Sunday, September 30, 2012

Be Strong Challenge: September Update

On my 50th birthday I challenged myself to become a stronger person in my 50th year. This challenge got off to a slow start due to a bout with insomnia, but I think I made up for it in September. Here is a roundup of my progress:
Be Strong:
I named my challenge Be Strong and set a few goals:

1 - To continue to work on knowing myself.
2 - To work on both my physical and mental strength.
3 - Each month I need to come up with one activity or challenge that leads to more effective communication, since becoming a better communicator is my ultimate goal.

I realize I have to start with baby steps. If I step too far out of my comfort zone too soon – with a public speaking class or by joining toastmasters - I know myself well enough to know I will abandon this project altogether.
Push-up challenge:
I joined a push-up challenge. Each day I am to do 1 more push up than I did the day before. I’ve split them into two sessions and am now up to 17 at one time, with a total of 25 in one day. This is more push-ups than I’ve ever done before in one day. A couple of years ago I stopped working out my upper body entirely when I injured my shoulder. After the shoulder pain subsided I experienced a clicking sound and pain in my elbows while working out with resistance bands, so I was leery of push-ups. My elbows do click occasionally while doing push-ups, but there is no pain and since I began this challenge my elbows no longer click when working out with resistance bands.
Clean my desk challenge:
I challenged myself to clean my desk at work. My desk is still not perfectly clean and organized, but I have made progress. I completed several outstanding projects and now spend time each day tackling new paperwork so it doesn’t pile up. I also organize my desk before leaving on Fridays which has done wonders for my Monday morning mood. Thanks to all who left comments and suggestions on my post, you’ve helped keep me motivated.
I attended a seminar on assertive communication:
The seminar’s presenter teaches this course at a local college, so she attempted to pack an entire semester’s worth of knowledge into one hour. She did an excellent job of describing the six different types of motivators (a positive or negative need for power, achievement or affiliation) and how to communicate with each type. I referred to one of these communication techniques in my post Do I listen to my manager or the boss. For further study on communication between the sexes, she suggests reading Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in ConversationThat's Not What I Meant!: How Conversational Style Makes or Breaks Relationships and Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work.
I read inspiring blog posts:
I read Always the Planner's post What Kind of Life do I Want? where she recommended viewing a TEDx video by Priya Parker and watched Marie Forleo’s video How to Reprogram your Subconscious Mind to Get What You Really Want on the same day. Both helped my realize the one thing I want is to be as physically active in my life for as long as possible; not being able to walk or wear shoes will severely impact that life. Lately, I’ve experiencing foot pain during most physical activity including walking and while wearing shoes. I decided it was time I considered foot surgery, so I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon the very next day.
I visited an orthopedic surgeon to inquire about bunion surgery:
I learned the bunion on my right foot is between moderate and severe and the left one isn’t too bad. The surgeon doesn’t feel I need immediate surgery, but made it clear my foot will never get any better. Recovery from this surgery will require me to be on crutches for 5-6 weeks, which rules out having the surgery in winter. The last thing I need is to walk with crutches down a hill to my unattached garage on snow and ice. If possible I'd like to put off surgery until fall of next year.  In the mean time I’ve been wearing the flattest, widest shoes I own and modifying workout activities (especially lunges) that bother my feet.
I have added one small challenge for October:
I have challenged myself to stop eating the popcorn from my company’s popcorn machine. First, the popcorn is really for customers not employees. Second, it is covered in salt and is most likely made with the cheapest, unhealthiest oil they can buy. For the rest of this year I am challenging myself to not eat anymore of this popcorn.

That is it for September. October is going to be a short month, since my husband and I are traveling to California for a ten day vacation. This will be the longest vacation I’ve taken, since I began work in 1986. I am not sure how active I will be on this blog or if I will be able to maintain a clean desk during October – perhaps that will be the ultimate challenge.

What makes you feel strong?
If you have a Be Strong suggestion or are interested in writing a guest post about how you've achieved greater strength please leave a comment below or email me at

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life

Motivation for reading:
Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life was Brava Magazine's September pick for their book and wine club:

While Coco Chanel’s legacy is an impressive empire, Gabrielle Chanel’s life wasn’t always so divine. Delve into a rags-to-riches tale to find how Chanel made herself into a style legend, and discover what she had to hide along the way to ascend to the top.

Since Coco Chanel was one of the women I wanted to study for my Be Strong Challenge I decided it was time I read this book.

My Thoughts:
Prior to reading Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life, I knew little about Chanel’s life other than she was the famous French fashion designer who gave us the little black dress and Chanel No. 5 perfume. Her life is actually a fascinating study of a woman born poor, illegitimate and raised in an orphanage who transformed herself into one of the most powerful fashion designers of the 20th century.

Telling Chanel’s story though was not an easy task. As part of Chanel’s transformation she covered up much of her past and told enormous lies about her life. She even changed her birth date on her passport. Picardie sorted through personal observations and interviews with surviving friends, employees and relatives; Chanel’s abandoned memoirs and tabloid rumors to give us an accurate portrayal of Coco Chanel’s life. When in doubt Picardie presents all of the known facts along with the rumors then gives her interpretation of the truth.

Coco Chanel could be both impulsive and reckless, but nothing could stop her from going after what she wanted. In addition to being a talented creator she was also a savvy business woman. Take note of her strengths, other than sheer talent, I feel attributed to her success:

She understood the relationship between money and independence:
After learning her lover Boy Capel had deposited bank securities as a guarantee for her business and overdrafts she told her head seamstress:
“I am not here to have fun, or to spend money like water, I am here to make a fortune.” A year later, Chanel was earning sufficient money to have no more need of Capel’s financial support, and she rejoiced in her independence. (Pg. 74)
She had a hard-headed business sense:
Here are the final snippets of an argument Chanel had with Mme Bataille, the woman who did the embroidery for the house, over price on the finished pieces of a crimson crepe de Chine blouse:
“The blouse is embroidered with real Chinese silk, one kilo of which costs at present…”

“I don’t care what kind of silk you use – real or artificial,” continued Mlle Chanel; “it is none of my business. What I want is to sell the blouse. As it is, it is too expensive; therefore you must charge less for it. That’s all.” (Pg. 140)
She understood the importance of a network:
Chanel was well-connected listing Winston Churchill and Pablo Picasso as friends.
Vera Bate, a friend of Bendor the 2nd Duke of Westminster’s and others in the small world of the British aristocracy, who was working for Chanel less as a model (though she was a handsome, statuesque figure in her Chanel outfits) than as a facilitator whose social connections were invaluable. I have employed society people, not to indulge my vanity or to humiliate them (I would take other forms of revenge, suppose I was seeking them), but … because they were useful to me and they got around Paris working on my behalf. (Pg. 162) 
She had a talent for friendship, in spite of her occasional flashes of malice. (Pg. 206)
She was an adept conversationalist:
I marveled at Chanel’s ability to think on her feet while dining with Malcolm Muggeridge, a British intelligence officer in Paris after France’s WWII liberation. Chanel had had a relationship with Hans Gunther von Dincklage, a German Nazi military officer during the war and was suspected of collaboration. The dinner was a combination of social visit and intelligence gathering for MI6:
Afterword’s, Muggeridge tried to draft some sort of report on Chanel, but realized that there was nothing to say. As he reflected upon his evening, he wondered whether a more rigorous agent might have discovered further details: ‘how she managed to get to and from Spain during the occupation, whether she also offered free scent to the German troops, who were her clients, associates and intimates during those years. Alas, all I had done was to listen; fascinated and even a little awed, at the masterly way she skinned and harpooned the braided F (the MI6).” (Pg. 267)
Vanity Fair sums up Chanel’s strengths perfectly when they nominated her to their 1931 Hall of Fame:
The magazine declared its reasons for doing so in a brief yet trenchant paragraph: Because she was the first to apply the principles of modernism to dressmaking; because she numbers among her friends the most famous men of France; because she combines a shrewd business sense with enormous personal prodigality and a genuine if erratic enthusiasm for the arts; and finally because she came to America to make a laudable attempt to introduce chic to Hollywood. (Pg. 213)
In the end Chanel’s life was sad and lonely. She took morphine to help her fall asleep. She never married and bore no children of her own (unless you believe the rumor that her nephew Andre Palasse was actually her son). Here is a conversation Gabrielle Labrunie Chanel’s niece recalls with her Aunt:
‘A, simple life, with a husband and children – a life with the people you love – that is the real life.’ And yet Gabrielle could also see the manner in which Chanel had cut her own familial ties, to set herself free. ‘She battled for her freedom – to be free to drive your car, to ride a bicycle, to walk to work, you had to be able to forget about what you are wearing. Forgetting is part of freedom – and so she was free to forget her past. And even if she did not forget it, she put her memories somewhere where they did not weigh too heavily on her – just like the clothes she made, that were so light that they seemed to weigh nothing at all.’ (Pg. 315)
Bottom line:
I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Coco Chanel’s life and career. I did find the book frustrating at times when the truth of particular details of Chanel’s life remained unclear – this is not the fault of Justine Picardie, but of Chanel herself who lied and covered up so much of her life. I felt Picardie did an excellent job of researching the truth and presenting only the facts. I also enjoyed the book's numerous photos. If you have an interest in Coco Chanel, her life, her career or her creations I highly recommend reading this book. And in case you are curious:

Karen Eigenberger of Steve’s Wine-Beer-Spirits paired Clos du Moulin Aux Moines Bourgogne Pinot Noir as the wine to sip while reading Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life:
A toast to Coco Chanel! Perhaps thanks to her formative years in the Auvergne region of France, Coco Chanel's favorite food was fresh caviar with red wine; she it ate it a few times almost every day. In keeping with the style of wines from this region, raise a glass of Clos du Moulin Aux Moines Bourgogne Pinot Noir from the Burgundy region of France. Silky, complex, refined and elegant, much like the fashion icon herself. ($24)
If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
Is a book about Marie Antoinette's fashion choices really a book every woman should Read?
Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer: A Study in Strength and Leadership
I've had my fill of Mary Kay Ash
My Life in France

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Do I listen to my manager or the boss?

I received the following question via Google search:

Do I listen to my manager or the boss?

What is happening here?
When a boss, who I assume in this scenario, is the company’s owner or CEO, counteracts a manager’s decision he either believes the manager’s directive was flawed or he has a negative need to control situations. In a perfect world if a manager is incompetent a boss should deal with that manager directly rather than coerce an employee into overstepping their manager. Nothing will ruin an employee/manager relationship faster than being perceived as going over your manager’s head. Let's assume this boss has a negative power need to control situations.

What should this employee do?
Ultimately an employee answers to the boss, so you will have to listen to him or her, but you should talk to your manager first. I suggest the “I perceive,” “I feel,” “I need” communication technique I learned at an assertive communication seminar:

I perceive:
In situations where you’ve instructed me to do xyz, Mr. Boss has told me to do abc.

I feel:
I am confused and unsure how I should proceed.

I need:
I need you to understand my predicament and to help me determine which approach I should take.

If the boss continues to overrule your manager’s decisions have the same conversation with him. Your boss and manager need to work this out and stop placing you in this position. 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Why I am cleaning my desk?

I admit it I have a messy desk at work.  It isn’t the messiest desk at my company – my manager’s desk is much, much worse, but it is definitely messy.  What is this mess made up of?  Uncompleted work.   As I work my way through my in-box anything that requires a fair amount of investigation and isn’t immediately pressing ends up in a stack on my desk.  I don’t file this paperwork because it doesn’t need to be filed it needs to be completed.

Why has my messy desk suddenly become a problem?

It projects a bad image:
According to Penelope Trunk in her book Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success Brazen Careerist:

If your desk is a mess you look overwhelmed and less competent. People with messy offices are perceived as less efficient, less organized and less imaginative than people with clean desks. (Pg. 161)
The owners of our company aren’t too concerned about our mess because we always get our work done, but it does look bad to outsiders.  I have heard more than one person make a comment about my boss’s messy desk including our banker who is clearly someone we need to impress.  My co-workers also make comments about my boss losing their paperwork.  When he isn’t around they sneak into his office and search for missing items.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens when I am not around as well.  I have also had outsiders make comments about my desk.

I am inefficient:
How could I not be?  I lose things. If someone puts a piece of paper on top of one of my stacks then someone else puts another piece on top of that one the original paper is sure to be buried. Also, when I need a clear work place I scoop up stacks of papers and move them sometimes mixing projects together. Then I waste valuable time searching for missing paperwork.  I also lose my stapler, letter opener, ruler and favorite pen frequently.  

My messy desk causes stress:
I am tired of working in this environment.  My mess is a constant reminder of how far behind I am.  One of my employees loves to remind me of things I haven’t completed.  When she does this I just point to one of my piles and say yeah I haven’t gotten to it yet. 

Be Strong challenge #2: Clean my desk
As part of my Be Strong project I am challenging myself to clean my desk.  Each week I need to complete one or two of the outstanding projects on my desk. I actually started this a couple of weeks ago and have made some progress.  Each completed project empowers me and reduces my stress a little bit.  I am also making an extra effort not to add more paper to my piles. Spending just an extra ten minutes with my mail each day seems to make a difference and will surely save me a lot of aggravation down the road.
How about you?  Do you have a messy or clean desk?  Does having a messy desk bother you or bog you down?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

How to Stay Healthy When You Sit All Day

Today's post is written by Joan Vernikos  the author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death - and Exercise Alone Won't. I wrote about her book here.  This post provides additional information on how to stay healthy when you sit all day. 

Data continues to show that health in the US is deteriorating. Recent studies have supported my research at NASA that this can be attributed primarily to too much sitting.  As a busy working woman this might seem like a problem you don’t have - you are busy with your job, may manage a household and have children, try to find time to work out, and seemingly juggle responsibilities constantly.

But when you really look, how much of your time do you spend sitting? Between commuting and running errands in your car, sitting at a desk or in meetings, in front of a TV or a computer at home? Remaining fit and healthy becomes tricky. Long hours of sitting are shown to increase risk of breast and colon cancer, obesity and diabetes and poor balance even in children. Surprisingly, this is the case even in people who exercise daily. Sitting uninterrupted is just a killer. Fortunately, there are solutions.
My research at NASA was about keeping astronauts healthy, about what happens to the human body when we live without gravity or when we reduce its effect by lying down. What we found is that things happen to your body when you sit for long stretches that are very similar to the negative impacts of being in micro-gravity in space. Exercise was not necessarily the answer.  I found that it has more to do with how many times you get up during the day. You don’t need to stand all day either but rather to stand up often.  My research showed that if you must sit (and of course you do) it’s necessary to break it up, getting up at least 35 times a day. That works out to every 20 to 30 minutes. And when you are sitting, notice your posture and ensure that you sit up straight so that your body is working against gravity as it pulls you downward. I am amazed to see groups of women walking by – that’s good – with their head bent over looking at their feet – not so good. It’s a recipe to stoop as you age. There are many ways to use gravity during the day. Play, dance, garden, roll out dough, take the stairs, stretch, swim, have fun.

Astronauts age 10 times faster in space. Don’t be like them by sitting too much of your life.

Monday, September 03, 2012

“Be Strong!” Challenge

I mentioned in my post I'm 50 Years Old and Still Can't Think on my Feet that in my 50th year I was challenging myself to become a stronger person. The start of this project was delayed due to a bout of insomnia I was dealing with during July and August. With only 3-5 hours of sleep per night it was all I could do just to make it through the workday let alone work on a strength challenge. Revanche of A Gai Shan Life was even kind enough to write Insomnia: the old companion a post about how she conquered her own insomnia. Then as mysteriously as the insomnia came on it left and I’m sleeping better. In the mean time I’ve been reading a couple of books on insomnia and will share any lessons or remedies that work for me in future posts. One thing I now know for sure – I will never “Be Strong” if I can’t get a handle on my insomnia.

To help give my challenge kick-start I discovered a great article on Building Inner Strength by Ran Zilca on Psychology Today. It is so good I have to share.

Zilca defines being strong as:
A strong person has great capability at facing challenges. Being strong means having the resources, the mental skills, and the physical capabilities to confront difficulties of all kinds. When you are strong, you have the ample excess of energy and stamina, so that when facing a challenge that depletes you of energy and inner strength, you still have enough left in you to act.
He then gives us some initial things to think about when starting to build inner strength:

1. Strength is the opposite of aggression:
Strong individuals do not need to act aggressively because they feel that they have the power and skills to take over the details of a situation and bring it to a close. Aggression is a means of covering weakness. 

2. Mental and physical strength cannot be separated:
To build inner strength you must build both physical endurance and mental muscle.

3. The first step is identifying your natural strengths:
I have already made some progress identifying my strengths. Please see my posts:

Discovering my Strengths
Who are you meant to be
Determining my Myers-Briggs Score

4. Mental strength is harder to track:
Zilca recommends taking notes. I don’t need to take notes I have this blog to record my progress.

He closes with “Be strong!” a phrase I am now adopting as the title of my challenge.

My “Be Strong!” project begins this week. My first task is going to be to take part in the push up challenge I’ve joined on twitter. It involves -

Doing 1 more push up every day than you did the day before. I started last week with 6 and am now up to 10. If you would like to participate or follow along, the twitter hash tag is #pushupchallenge.

This is a good challenge for me since one of the reasons I put off taking a yoga class (and probably why I keep injuring myself) is because I have almost no upper body strength. The yoga instructor at my gym loves planks especially side planks, in the past when I attended PIYO I used to spend a good portion of the class sitting on my butt or laying on my mat.  

I have a few ideas for future “Be Strong” tasks, but am looking for additional activities or challenges. If you have a recommendation or are interested in writing a guest post about how you achieved greater inner strength please leave a comment below or email me at