Meet Marissa Mayer: Chief Progress Thwarter

This just in from Yahoo: CEO Marissa “My Baby is Easy” Mayer has pissed off working women for the second time – and managed to get under the skin of working parents, introverts, creative business types, hard-core software developers, and basically anyone who isn’t exactly like Marissa.

Her latest mandate puts the kibosh on work-at-home arrangements, requiring all employees to work full-time in the Yahoo offices. Her explanation for this nonsense is that flexible work arrangements inhibit innovation and that “face-to-face interaction among employees fosters a more collaborative culture.” Pundits and academics everywhere are pointing to her attempt to mirror Google’s culture, including this New York Times quote from an analyst: “She brings all the Google lessons to the table, and Google is very focused on having your life revolve around their campus so you can spend a significantly larger chunk of time at work.”

Isn’t that FANTASTIC?! At a time when work/life balance is spinning off its axis, yet we have more tools than ever to recalibrate it, we’ve got this Woman in a Bubble with 17 Nannies telling people how, when, and where to work. First, women were up in arms over Marissa’s own virtually non-existent maternity leave. But despite the fact that family leave in the U.S. is sorely lacking in comparison to other countries, I was willing to give her some leeway. Regardless of how much parental leave is available, the amount of leave one takes is a personal choice. If Marissa loves her work and its intrinsic rewards make her a better mother, then far be it for me to judge. The question is whether she expects other women at Yahoo to make the same choice – and that is the core of the work/family debate, particularly for mothers. The beauty of where we’re at today isn’t whether it’s best for a woman to stay home versus work, or to take gobs of maternity leave versus just a few short weeks, but that she can choose. And that all of us, as women, support those individual choices. Bashing other women and insisting that our way is the right way isn’t really what sisterhood is all about. So long as Marissa’s on that bandwagon, I can overlook the maternity leave thing.

But that need to support individual choices is the foundation of why I cannot and will not accept this abolishment of the flexible working arrangements that allow so many parents to feel like they are – for the first time in history – given the resources to strike a balance between a fulfilling career and caring for their families. And it’s more than a working mom/dad thing. It’s also a work style thing. I agree with Marissa that face-to-face interaction is crucial to innovation; the “mindmelds” and “brain dumps” that occur throughout the day are critical in the product groups, where specs are written and features managed. Indeed, this is Marissa’s background, the hallmark of her days at Google – and she was exceptional at her job. But this new policy makes the assumption that everyone works as she does; and frankly, that everyone does the same job (or at least the job she deems most important). And THAT is a giant management misstep.

What about the employees who aren’t tasked with innovating? What about those who are executing on specs and strategy – the developers, designers, writers, marketers? Many of these people work best alone, away from the distractions of the office, in order to tap into their creativity, to access the all-important “flow” that allows them to produce. Clearly Marissa hasn’t read Susan Cain’s influential “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The book features a case study of one notorious introvert who took full advantage of flexible working: Steve Wozniak. (Perhaps you’ve heard of him, Marissa? He’s kind of a big deal in the Valley.)

An effective manager understands that people work in different ways – and empowers their employees to work in a manner that garners optimal results. They trust their people and give them choices. This is why, during my time at Microsoft, flexible hours and telecommuting were customary. In fact, if you needed to hang your desk from the ceiling, plaster your office walls in aluminum foil, or communicate with colleagues via puppets (pinky swear – on all accounts) in order to produce, so be it. The proof in this pudding comes from one of my favorite former Microsoft execs, Brian Valentine, who led the Windows team in its heyday: “I make sure everyone on my team understands their role and that they have what they need to execute. Then I stay the hell out of the way.”

Let’s also not forget that Marissa’s sought-after innovation is what allowed a global, virtual workplace to emerge – it’s what gave rise to email, Skype, and Live Meeting. A move like hers flies in the face of what thousands of high-tech employees have bled, sweated, and teared to create. And while I understand that not everyone is productive while working from home, if you’ve got issues with people being distracted by Judge Judy and piles of laundry, you have a people problem, not a policy problem. Manage out the dead wood, Marissa – don’t assume they’ll shape up if you insist they work like you. (And P.S. – just because it’s a high-tech company doesn’t mean it’s Google. Best practices, yes. Copycat bullshit you think will automatically translate, no.)

I had high hopes for Marissa. Not only is she the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, she’s the youngest female CEO, and a member of my generation. But her timebomb back to 1962 is an incredible slight to the women who blazed the trail before us, who in all honesty laid the groundwork that’s allowed Marissa to be where she is today. It’s not clear whether she’s unaware of or apathetic about these stalwart efforts – but either way, it’s a problem. So many of us Gen X women were hoping she’d serve as a beacon for progress, that she’d own all parts of herself – the masculine and feminine sides we’d peeked at and wanted more of: the math/science whiz, techie, cupcake baker, fashion fiend. That’s the example we want to set for future generations – of both women and men: that you can be anything and EVERYTHING you are. That you have choices and can decide what’s best for you.

With that in mind, we loved Marissa for her strength and independence, and hoped there was a nurturing, team-spirit side as well – the true definition of being a whole woman. Instead, she distanced herself from the pack and, through her actions (always louder than words), has seemingly shamed choices different from her own. That’s simply not sisterhood. It’s not even humankind.

And it’s nowhere near progress.

Holiday Wit & Wisdom – 2012 Edition

 surrender

Everyone collects something – vinyl records, microbrewery pint glasses, Facebook friends.

I collect quotes.

They’re splashed all over my home and hundreds of them are stashed in a running Word document on my laptop. They span the breadth of great philosophers like the 17th century’s Blaise Pascale to our modern-day Alain de Botton. There are wise words from Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, e.e. cummings, Thomas Edison, Leonard Cohen, Helen Keller, Anais Nin, and Clay Shirky. And where would we be in 2012 without a few choice musings from Carrie Bradshaw, “thirtysomething”’s Miles Drentel, and of course, Ron Burgundy.

Maybe it’s this whole being-a-writer thing, but these words of wisdom and revelation help ground me. They serve as a muse when it’s time to sit in front of a blank page. And they’re also a diary of sorts; I can scroll through the document and see the lessons I was learning at different points in my life: self-discovery, independence, creative struggles, love, connection, happiness, motivation.

As many of you know, this has been a big year for me – filled with change, adventure, and uncertainty. Such is the drill when you meet an amazing man and, nine days later, he learns he’s being relocated to Montreal (details here). That whole experience + turning 40 (!) + a painfully slow first six months of the business year = a sizable chunk of time spent reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past four decades, and the lessons I want to carry with me into this next phase of life. Without a doubt, the most significant is the one at the top of this post: “Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have faith in what will be.”

Throughout 2012, I’ve often sat down to sift through the quotes, add a few more to the list, and think about what I’ve learned. In doing so, I also started jotting down quotes of my own – words that have tumbled from my lips in conversation, leapt from my fingertips in blog posts, and illuminated my brain during personal light bulb moments. Some of them were fairly quick and simple revelations that struck me out of the blue; others were gleaned through painstaking, lengthy, sometimes-heartbreaking experiences whose lessons didn’t register for years.

I believe one of the greatest gifts is that of story and wisdom gleaned from a life lived. So in this season of giving, I’m passing along my “40 Things I Know at 40.” Although all those philosophers and visionaries and whatnot are inspiring, these are my own words. My hope in sharing them is that you’ll think about your life lessons and pay them forward – to lift someone’s spirits, soothe them during strife, encourage them to step back, or inspire them to push forward.

Wishing you love, laughs, wit, wisdom, and many blessings this season and in 2013,

Nicole

40 Things I Know at 40

  1. If you have your health, people you love, and meaningful work that brings you joy, you have the cake AND the icing. Everything else is just sprinkles.
  2. Surround yourself with authentic, positive people. But first – cultivate your own authenticity and positive outlook. Then you won’t depend on anyone else to define your life direction or mood.
  3. Whoever you’re with, whatever you’re doing, make it the center of your world at that moment.
  4. We can’t control the behavior of others, but we have the power to tell them what’s bothering us. It’s up to them if they want to change – and it’s up to us if we want to wait or walk.
  5. It’s much scarier – but far more rewarding – to blaze your own trail. As Elle’s great E. Jean Carroll says, “Never look for a job when you can create a job.”
  6. Chasing prestige guarantees you will always feel empty. Instead, chase what feels good, brings meaning, makes you lose track of time, and makes other people smile.
  7. It’s better to be alone than be with someone and feel alone.
  8. Wheat, dairy, and sugar hate pretty much everyone’s guts.
  9. If you find yourself feeling hopeless, rattled, pessimistic, or drained in someone’s presence, stop spending time with them.
  10. Whatever you imagine will happen, often will. Be aware of the worst outcome, but assume the best one will occur. Nothing is foolproof but it certainly feels a hell of a lot better to believe the future warrants Ray-Bans.
  11. Always take the risk. Failure is better than forever wondering “what if.” And success never sucks.
  12. If you’re alive, it’s not too late.
  13. Always make time for rest and fun. Burnout is real and will slowly kill you.
  14. Learn to love your own company – hold court at a table for one, take solo vacations, attend concerts and museums and movies alone.
  15. We actually control very little in our lives. Almost everything is a transaction, and thus dependent on the action of someone else. All we can do is get out of bed and try. The rest is up to the world.
  16. The certain past often seems less daunting than the uncertain future, but going backwards is rarely the answer.
  17. Be a dabbler. Try new things, try lots of things, even if you’re just sticking your toe in the water. Life is really fun if you’re a jack of many trades AND a master of something.
  18. Success on anyone’s terms but your own is not success.
  19. There is great power in vulnerability. Only when you make yourself vulnerable – and make your needs known, even if the anxiety of expressing them makes your knees buckle – can you get your needs met and make progress in your relationships.
  20. Just because it worked for you doesn’t mean it will work for somebody else. (That goes for this list, BTW! Take or leave any of it…no hard feelings. :->)
  21. Everyone is worthy of love and kindness. Other than that, no one owes you anything.
  22. If you’ve been knocking on one door for a long time – to the point where you’re taking an axe to it – you’re probably missing dozens of open doors behind you. At least one of them probably leads to something much better than what’s behind the closed door. Put down the axe and turn around.
  23. Learn the difference between your gut instinct and fear – they feel eerily similar.
  24. Forget the expectations you had last year or five years ago or when you graduated college. What do you want based on who you are today and who you want to be tomorrow?
  25. Life scripts are boring, and well-paved paths are the best way to get stuck in a traffic jam.
  26. Strive to be a whole person – embrace and express all sides of yourself.
  27. Having it all depends on how you define “all.” Figure out what that means to you.
  28. Whether in life or behind the wheel, detours are fun – and often lead you to places you never imagined.
  29. Life is not a case of “either/or” but of “yes AND” (props to my improv training :->)
  30. Busyness is not a virtue. It’s usually an escape.
  31. Sometimes you have to let go of what you want and love what’s on your plate.
  32. Constantly striving for the next thing – job, relationship, whatever – and assuming that THEN you’ll be happy is bullshit. Stop moving the goal posts and find a way to be happy now. The rest will take care of itself.
  33. Define what you want – visualize it, write it down. As clearly as you can. Then let it go. Some people will tell you to do one or the other…do BOTH.
  34. Focusing on what’s wrong just begets more of what’s wrong.
  35. Hatred, judgment, and intolerance are never the answer. Try love, compassion, and kindness instead.
  36. It’s not anyone else’s job to take care of our feelings or make sure our needs are met.
  37. “Life is short” is not an excuse to behave irresponsibly.
  38. The first thing we do to take care of ourselves is put a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and money in the bank. If you’re not meeting these essentials, everything else you’re doing to “take care of yourself” is extraneous.
  39. If you can learn to forgive yourself – and be gentle with yourself – you’ll find you have more compassion for others. And it improves your interactions with everyone around you.
  40. We often hear, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” But there’s actually no destination. Life IS the journey. When the journey’s over, you’re dead. So enjoy it, embrace it, squeeze the love out of every minute.

And now the part where I punch IBS in the face

My friend Jen Worick just published her book, “Things I Want to Punch in the Face” – a collection of posts from her popular and totally hi-larious blog of the same name. This past Friday, I attended one of her book signings/readings/”Punch Parties” where she read a bit from the book, engaged us all in a rousing game of “Punch in the Face or Make Out With” (players had to guess which she’d do – like with lima beans or Katy Perry), and invited a few of her writerly friends to read their own punches. I had the great honor of being invited to do so and – in true Nicole fashion – I stood in front of a room of people and talked about….

Shitting my pants. Because I feel the inherently human is the thread of continuity that connects us all. Therefore I have no shame. No scruples. And so my punch of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – herein referred to as IBS – went like this:

I don’t care that everyone has a medical cross to bear. I will delightedly trade my IBS for your eczema, sinusitis, or wonky ACL just to never again hear the words, “Did you just SHIT on my new sofa?!” come out of my boyfriend’s mouth.

Ever. Again.

What’s most annoying about this is that I spent the first few decades of my life all GI-Jammed-Up, and as soon as I hit 35, it’s been a non-stop porcelain bus ride, often preceded by a sprint previously only achieved by FloJo. And, clearly, it’s not always a successful run.

Then there’s the arduous keeping of a diary in effort to figure out what triggers this all-hallowed mess. Is it gluten? Sugar? Soy? Thai food? Dairy, chocolate, stress, too much hormones, too little hormones, gamma rays, kryptonite, the empathetic emotional distress for that guy who just swan-dived from space? It’s a mystery so puzzling even Columbo, Miss Marple, and that weird Hodges guy from CSI couldn’t figure it out if they were locked in a padded cell with nothing but food diaries and stool samples.

I do declare that without IBS, we would live in a world of equality. One where IBS sufferers will not sneer at, but instead stand beside those who suck down deep-dish pizza, cheesecake, and ooey gooey brownies without so much as a pit stop at the commode. One where we can all enjoy food – and life – as it’s offered to us. Without a Gas-X chaser. Without Prilosec. And where sofa slipcovers are always pristine.

It’s heeeeeerrrrrre!!!

Just like a baby, it was nine months in the making, but I finally birthed that sucker – and the all-new, new-and-improved, sparkling, shiny nicolechristie.com is live and open for business!*

Step right up and take a gander – we’ve got new photos, new copy, and new samples of sassy, saucy writing for you to peruse. Most importantly, please subscribe to the new blog. You can do so via email or RSS – whichever tickles your pickles – right there on the home page. Yeah, I know I haven’t posted anything yet. Gimme a break, I’m still delivering the web placenta. I promise to pop the new blog cherry within a week.

And oh ho, dear readers – lest you be a-wonderin’, Nicopedia will never die! At least, like most of us (hopefully), not for a while. Since That Other Site is publicly promoted and open to client eyes, I gotta watch the tongue a bit more over there. So you can still come here for doses of raunch, inappropriateness, and random musings.

I’ll always gladly oblige.

*Very, very special thanks to Amy Turner, Philipp Privado, and Alyssa McCoy for making this happen. And so beautifully at that.

So where the F is your new website, woman?!

Image

Settle down, pilgrims. The world threw me a ton of curve balls, including one very big fantastic one on January 13th, when I met my true trumpet-playing love. Who is also my true trumpet-playing love here. It seems that soulmates do exist outside of Shakespeare sonnets and strip-mall Hallmarks, especially when you throw your pride (and your ‘tude) to the wind, post an OKCupid profile, and find the love of your life four days later.

That’s right, I’ve eaten my self-righteous words about online dating – and they taste damnfanfuckingtastic.

I will save delicious details for another post / essay / (memoir?), but in a nutshell, I now live in two cities, on two coasts, in two countries – one of which rarely speaks my native tongue and since I know not a lick of Francais, it makes for very sexy customer service interactions. Of course, as glamorous and glorious as all this may be, you can imagine how it sorta feels like being on a non-stop Tilt-A-Whirl. Thrilling, terrifying, and sometimes you wonder if you might hurl. Which means other goals take a back seat, just outside the Tilt-A-Whirl entrance, with a puke bag and a shit-ton of patience.

Let it be known: I’ve now emerged. Retch receptacle unnecessary. Bandwagon boarded.

That said, the shinysnazzynew nicolechristie.com that was said to launch in January is now in the final coding phase. So the launch is coming – very, very soon. I won’t promise a date because I’m still wiping egg off my nose from the last time I served up that shizz (and also, after all my years at MSFT, you’d think I would’ve learned my lesson about publicizing launch dates…ahem). But I will promise this – it looks FABULOUS. And I’m mucho jazzed to start the essay blog that will be a prime feature of the new site. In the meantime, this post’s photo is a little sneak preview.

God, I’m such a tease.

Holiday Wishes and Wisdom

Holiday greetings, tidings, and well wishes to you, dear family and friends! I hope this finds you healthy, happy, and looking forward to the new year.

After seven years of major metamorphosis – divorce, two cross-country moves, performing on various stages, selling a home, buying another, starting a business, growing a business, stabilizing a business – 2011 marked a slowing of change in my outer world. There were, of course, highlights: bidding adieu to clients I’d outgrown (no offense, Microsoft); welcoming new clients – including HTC, where my friend and former colleague, Michele, is creating the internal communications function from the ground up, and has enlisted me to help her in this exciting endeavor. There was also a fair amount of travel: Palm Springs, NYC, Maui (photos here), Lake Chelan – mostly with cherished friends, as well as some rejuvenating solo time. And I awoke my dormant performer by joining the Seattle Ladies Choir for their premiere season. Given that my last forays onstage were of the improv / comedic nature during my time in NYC, it was wonderful to exercise the lungs through song – for the first time in 25 years.

But perhaps the most interesting development of 2011 was the realization that many people are in periods of significant transformation. Over the course of the year, a number of them found their way to me – either through mutual friends or just as we got to know one another better – and I found myself repeatedly being asked, “How did you do it?” How did you recover from the loss of a 15-year relationship? How did you build a successful consulting business, doing what you love? How did you buy a home and create financial security when you’re single and self-employed?

When people ask these questions, I sense they’re seeking a clear answer, a sage bit of wisdom that will help them find their way through the dust clouds, fog, and cobwebs that life repeatedly throws our way. But our lives are an amalgam of the many choices we’ve made throughout our journey – thus, no one move someone makes, even if it was revolutionary for them, will cause the same effect in another person’s life.

What I can offer, however, is this: all too often, when the dust swirls and blurs our view of what’s ahead, we freak out and start looking for detours to escape the uncertainty. But compare this to driving when visibility is so poor even the fog lights don’t cut it – panicking and detouring could send you off the road and into a ditch, or over a cliff. Instead, you’d be wise to stop and wait for conditions to clear, for the road to reveal itself. And the same applies in life: stop, breathe, tune into your inner voice…and let it show you the way.

That’s the best piece of advice I have, the one I credit most for helping me get to this point. But it really pisses some people off because they want something concrete, some step-by-step guide to barreling through the unknown. Believe me, I’ve been there. It’s unnerving to just pull over and get quiet for a while. And allowing that inner voice to come alive and guide you requires a lot of time, a lot of soul searching, a lot of brutal self-honesty, a lot of risk-taking, a lot of courage, a lot of tackling life alone, a lot of tears, a lot of teeth-gritting, and a lot of letting go. When that inner voice narrates the GPS of your life, you have to be ready to accept that it’s lonely out there on the road paved by choices all your own. You’ll veer away from some of your relationships and activities as you make room for new people and opportunities better suited to who you really are – and, more importantly, who you’re becoming.

So – if you have an inner voice you suffocate with a pillow, stop it. And if you think you don’t have an inner voice, you’re wrong. It just got so sick of you not listening, it finally gave you the finger and went into hibernation. Either way, you can jab an IV of Jolt Cola into its jugular by asking yourself this question:

“If I had only six months to live, what would I at least try to accomplish?”

Close your eyes and really imagine a doctor giving you this jarring prognosis. What comes to mind arrives courtesy of your inner voice – these things are your passions, your purpose. Sure, there’s bucket list stuff like skydiving and traveling to India and riding naked on a Harley (no judgment). But then there’s the real stuff, the Six Months to Live list. We’re talking going to medical school, figuring out how to sell your art, boot-scooting your mega-yum cookies out of the kitchen and into the cases of your own bakery. Remember, you only have six months left – you may not actually get your M.D. or see a painting sold, or proffer that first double-chocolate-cherry-macadamia bite of sinfulness, but you’ll literally die trying.

My wish for you in the coming year is that, even with the hustle and bustle and electronic madness of modern life, you’ll carve out some quiet time to listen to your inner voice. And that you’ll start letting it guide you – from the bucket list stuff all the way to the real, Six Months to Live List stuff. I also hope you’ll keep in mind that no one ever “arrives” or is fully enlightened. We’re always evolving on this topsy-turvy ride called life, though I believe we arrive at certain mile markers along the way that indicate our preparedness for various challenges – relationships, career success, children, unearthing our unique gifts and giving them back to the world. Because there is something you can do better than any other. Your inner voice knows what that is and, if you obey it, you’ll do it – before the ride is over.

Blessings, peace, health, and happiness to you and those you love – this season and throughout 2012.

With much love,
Nicole

JF + buttermilk = T-giving dinner disaster

Duuuuude! Apparently Sandra Lee was not informed by JF’s producers of his vile hatred for mayonnaise. Buttermilk is like mayo’s evil liquid twin, no?! I watched this, like, five times in a row and nearly hyperventilated laughing at his reaction – and he strung out the torture right until the very last second of this clip.

Oh dear God hilarity.

Vodpod videos no longer available.