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Ashley Career

Bossy

My husband and I were walking through Old Town Alexandria recently and our conversation veered towards work. Out of nowhere he says, “Isn’t it weird how when men are successful leaders, everyone admires them and talks about how much they respect them, and when women are great leaders, people just think they’re bitches?” (Sorry for using French so early!) Dear husband of mine, it’s not just weird, it’s unfortunate and wrong.

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In a few years ago and, since Nick isn’t a reader, I imparted  as much of Sandberg’s wisdom as I could to him. On our walk, I reminded him about the Lean In movement and the unfortunate “bossy” tag we give women in leadership positions. I asked him how he would describe me and my leadership style. He used words like fiery, intense and “a little bit rage-like…” Whatever that means (though I envisioned a female version of Bernie Sanders). We laughed, and then I got serious. Not exactly what I was hoping to hear from the #1 man in my life.

Oddly enough, earlier that week, someone used some very different, very flattering adjectives to describe me: energetic, upbeat, approachable, and always smiling. Jackpot! …those comments came from a woman. Then, the very next day, another female coworker called me the “team mom.” I can hardly tell that story without choking on the words. I can’t win.

My husband is a wonderful man and great husband. He’s always proud of me, encourages me, isn’t afraid of my need for the spotlight, and he believes in me. He cheers me on to success and dares me to continuously do more, and do better. I adore that about him. But when he started describing my leadership style, I wondered if my husband, my biggest cheerleader, is using these descriptors, do other men view me that way?

Recently, after some recurring and tense interactions, my (male) boss confronted me so we could work it out. We calmly worked through the “whys” and addressed how we could work better together. He let something sneak into the conversation that made the recent frustrations on both ends make much more sense…“well, let’s face it, you’ve basically been running the team.” Bingo. It was a compliment, and yet maybe a warning. My leadership skills were too much for him to handle, and were overpowering my boss’ own management style. (Team mom, or faux boss?)

So what’s the deal?! How do I break free from the perceptions and the descriptors, that my male and female counterparts are attributing to my leadership style? I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m making some strong observations and hopefully will start to really stand on my own two feet as a leader. I do know that I’m grateful to be a part of history where the expectations of women have changed and we feel and are a part of real progress. I’m grateful that we can participate in a dialogue around the challenges we still have to overcome…and that we can do it over a glass of wine or bourbon, neat.

– Ashley Respecki

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Ashley Inside My Head

Embracing the Ugly Cry

January was one of the weirdest months I’ve experienced as an adult, and it was, without a doubt, a terrible way to kick off 2016. I should’ve known – my horoscope for the month was pretty clear: “Communication will be impossible this month,” and “people will misunderstand not just your words, but your actions as well…” I thought, psh, I’m a great communicator. Bring it on.

The misfires and layers of miscommunication were awful. Five days after my husband and I lost our beloved dog, my parents and younger sister (who’s 18, a senior in high school, and obviously still living at home) decided to welcome a brand new puppy to the family – same breed as the adored puppy we had just lost. Having never had an indoor pet (I’m not counting the random fish or multitude of hamsters I had as an only child until the age of 8), this whole thing was highly unusual for my family. To make matters worse, I had waved the red flag and said, “please don’t do this, it’s going to come with a whole crazy level of hurt for me.” They did it anyway. The only saving grace? They live 600 miles away.

At work, our team is adjusting to new ways of working, new ways of thinking, and new teammates. Tensions are high, but in a good way. It’s the way you know something great is on the horizon. But it doesn’t mean it’s been easy, and when the conflict came to a head, we got everything out in the open and dealt with it.

What I learned from all the grief, misunderstanding, and growing pains January brought was this: you’ve gotta embrace the ugly cry. I’m talking the red-in-the-face, crinkled nose, snot bubbles, congestion-inducing ugly cry. There is definitely a time and a place for the ugly cry, but when appropriate, it feels pretty damn good. Most of my “time and place” for the ugly cry in January was in late in the evening, on the phone with my grandmother, likely sitting in the staircase at my apartment complex where no one dare goes. (I’m a closet crier, clearly.)

I felt so cleansed moving into February. I’m sure it’s close to the feeling most people had moving into the new year. And now that Mercury is moving out of retrograde, this Capricorn is waving goodbye to the ugly cry for awhile.

– Ashley Respecki

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Ashley Inside My Head

Love, Loss and Learning

My husband and I rang in the new year in our pajamas, finished a bottle of champagne, and snuggled into bed with our sick puppy – a far cry from our typical New Year’s Eve celebrations. A few weeks prior, our 9lb maltese-yorkie mix pup, Bo, came down with a rash on his belly. Bo-Bear the morkie has been the center of our world for nearly five years (no really…search #bobearthemorkie on Instagram).

Given Bo’s spotlight status in our lives, it’s easy to see how and why we spent the last three weeks of December seeking answers about his evolving rash, recurring fever, and overall shifted demeanor. After three vet visits, one round of fluids, 3 different antibiotics, a steroid, allergy medicine, and topical mouse to hopefully clear his skin, Bo had an awful full-body yeast infection. In the final days of 2015, he seemed to be getting better. Nick and I were super optimistic and we were doing everything we could to get him back to healthy pup status. (One day, I made him homemade chicken and rice meals, while Nick drove to 6 different stores on the hunt for a special antiseptic shampoo.) At the advice of both vets we’d visited, we had also booked him the earliest appointment possible with an animal dermatologist at the Regional Veterinary Referral Center in Virginia. There are only about 150 veterinary dermatologists in the country; the appointment was for January 25th.

On January 1st, Bo’s health took a turn for the worse. After realizing he had become cold to the touch, had a stark white tongue, and couldn’t even keep his eyes open, we called the emergency vet and were instructed to bring him right in. We took turns holding him tight in a blanket with a heating pad and quickly getting ready to leave. When we arrived at the vet, they rushed Bo out of my arms. Sitting in the patient room waiting for news, my stomach dropped out of my body. Just minutes later, the vet returned with the news that Bo had no heartbeat when we arrived. Hopefully it was  reassuring, they said, to know that he had likely died in our arms. At just 4 ½ years old, the dog that had been our first baby, our third family member, the center of our world, was gone with no rational explanation.

It seems unfair that on the first day of the year, a day to reset, a day given to all of us to mark new beginnings, we had to mourn such a loss. But I found a level of comfort in the fact that there were so many other people in the world mourning and hurting too, and probably in much worse situations than ours.

The first days with this new void in our lives, my husband and I alternated moments of severe grief, wondering why and becoming angry when the other wasn’t struck with grief at the exact moment as the other. It took a few days to understand each other’s triggers, extreme pain points, thoughts of guilt, and ways of coping. In an effort to distract ourselves, we went on walks, to the mall, and to the movie theater. One night after a movie, I walked into the apartment, realized Bo wasn’t home, and proceeded to dump his entire bin full of toys all over the living room floor. I threw myself into them and I bawled – tears, snot, slobber (mine and probably Bo’s) everywhere. I slept with as many of Bo’s favorite toys and stuffed animals as I could that night. And my husband still loves me…I think.

Our friends and family responded in an amazing way. The outcry of support, the calls, the texts, cards, flowers, social media messages, and more were signs that we were loved, cared for, and showed that Bo had touched not just our lives, but theirs as well. I tried to watch the Disney/Pixar film Inside Out that weekend. My husband, Nick, couldn’t watch the first time; I watched it twice. I obsessed over how Bo could bring so much joy to our lives, yet so much sadness in his death. But I took solace in the fact that our sadness was a result of the overwhelming joy he brought.

My husband and I have learned a lot in the two short weeks since Bo’s death. As silly as it is, we’ve learned to talk to each other directly again, rather than conversing through Bo. (“Bo, tell your poppy you’re ready to go outside!” This was real…if you’ve loved a dog or cat, you know what I’m talking about.) We’re taking comfort in one another’s presence and have made an effort to arrive home together after work so the other doesn’t suffer the blow that comes when you walk in and realize your best friend – who greeted you with love, acceptance, smiles, and licks – isn’t there anymore. And most difficult for me, we’ve had to shift our projections of what life milestones will be like without Bo. He won’t welcome our future children into the world with us, or get to run in a tiny yard in our first home.

Last weekend Nick whisked me away to New York for my birthday – a much needed respite. We reflected on the love Bo brought to our lives, how the unexpected loss has changed us, and what we’ve learned from loving our first dog, grieving together, and leaning on those we love most when our strength isn’t enough. In 2016, January 9th was the start of our new year.

– Ashley Respecki

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Ashley Karen Libby Melissa New Friends

We’re Not Very Good at Selfies

Last night, I had a celebratory thank you dinner with most of our amazing bloggers. Libby, Ashley and Melissa joined me for an evening full of stories, laughs and advice over delicious eats and wine. Sadly, Karen wasn’t able to join us since a cross-country flight seemed a bit excessive for dinner, though we hope to all be together sometime soon.

I adore these women, and I wanted to take just a moment to thank them for sharing their time, insights and wisdom with our Good for the Soul Creative Community. They each bring diverse points of view, unique experiences and a worldview that is wholly their own. Yet, in all this, I believe they share a common core. Melissa, Ashley, Libby and Karen each approach the world with enthusiasm and a genuine interest in getting to know those around them. They want to understand their friends, family and colleagues and know what’s important to them. They want to be there to celebrate accomplishments and provide support when things go sideways. And they’re generous with their thoughts, which is incredibly valuable. They share what’s happening in their heads, which makes it each to connect with them and make it safe to share your own thoughts. I’m incredibly lucky to have them all in my life, and I value them tremendously.

And while we’re impressively good at some things, selfies clearly isn’t one of those things (I’ll take all the blame for this one). But we’re good at appreciating great company and that’s the most important thing. Thank you to these women for sharing themselves and thank you for sharing in this journey with us.

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Melissa, Catherine, Ashley and Libby (and Karen in spirit!)
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Ashley On the Job

Memory Bias

Every fall, my husband and I give in and pay the ridiculous monthly fee to get Showtime so we can watch Homeland, and the last two years, The Affair. You guys, I’m obsessed. Season 1 was phenomenal, and while Season 2 hasn’t held my husband’s interest because he claims it’s verging on the edge of a “chick flick” (I know, I know…that phrase is just as rage-inducing for me), the show can still count me as a loyal follower. But, at the onset, my husband and I were both equally sold on the writing, and more importantly, the style of storytelling.

The story is told through each character’s memory biases. What started as memory biases of just two main characters has grown to include two additional key characters in Season 2. I think when we started watching the show last fall, I was enamored by the idea of memory biases. I think of myself as a pretty great storyteller (humble too, uhem) and the idea that someone could have such a vastly different memory from a shared experience is sort of upsetting to me. Especially since, despite using superlative language a little too much, I’m not much of an exaggerator. Intense and dramatic, yes, but divergent from reality, not so much. My husband would tell you I’m a boring storyteller sometimes because of my interest in sticking to reality. But I mean, come on — life is scary enough without intensifying it to the nth degree.

For the first time ever, memory biases in my business relationships have become simply puzzling. In my new project management role, I’m extensively documenting interactions from meetings and phone calls in order to outline roles and responsibilities and next steps. I also use that documentation to provide appropriate recall when decisions and actions come into question. But, I’ve learned that despite agreement and acceptance of actions at a given point, people’s memory bias and further experience create conflicts and power struggles. It’s exhausting.

Solutions have evaded me, and hindered so much progress. I’ve been conceding more than defending and feel as though the loss of credibility in doing so is somehow worse than an argument. I wonder if others have had similar difficulty with variances in memory recall and what you’ve utilized or developed. Can you relate? Has memory bias ever damaged any of your relationships, personal, business, or otherwise?

(More importantly, do you love The Affair as much as I do?!)

– Ashley Respecki

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Ashley Awesomeness in the World Uncategorized

5 Things for which I’m Thankful

It’s only fitting that this is the time of year we stop and reflect on the things that make us warm and fuzzy inside and the things that make our days a little brighter. I’ll spare you from the warm and fuzzy (husband, family, my sweet pup — you get the picture) and focus on some of the not-so-glamorous little things that make my days better, brighter, easier.

  1. My new iPhone 6S – It’s a digital world, folks! My iPhone is about a month old now, and I am thrilled with the battery life improvement — no more “oh no! my phone is going to die!” end-of-day stress. I’m also thankful it’s working beautifully (knock on wood), despite being dropped in the toilet for 2 seconds at a dive bar a few weeks ago; of course only after all the wisdom of the internet plus a bag of rice (and a good sanitation session).
  2. unroll.me – My friend and colleague, Melissa, has been frightened by the number of email notifications my phone displays in that scary red circle. It scares me too, so when she mentioned unroll.me and the daily roll up, I knew I should probably give it a shot. I finally did this weekend and I’m already sooooo happy my inbox is less frightening.
  3. Sparkling water – I’ve been addicted to sparkling water for awhile, and debated whether or not to just buy a soda stream. I couldn’t justify it so my go-to is the Poland Spring brand from Whole Foods. When I feel like treating myself though, I buy the beautiful, glass bottled Whole Foods Italian Sparkling Mineral Water, preferably strawberry.
  4. Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream – My colleague and I have been sharing skin care products and routines recently and this will forever be my favorite daily use product. Unscented, non-oily, no frills really — just straight up moisture. Go get a tub of this stuff right now.
  5. Nylabone Oral Care dog treats – I know what you’re thinking…what in the world? But hear me out. Who wants a snuggly 9lb teddy-bear pup with stinky breath?! My sweet pup is almost five years old and the older he gets, the more his dental health declines. Totally natural, but a challenge nonetheless. We brush his teeth to keep plaque at bay (have you ever seen this process? It’s a sight!), but these dental treats have been knocking it out of the park. They’re like doggy crack, too. He’s obsessed.

So there you have it; some of the tangible, bizarre things I can’t live without and for which I am truly thankful. I hope you, too, will stop to appreciate some of the little things this season. And I hope the warm and fuzzy stuff is making you grin ear to ear, too!

– Ashley Respecki

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Ashley Career

Podcasts, Teamwork, & “Kaizen”

I’ve been totally into podcasts recently. We did a lot of travel this summer, including three weeks in Europe, and we even nerded-out to the point of using Rick Steve’s podcasts as walking guides in the cities we visited. Before our long, late summer trip, we spent 12 hours in the car to drop our sweet pup off with my parents, and opted for some great episodes of This American Life for the journey. One episode from earlier this year on NUMMI, a joint venture car plant in California that was Toyota’s first on-the-ground project in the U.S., immediately appealed to my husband because of his Michigan and GM family roots.

I expected to be clued in/interested in the NUMMI episode, but I didn’t expect to take away such a major lesson on organizational change. I recommend you go listen, but here’s the jist. In the early 1980’s, Toyota was looking for a U.S. project that would allow them to take advantage of U.S. tax incentives and help them better understand American production and business. GM had a failing plant in Freemont, California, with a cranky, dysfunctional, union workforce, so they put the Freemont plant on the table for the Toyota deal. Since the Japanese were going to run this plant, and they had no desire to perpetuate the American union model, GM decided to fire all the union plant employees. Crazy thing is, for the partnership, they proceeded to hire back about 80% of the former plant team, and shipped them over to Japan to train on the Toyota production line alongside their Japanese peers.

The Toyota business model was so foreign to the American workers – for starters, the Toyota crew believes in 100% teamwork. That means your colleague cares just as much about completing a task or project as you do, regardless of their management level, and will stop their work to lend a hand and complete the goal. On the GM line, there’s one thing you never do: stop the production line. Union workers let imperfect cars go all the way through production on the GM line, never pulling the stop chord; but the Japanese let anyone stop the line if it meant finding a solution. Together, they’d find a solution and get the line back up and running. This was Toyota’s secret to high quality cars, something GM definitely wasn’t known for at the time.

The partnership was brilliant and Nummi was a huge success. The joint venture played out well for Toyota as they entered the U.S. market. Looking back, experts say GM couldn’t implement the lessons they learned from the joint venture company-wide, for a variety of reason. Toyota’s willingness to let them in on their production secrets and emphasis on teamwork was huge, but GM was missing a key ingredient of Toyota’s philosophy for success. Toyota strongly believes in the Japanese practice of kaizen, or continuous improvement. Any Toyota employee is encouraged to look for ways to improve their product and process, even if it means pointing out a flaw in the production line, recommending a solution that could save 10 seconds per car, or coming up with an idea for a new tool to fit those bolts just right…anything you could imagine. And Toyota would take those ideas for improvement, explore them with engineers or whomever needed to be involved, and implement them as soon as possible. Wahlah! Continuous improvement.

Anyway, you get it: GM went bankrupt, the top quality car makers in the world are now Japanese, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve yet to see an American company that practices kaizen at all levels of management.

Have you heard any great case studies on organizational change, good or bad, successful or not? Better yet, please tell me you have some podcasts to recommend!

– Ashley Respecki

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Ashley Awesomeness in the World

History of 100 Years

A few weeks ago, I ventured back to my home state of Indiana to celebrate my great grandma Lela Barber’s 100th birthday. While she doesn’t actually turn 100 until November, July seemed like the perfect month to corral a huge family that’s spread across several states. The celebration was a huge success, if you don’t count the suffocating heat and humidity…but who am I to complain? My great grandma dealt with that business like a champ.

Her milestone has made me stop and think about a lot of things. In her card, I thanked her for the years of beauty and laughter she’s brought to the world. What I couldn’t write in her card was “my goodness, how did you do it all these years?!” I know some of the truth; she’s a tough, no-nonsense lady. She was once a lunch lady at the local school and she tells stories about former students approaching her every now and then. They share memories they have of her and she says to all of us, “Ohhh I can’t remember those kids from Adam! I was busy doing my job.”

She’s sharp as a tack at nearly 100 years – I walked into the party, she hugged me and said “Hi Ashley!” followed by a sarcastic “It is ‘Ashley,’ right?” I wonder where she’s found the strength to face the changes that have defined her lifetime. I wish I could know how she’s managed to remember all the history she’s accumulated – the names of her kids, grandkids, great grandkids, the birthdays, this first steps, the anniversaries…all of the milestones.

She wasn’t able to travel the two hours north for my wedding several years ago so she instead wrote a letter about what she remembered about the day my dad first met me as an infant. Man, oh man, was that a tear-jerker. My mom had me when she was pretty young, and, at the time of my birth, my dad was in South Dakota with the Air Force. From what my mom says, my great grandma’s depiction of that day and experience was pretty spot on. Last year, as the city of Washington, Indiana, was preparing to celebrate their annual Rail Fest, she called the local newspaper to tell stories of the railroad’s economic success in the city, lest anyone forget. I love how she carries all this knowledge with her, and continues to share it with anyone who will listen.

I think what I admire most is how she’s maintained what can only be called sanity, for nearly 100 years. Most of the time, I end my day stressing about what I couldn’t change around me, and wondering if tomorrow truly holds all the answers. And then I remember I should be relishing in all of these small moments, saving them for a great letter to my future great grandchild. Lela is my mother’s fraternal grandmother, and while on this side of my family, longevity is notable (Lela’s husband, my great grandpa Barber, lived to be 96), in other lineage, there is a strong history of Alzheimer’s and dementia. My joke is that it’s likely I’ll live to 90 plus, but I might not know my name for the last 30 years of my life. With that in mind, this milestone celebration for my family has encouraged me to fight for every memory I make, and to keep writing…I might have to share a good piece of forgotten DC history with the Washington Post one day, if I can just remember it…

– Ashley Respecki

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Ashley On the Job

Email Hell

You guys, I’ve had writer’s block. What makes it so awful is I’m not even a writer! How can this be?! I mean, I like to think I’m sort of an amateur writer with a few decent stories to tell, but this level of avoidance and frustration is out of hand. (Bless you, real writers.)

A few weeks ago I started a new gig. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d say in the last three weeks, I’ve received double – maybe triple – the typical number of emails in my work inbox. (Eek!) I started thinking that maybe my desire to write is being hindered by the amount of work-related writing I’m currently on the hook for. Basically, work email is trumping my communication priorities. At this point, I’m so desperate to not email that I have tried to solve a good portion of the email questions/proposals I receive with a phone call or an in-person chat. (And “chat” should be used loosely…we all know those are turning into meetings.)

Luckily, I like to read and have a metro commute of decent length that allows for some quick wins in my day. (Flipboard has been super awesome for streamlining the content input in my life.) Last week, I ran across this FastCo article, “How Email Became the Most Reviled Communication Experience Ever.” Warning: they used an over-abundance of obnoxious GIFs in the article, so read with caution. And to save you from losing your lunch trying to read between those GIFs, I’ll boil it down to the bad news, folks: We tried to make email do everything and now it’s not exceptionally good at anything. To make matters worse, we’re pretty much neurochemically compelled to check our email…on the chance that there’s something critical this time.

The article was a timely read since I’m implementing new project management processes for a team in need of major process improvement as part of their product deliverables. The team is actually giving some of the tools highlighted in the article a shot and testing for comfort levels and usability. I’m hoping we can find just a few tools that can begin to replace the functions that people have turned to email for…and hopefully I can get back to writing about things I love and things that inspire me. In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be digging out of email hell.

– Ashley Respecki

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Ashley Career

Fear and Desire

As a twenty something, I feel very safe about my life decisions so far. I went to college in my home state, and I applied to grad school and ended up staying at Ball State University after undergrad because it was “free” (tuition reimbursement and a stipend ﹘ can’t beat it). My husband was the one who encouraged me to apply for jobs in February of our final year of grad school, in the heart of thesis projects. It paid off and I found a dream job in a city I longed to live in; it was a package I couldn’t refuse. But truth be told, despite working my butt off these past four years, it’s all been pretty comfortable.

When things get a little too comfortable and/or boring, it’s probably a sign that you’ve been playing it safe for some time. This week, I begin a new job within the organization I currently work for. This will truly be a career shift and is an opportunity to grow skill sets in areas of business I’ve been drawn to since I began my career. I’m incredibly excited about what this new opportunity means for me personally, but I’m most looking forward to the impact I can make within the organization.

But, truth is, although I’m ready to shake things up, I haven’t been so confident about the new role until recently. When I was first approached about the opportunity, I was feeling inadequate and questioned how I could possibly be the right fit for this type of role. (And then Catherine plopped a great article in front of me about how women don’t express their value and exude confidence about their skill set the way men do… go figure.) Once things moved forward, I became pretty terrified by what this change would mean. It wasn’t a new sensation; I’ve been afraid of change for as long as I can remember, though as I age, the degree of fear has lessened substantially. Then I was reading an article where a young female entrepreneur was sharing career advice about how you should be more excited about a new opportunity than you fear it. At that moment I thought, “bingo!” – that’s exactly how I feel.

I’m so excited about this change that any nerves and fears associated with what’s to come have subsided dramatically. I’ve replaced insecurity with desire and determination to succeed. If you’re ever fearful of a new endeavor, I hope you will also take inventory of your emotions and see if excitement is ready to overtake any fear or anxiety clouding your visions of success.

– Ashley Respecki