fitness over stress and consumerism.

"Any retailer that hears this will be startled by the idea," says REI President and CEO Jerry Stritzke, who admits he was apprehensive about closing at first. "As a co-op ... we define success a little differently. It's much broader than just money. How effectively do we get people outside?"

Jerry Stritzke is taking a big gamble by closing on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. But it's a gamble I think will pay off. Imagine the good will he is creating with employees and customers who understand the message he is sending. 

"Somebody has to be the one to kind of put their flag in the sand and say enough is enough,"  Brian Harrower, store manager at the REI in Bloomington, Minn.,told USA Today. "That's what #OptOutside is for us, is saying we're going to be the first, we think this doesn't make sense anymore, it's not healthy. And an outdoor life is a healthy life."

Of course, the idea of closing on Black Friday was enthusiastically embraced by REI employees.

Here is Stritzke on CBS News on why the company is closing its stores on Black Friday:


"There's more to be gained from brand identity and showing our values than the money we will make on that one day!" he said.

What do think of REI's announcement? Do you think other retailers should do the same thing?

October 16, 2015

Avra Jain: I Love What I Do! (What that really means)

                                      (Avra Jain in lobby of The Vagabond Hotel Miami)


How many times have you heard this?

"Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally."

I have heard it dozens of times and yesterday, I saw and heard exactly what it means when I met Avra Jain.

Yesterday, I moderated a lively panel discussion for attorneys on branding at the Women's International Network's (WIN) Workshop at the Vagabond Hotel Miami. (WIN is part of the International Network of Boutique Law Firms) Prior to my panel, during our intimate lunch at the beautifully renovated hotel, the guest speaker was owner/developer of the property Avra Jain, founder of The Vagabond Group.

When I pulled into the hotel parking lot, it was like arriving at an oasis. The area around the hotel is in transition. But the boutique hotel itself is a gem. It has a chic lobby with a restaurant and bar. The story behind the hotel's redevelopment is inspiring, and so is Avra Jain. 

Avra came to Miami from New York and saw potential in an area no one else did. With financial backing from friends and family, she  bought the 1953 hotel, pressed for the area to be designated historic, used transfer of development rights to her advantage and pioneered the rebirth of Miami’s MiMo district. She also has bought additional properties in the historic area, figuring out when to restore and when to rebuild. 

Several times while telling us her story, Avra excitedly told the audience: I Love What I Do!

Even if she hadn't said it, we could tell. 

As a writer, I talk to hundreds of people about what they do for a living and I can tell in their voices when they love what they do. When I hear the sound of excitement and enthusiasm for all that's ahead, I know that person is going to be successful, regardless of the obstacles in his or her path. 

Avra's career path sets her apart: She is a woman who understands finances and construction. She has a degree in industrial engineering from Purdue and experience as a bond trader on Wall Street. "That helps me because I know how much you can lose," she said. 

Already, Avra has earned a reputation for identifying the next "it" neighborhood. Her vision, and ability to attract investors, has resulted in 26 boutique projects that range from converting a 100,000 square foot warehouse to luxury loft condominiums in New York's Tribeca neighborhood to the remake of The Vagabond, from decrepit motel to quaint hotel on Miami's Biscayne Boulevard. At The Vagabond, Jain spent a lot of time on site during redevelopment -- she gave directions, negotiated with vendors, and even installed fixtures herself.

"I love historic properties," Avra told us, explaining how important it is to work with others in the neighborhoods she goes into. "We always leave a little on the table for the community. I do that by buying right."

Avra recently has bought up property in Miami's Little River neighborhood, where she has plans to do some more renovations. At 52, Avra says she is not as naive as she was when she first started out, having learned about working around obstacle and persevering toward your vision. "I'm really lucky I love what I do," she repeated.

Even with all this vision and career accomplishment, Avra called her 10-year-old daughter Alexandra,  "my greatest accomplishment." (That really made me like this woman!)

Avra says much more change in Miami is on the horizon. I believe her and I would say Avra is going to be a force for change for years to come. My big takeaway:  When you love what you do, others can see it and that can take you far!

October 09, 2015

The crazy chores we find relaxing




I'm clearing the dinner table and urging my son to hurry up and get changed for Lacrosse practice. At the same time, I'm telling my husband that if he hurries he will have just enough time to shed his suit, put on shorts and get our son to the field. Meanwhile, I now have all the dishes in the kitchen sink and something happens next that takes me by surprise.

I'm pouring soap on the sponge, scraping food off the plates  and I feel  -- dare I say it -- a little more relaxed. 

When I read a recent article on that said washing dishes can significantly lower your stress level—if you do it mindfully, I was taken aback. Really, chores are relaxing???? They must be kidding!

Yet, with most of us trying to do a million things at once to achieve work life balance, I have to admit that mundane household tasks do give me a chance to slow my life down. 

In a recent study quoted by Time,  researchers found that people who washed dishes mindfully (they focused on smelling the soap, feeling the water temperature and touching the dishes) upped their feelings of inspiration by 25% and lowered their nervousness levels by 27%. “It appears that an everyday activity approached with intentionality and awareness may enhance the state of mindfulness,” the study authors conclude.

Do you know what other chore relaxes me? (Please don't think I'm insane!) Making my kids' lunches. I have a formula for packing lunch that I follow every night. I usually make lunches when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet and I put thought into kids preferences and giving them variety. I guess you could say I do the task mindfully. So, I agree there is something to the notion that doing a mundane task mindfully can be relaxing.



But I guess the bigger issue is that we're all so stressed by doing so much at once that simple chores are the new stress relievers. Look at the other things we're latching onto to relieve our stress -- aromatherapy, yoga, meditation, mindfulness. Stress relief has become a giant business. And still, we're suffering from tension headaches, weight gain and burn out. What a sad state of affairs!

Of course, now that I'm aware of the ultimate stress reliever, I'm going to volunteer to do the dishes more often. Who needs a massage when I can scrub a plate clean and restore harmony to my life?

Be honest, do you find dishwashing relaxing? Is there another chore that relaxes you more? 

September 21, 2015

Better boss, or pay raise?



One day, all three of my kids had the stomach flu. It was the same day I needed to turn in a article to appear in our Business Monday section. Being late would mean more work for my editor.But he didn't hesitate when I told him what was going on in my home. "Don't worry," he said. "Just do what you need to do at home." I ended up turning the story in on time. And, I think my editor knew I would. But having him say that to me made me appreciate where I worked and for whom I worked. 

We all know a boss can make or break your ability to balance work and family. He or she can also make or break whether you like your job. 

A new study produced by HR consulting firm Randstad U.S. shows that workers in the U.S. would trade salary increases for a better boss. More than a quarter of respondents (28%) to the survey said they would rather have a better boss manage them than have a $5,000 raise. 

Because most of us spend more of our valuable waking hours at work than anywhere else, having a boss who respects your life outside of work is worth more than $5,000 as far as I'm concerned.

Jim Link, chief HR officer for Randstad North America. "41% of employees don't believe their employees help them achieve work-life balance and 39% don't feel their managers encourage them to utilize vacation time. Therefore, bosses who proactively encourage workers to unplug, unwind and truly leave work behind to enjoy time off will be looked upon as workplace heroes."

Just last week a friend called me, exasperated. Her boss had called a mandatory staff meeting at 7:30 a.m. (An awful time for parents of young children) At the meeting, her boss rambled without a set agenda and no real point. "I love what I do but I can't take working for this woman anymore," my friend said. 

How do you deal with a horrible boss? How do you know when it's time to quit? For me, it's time when you absolutely dread going to work. Here are more Telltale Signs It's Time To Quit Your Job.

Yes, there are ways to handle a bad boss. As Forbes points out: "However fixed in their ways your boss may be, you can always learn ways to better manage him or her."  Of course, it is not easy and the process might not seem worth the effort.

So when you put it out there...better boss, or pay raise? I'd take the better boss. How about you?


September 17, 2015

How to survive a business lunch as a vegetarian

Years ago, I went on a business lunch with my co-worker and a banker. Half way into the lunch, she revealed that she kept a strict kosher diet. I hadn't realized that she had carefully selected both the place we went to and what she had chosen for lunch. What amazed me was that the woman regularly went on business lunches and somehow managed to stick to her kosher diet.

It couldn't have been easy!

A few weeks ago I thought of this co-worker when I got a phone call from Ana Marquez, a senior account executive with RBB Communications in Miami. Ana explained to me that it has been a struggle for her to stay a vegan because of all the business dining she does. "When a client invites you to lunch, you can't always dictate what they give you for food," she explained. 

Think about this scenario a vegetarian commenter wrote on a blog: "I have a lot of business lunches and when the discussion - 'oh why did you order that, you should try.....' it is sometimes difficult to come up with something diplomatic, to not sound like you are judging their choice - which is how so many people hear any explanation...." 

When we go to work, we bring our whole selves and that includes our eating habits and beliefs Sometimes, it's a struggle to make your work life and personal life fit together. Today my guest blogger is Larry Rice , president of Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami Campus. Four years ago he adopted a plant-based lifestyle after learning about its health benefits. It has been a challenge.  

Larry rice

About four years ago, I made a lifestyle change that has changed even the most simple business lunch with colleagues: I began following a plant-based, loosely known as vegan, diet.

Since I started this journey, rarely a week goes by without the following question from peers, colleagues, friends, extended family, and of course the occasional brave souls who just can’t help themselves when they notice something is missing from my plate.  They ask, “Do you miss eating ‘real food’?”  I think I disappoint many with my usual response, “Not ever.”   

My greatest challenges when I transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle were the social changes among the people within my circle of influence. I was not prepared for, nor did I understand, to what extent eating animals protein had been a part of my culture and identity.

My supportive wife and two daughters began this journey with me. Some of my colleagues, including my assistant, also follow a plant-based diet. Yet, it was shocking how many acquaintances and colleagues noticed.  No matter how discrete I was, whenever I would join others for lunch or dinner, I found myself having to explain, sometimes in great detail, why I was no longer eating animal products.

These days, my challenges come from dining out for work.  My job requires me to participate in many business meetings over lunch or dinner, so I can offer a few friendly dining etiquette tips which are helpful whether you are following a special diet, or dining with someone who is doing so.

  1. Always remember the art of dining out is about the fellowship or establishing connections. Don't let your eating preference (or your colleague’s) hijack the conversation.
  2. Don't be defensive or evasive when asked questions. Colleagues may innocently ask how you vary your diet or get certain nutrients. They may also divulge their interest in eating plant-based a few days a week and ask for restaurant recommendations. Be willing to share.
  3. Take initiative. When meeting colleagues for lunch or dinner meetings, I'm often asked to select the restaurant either out of consideration for my lifestyle, or because colleagues want to try a completely plant-based meal.
  4. Be patient with the server. Many servers confuse vegetarianism, veganism, and plant-based.

Today, there are a number of great resources out there to educate people who are considering a plant-based lifestyle. The book Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease, along with the documentary Forks Over Knives and the CNN special “The Last Heart Attack,” prompted my interest in plant-based cuisine and helped me develop the lifestyle I follow today. I have also been fortunate to work at Johnson & Wales University, where colleagues in our College of Culinary Arts are a great source of information.

What’s most important, in both my personal and professional interactions, is that I see my diet to be a change in lifestyle and a personal choice. People have to make choices that are right for them. As such, I am always willing to have a conversation, but I am mindful that I should not impose my views on others.

Ana told me recently she has expanded her vegan diet and become a vegetarian, giving her more food options for business lunches. The good news is that slowly, the restaurant industry is offering more choices to customers including more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, she says. For people who dine out for business and have diet restrictions, it's still a challenge. But Ana says, it is becoming more doable!



September 02, 2015

Always busy? It's time to reclaim your work life balance

Last night I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned thinking about everything I needed to get done. While my husband snored, I grabbed my iPad and piled tasks on my digital to-do list. Now, I am starting my day tired and if anyone dares to ask me how life is going, I will respond: BUSY!

 Are you busy, too?  By that, I mean are you juggling, cramming, rushing and feeling exhausted?

 We are all busy because that's life today. But maybe there's something else going on. Maybe we just haven’t figured out a better way to work and live.   

I just finished reading How To Thrive In A World of Too Much Busy by Tony Crabbe and found myself thinking differently about my struggle with work life balance and our society’s addiction to being busy.

Crabbe says we are busy because we're not making the tough choices. We choose skimming email rather than grappling with a complex project because it's the easy, busy activity. We steal attention from real relationships while we keep ourselves busy on social networks. Beating busy is simple, he says. It's about focusing on the things that matter.

 Here are some suggestion Crabbe gives to gain control over our lives and find a better work life balance. 

1. Say no to a request or ask permission to delay a deadline by using the word “because.” If you use "because" in your request, your argument will be seen as more rational and acceptable.


2. Be deliberate when you check email. Set specific times and do it in a focused way rather than grazing.


3. Identify at least one meeting that you can cancel or simply not attend.


4. Next time you are asked to do something, assess how much spare time you have and half it. Then assess how long you think the new task will take and double it.  Now you can make a better informed judgment whether to take it on.


5. Get better at making good choices. If we choose to fill our calendar with more, more, more, we are choosing not to have time to think -- and that isn't effective. Resist feeling you have to fill up all your time at work or home.


6. Make intentional choices. The primary driver for choosing activities at work and home should be internal "what do I want to achieve?"


7. Over-invest your time and attention in the 15 most important people in your life.


Here are some great questions to ask yourself:

What could I do less of to enjoy life more?

What is the “I’m too busy” excuse stopping me from doing?

What is one small step I could take to go from being frenetically busy to being happy?


Making behavior changes is hard. It’s much easier to walk around thinking we have to do more and convince ourselves we need to be more productive. By being busy, we actually get to feel productive while procrastinating.

Have you ever really thought about whether you are addicted to being busy? Have you ever stopped to look at whether you're getting it wrong?


August 18, 2015

A life-changing, must-read book

Recently while on vacation, I browsed in one of Portland's largest bookstores called Powell's. On the shelf of best sellers, I saw a title that intrigued me. The book is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I found it odd that a book with that title would be on the best sellers list. I remembered that one of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, had written a post about the book. How could I resist buying it!

I spent the plane ride home devouring the book. By the time I landed, I was energized and ready to purge the clutter in my home. What's unique about this book written by Marie Kondo is that it recommends a single-shot, all out purge of anything that doesn't bring you joy to wear or inspiration to own. Kondo believes reducing the amount of stuff in our homes makes us feel more energetic and can even lead to weight loss and lifestyle change. She also believes when you clear clutter, you can find what you are truly passionate about.

Kondo gives a great example: When one of her clients de-cluttered her bookcase, the IT professional saw the remaining books on her shelf that inspired her were about x and realized what she really wanted to do. She spent a year preparing and then quit her job and started a childcare company.

Over the last few days, I have filled about a dozen garbage bags with stuff from my closet, drawers and shelves. I haven't finished. As part of the process, I rearranged the order of items in my closet to create a system that helps me get out the door faster. I already feel different.

I admit, I'm a saver. But there really is something rewarding about discarding and then organizing all at once. It is unbelievably helpful to see clearly what you need in life and what you don't, once you get into the right mindset.

For all of us, the goal in purging our clutter is less stress looking for things and more time with people who make us happy. Thanks to Kondo, I have a new recipe for work life balance: Get rid of stuff I don’t use, need or that doesn’t bring me joy and surround myself with what makes me happy such as a new project at work or an old pair of shoes.

We hang on to stuff because we have an attachment to the past or anxiety about the future, according to Kondo. She explains that by figuring out what we need now, at this moment, we will gain confidence in our decisions and be able to achieve much more at home and work. We will be closer to work life balance.

Who knew there was so much to be gained from tidying up?



 (Just the beginning of my tidying spree!)




July 31, 2015

The surprising life of a childcare worker

The cost of caring for a child in America keeps rising, but childcare workers' salaries are not. What's it like to take care of someone else's kid all day while you are being paid subpar wages for your work?

I don't usually post pieces that are political, but this is a topic that affects all of us who care about the next generation of children and the people who care for them while their parents hold jobs. Today, I'm thrilled to have a guest blogger/childcare worker give us some insight into what it's like for her. Her name is LiAnne Flakes, she is 40 and has been working in child care for 22 years. She currently works at the Bible Base Fellowship Childcare Center in Tampa and makes $10.75 an hour.


LiAnne Flakes

(LiAnne at an event outside the U.S. Capitol)

Here is LiAnne's story:

After working in child care for 22 years, I’ve seen firsthand how our broken child care system is holding our communities and our families back. Working parents can’t afford quality care, and child care workers can’t cover rent, groceries and basic bills for our families.

Each day, I care for and teach eight children between 10 months and 3-years-old, making sure that they eat healthy, learn to socialize and play and learn new words and songs. But I’m paid just $10.75 an hour to take care of our country’s most precious resource – our children. That means I can’t afford a car and health insurance.

Most child care workers are among the lowest paid workers in cities around the country. To be able to go to the grocery store is a luxury for me. Right now, my fridge is pretty empty – the last time I was able to buy groceries was about a month ago. 

Sadly, though, many parents are in the same situation, as far as not getting paid enough to afford rent, food and healthcare and relying on public assistance to survive. We’re in a system that’s not working for anyone – parents, children or child care workers. 

That’s why I joined the Fight for $15, and am joining with parents and our political leaders to call for a stronger child care system a $15 an hour wage for all child care workers.

Outside the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, I stood with parents, workers and members of Congress to announce a bold plan for a stable, reliable child care system and a stronger workforce that has the pay, training and support we need to provide the best care possible. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici said at the event, “Families need a reliable and affordable child care system that’s available when they need it. And importantly, the care should be provided by skilled child care workers who are paid enough to support their families,”

In DC this week, I met child care workers, parents and families who are also struggling to juggle bills and make sure their kids are happy and safe when they are at work. She’tara Brown, a mother of three who works at the Dollar Tree in Tampa, and is paid $8.05 an hour told me that affordable care would change her life. Right now, her mom takes care of her 6-year-old and 3-year-old daughters and her 4-year-old son because she can’t afford center-based care. She told me, “I work so hard. But with what I’m making, I can’t support my kids. My check is $170 every two weeks. After lights, rent and necessities for my kids – like school supplies – I have nothing.”

I want to have children someday, but sometimes I think it’s a blessing that I don’t have any right now. It’s one thing if I go hungry, but an entirely different matter if a child doesn’t have enough to eat. The fact is too many families are working hard each day but can’t pay the bills like me and She’tara.  

Starting next week, child care providers, parents and members of Congress will be holding roundtables and town halls to discuss  policies that strengthen the childcare workforce and invest in affordable quality care. In the Fight for $15 we have already been taking our recommendations to elected leaders. In May, parents and child care workers met with Hillary Clinton to talk about what we need to provide the best care without living in poverty.

It hurts our entire community when hard-working parents can’t make ends meet and child care workers live in constant stress and anxiety about where to get their next meal. It’s time we had a child care system that supported all families and working parents – those who provide and those who need child care.



July 21, 2015

Should you check your email on Saturday?

A friend, a senior executive for a pharmaceutical company, told me he has made a rule for himself. He doesn't check email on Saturday. He said he set the rule because he would check, see an email that needed action, but felt it was wrong to reach out on the weekend to the people he needed to contact to resolve a matter. Then, he would spend his Saturday aggravated about the unresolved issue.

Since he stopped checking emails on Saturdays, he says he is more relaxed. It's like he gave himself permission to enjoy his weekends and regain some work life balance. His wife, a teacher, is more relaxed, too. She doesn't have to worry that he's going to be steamed about a work concern while they are at the beach or on their boat. 

Listening to him, his email rule made sense. It wasn't that long ago that weekends were family time. There wasn't the expectation that we would react to work concerns on a Saturday -- unless we were in the office, specifically to handle a matter. While we've built an expectation of immediacy, my friend has found waiting until Monday to resolve an issue has given him time to think it through and approach it from a well-thought-out perspective. So far, nothing has been so urgent that waiting to respond to email Sunday night or Monday morning has been a problem. 

What are your thoughts on checking emails on Saturday? For so many of us, it's become a habit. Would you be able to abide by a "No email on Saturday" policy?