On Failure: Part 1, Getting Rejected

I’ve failed a bunch of times.  I’ve lost.  I’ve made a royal mess of things.

I share that for a couple of reasons.

First, I say I’ve failed because I’m going to write about some of my failures this week.  (Yay, fun.  Just what I’ve always wanted to do – broadcast my losses.)  But I’m doing it because really kind people have said things recently like, “Oh, you are so amazing, I don’t know how you do it all,” or “Wow, you just have the perfect family and career and you’re just so lucky.”  Ahem.  I write a lot about resilience in the face of failure in leadership, but all too often people look at the people leading and don’t see the failures.  They just see the success.

Second, I heard this incredible message on Saturday morning.  It deserves its own post, but the punchline was that when you’re greatest hopes crash into pieces against a rock, you must not become immobilized holding those pieces rather than doing the work necessary to have them restored.

I could write a year long series on the setbacks I’ve had, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do either of us any good.  So instead I’m going to share three stories this week that caused incredible heartache and despair when they occurred, but looking back now I can see why I had to go through the loss.  Today’s story is especially for the young adults starting out and having a hard time finding their dream, or a career, or even a job.  Tomorrow’s story is for anyone who has ever gotten fired or shredded at work.  And I’ll wrap up Wednesday with a story for anyone who has ever had their heart broken wide open.

I went to Vanderbilt Law School with grand plans.  Since I didn’t get accepted at University of Chicago, I figured I’d find a job in Chicago out of law school (I’d fallen in love with it at 18 and wanted to get back there).  My entire life, I’d been a very shy, very obedient, nearly perfect kid.  I made straight As, worked from the time I was 12 to help my family (we had very limited means), taught Sunday School, and made the peace.

Then I went to law school.  And I sort of went wild.  For the first time since 7th grade, I didn’t have a job besides school and I hung out with people that were well practiced at the art of partying.  I did fine my first semester, but my second semester I tanked.  To top it off, I spent the summer studying in Oxford so I didn’t add an ounce of practical knowledge to my resume for the fall recruiting season.

I cannot even count the on-campus interviews I gave.  A bunch.  For law firms at most cities in America.  I did not receive ONE call back.  Not one single solitary employer was interested in giving me a second interview (and most definitely no one in Chicago).  I thought about dropping out of law school.  I wasn’t loving much but the social aspect, and I clearly was unemployable.  But I owed Vanderbilt $33,000 for my first year.  Oh, and I owed Oxford some money.  So I decided I better get a degree.

The one thing I had NO plans to do was move back to Texas.  But it turned out, Texas was one of the few markets hiring in 1997.  So I wrote a lot of Dallas/Fort Worth law firms letters (you see, this was before everyone had email addresses), and I bought myself a plane ticket and met a bunch of lawyers.  One wonderfully brave law firm extended me an offer for a six week clerkship that summer.  I joined a class of 8 clerks.  I have never been so grateful.

But I still had another half of my summer to fill.  And no job to fill it.  So while my fellow law students did big firm summer splits, I moved home with my mother for six weeks and took a job with a temp agency as an assistant at Compaq.  I told people that I worked in their law department, which ironically I was stationed in, but never mentioned that it was through a temp agency as an admin.

I share this story, which still creates that well of insecurity in me, to let you know that I have no pedigree.  My family has no money or connections.  I went to a tiny undergraduate school in Arkansas that folks still can’t pronounce, and I still don’t know exactly how I ended up at Vanderbilt.  I hung out with people that had way more money that me and I got in a lot of credit card debt.  I stayed in law school my second year because I didn’t feel I had any options.  I only ever had one real law firm clerkship and thankfully they extended me an offer.

If you had told that insecure law student that she would work for a global energy company and write a book and have a family and win some awards, she would have told you to sober up.

Those failures, academic, personal, professional, made me stronger.  They introduced me to a community I would have never known and for which I am ever so thankful to have found.  They paved the path that needed to be paved.  I took some detours that didn’t need to happen, but God used even those to teach me something about myself and others.

Don’t be embarrassed about the way you got to where you are.  And don’t be scared that your current situation defines your future potential.  It. Does. Not.

Fashion Friday: Closet Essentials, Part 1

Meet my fun friend Cyndi.  She is a smart entrepreneur who is busy and colorful.  Well, everywhere but in her closet.  When we explored its depths (and I mean depths, she got a bigger closet this year), we found she wasn’t very adventuresome or colorful (except for in one category, keep reading!).

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Welcome to the first of a three part series for Fashion Fridays on Closet Essentials.  What must you have as a part of your wardrobe?  What should you ditch?  What could you change?  How should you be thinking about what’s in your closet now?

That’s what we’re going to tackle with this series.  Cyndi was gracious enough to serve as my first guinea pig!  Cyndi’s lifestyle is a mix so her wardrobe has to be as well. She owns her own law firm so a workday could mean anything from working on her computer from home (very casual), to meeting with clients in her office (professional but business casual), to appearing in court on behalf of her clients (suit is a must).  She has an active daughter so weekends are busy running errands, and she’ll rarely dress up – perhaps for an evening out with her husband since even Sunday church isn’t particularly dressy.

This is what Cyndi was doing right:

Summer Casual!  She had a closet full of gorgeous dresses in every color and pattern you could imagine.  A casual maxidress for running errands or bright sundresses for movie night or brunch with friends.  She also had an assortment of wedges that she could pair comfortably with the dresses.  A great look for casual summer weekends.

 

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This is where Cyndi was missing the mark:

Everything else.  While her dresses reflected her colorful and interesting personality, her winter wardrobe and work wardrobe was primarily made up of black, brown, bland gray, and creams.

Here’s what closet essentials Cyndi was missing:

1.  Neutral work pumps.  This is not black or brown.  These are actually less neutral than bone, taupe or gray.  And Cyndi didn’t have a single solitary pair in that color family which left her stumped on what to pair with a couple of her lovely, but rarely worn, work suits.  Now Cyndi does have some medical issues with her feet that leave many of the mass market shoes out of reach, but there are supportive shoes that can feel modern and work appropriate.

VANELi, Cole Haan, Rockport, and others all design heels for comfort, and if you hit Nordstrom’s during a semi-annual sale you can pick up some of these higher priced pumps for $100 (often well designed comfort shoes are pricier).  It will require a lot of work, and I told Cyndi she’d probably have to spend a few hours in a shoe department in order to understand what shoes offer the support she knows her feet need.  Here’s some great options:

Cole Haan Bethany wedge – colehaan

VANELI peep toe pewter pumps – vaneli

Geox snake skin embossed pumps – elina

2.  Colorful shells.  Cyndi has to wear more conservative suits to court and most of her suits were black.  However, she normally paired her black suit with a black shell or possibly an ecru or gray shell.

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My advice:  STOP!  Here is a wide open opportunity to infuse a work wardrobe with bright color.  With her skin tone and hair color, she could easily shine in reds, purples, turquoises, and pinks.  Luckily, you can nearly always pick up work shells on sale and she needs about five to jump start her work wardrobe.

This bold red patterned number from Loft comes in at under $50 – shell2

As does this mauve mosaic shell that’s on sale at Loft this week – shell3

Some blouses can go on their own or with a simple cardigan for those business casual days – like either of these from Macy’s:

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3.  Accessories.  Cyndi has virtually no necklaces or scarves.  The few necklaces she does have would pair well with a tunic and jeans but couldn’t be worn for work, and there’s not much in the way of color and texture in the scarf category either.  This is the simplest and cheapest solution.  While she mentioned she’s less comfortable accessorizing with necklaces, she was completely on board with picking up some interesting scarves.  I always start at Charming Charlie’s for entry price point color and infinity scarves are the easiest to style.

This turquoise ocean inspired infinity scarf only runs $18 – scarf

While this dot infinity scarf comes in around $40 from Macy’s (without coupons) but in gorgeous colors like fuschia, cherry, and iris – scarf2

But don’t exclude statement necklaces just because they’re not typically in your comfort zone.  It’s good to have a couple pieces that you could pair for work or a night out.  Stella & Dot or Chloe & Isabel are great places to get inspiration (and catch sales to make them more affordable).

I like this Meridian piece from Chloe & Isabel – necklace

Here were the list of tips left hanging inside Cyndi’s closet door along with a few action items:

1.  If you are wearing three of the same colors when you get ready to leave, then swap one of them out for something brighter.
Have fun – mix patterns and colors and textures!  (Here was one of OUR experiments shopping in her closet!)

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2.  Get a color wheel and tape it to your door – experiment with coordinating and contrasting instead of matching all your outfits.

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3.  Accessorize!  Throw on a scarf or necklace or interesting earrings before you walk out the door.

4.  Tailor your suits.  Take in your best fitting, most modern blazer and have at least three of your suit jackets hemmed up several inches to modernize them.  Also, consider converting them from two buttons to one button for your frame and modernizing the buttons.

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5.  Shorten your shirts.  Tunics don’t actually hide your bum, they accentuate it.  Consider instead wearing a shorter shirt with a casual blazer (in a color other than beige! – she had three).

How about you?  When’s the last time you evaluated your closet?  What are you missing?  What do you love best?  And let’s all give Cyndi a huge shout out for being the first in our series!  Next week, you’ll travel with me to my best friend’s closet reno!

Lent To Me

I grew up in churches but not in ones that emphasized Lent.  I really don’t remember hearing it taught until maybe sometime in law school.  Even for years after that it never really impacted me (maybe because there was no Facebook with everyone posting about what they were giving up!).  I’d grown up with Good Friday and Easter Sunday but not paying that much attention to the 40 days before.

Recently, I’ve paid more attention.  But never more than this year.  You see, I’m up early this morning writing this post and spending time praying over what these next 40 days would reveal.  I’m a big fan of those Biblical 40 day periods.  I’ve even written a 40 day marriage preparatory devotional that might see the light of day one of these days.  I love how God uses that time period to transform.  To grow.  To commission.

The 40 day period that comes to mind during this start of the 40 day Lenten season is the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before He began His ministry.  You can read about it in Matthew 4, but we see that it is a hard season filled not only with prayer and fasting but also with some pretty hard tests, tests maybe some of us can even relate to (tests of pride, tests of physical will power, tests of even proving yourself).

I read this yesterday on a blog I don’t even know how I found, and it struck a nerve, “Friends, Lent is a wise tradition that insists we deal with our heart’s biggest spiritual issue: we are prone to wander, to forget, to blame, and to hide. We want to make our own way. The tradition of Lent is a mercy. It is an intentional time before Easter to turn away from our dead-end devices. We turn away from the false, and we turn to the True. We turn our face, attention, interest, energy, and all our will towards the face of God.  Sin (wanting our own damn way) hardens our heart, sears our conscience, and darkens our mind. Our eyes and words turn haughty. We compare and despair and bemoan. We are easily offended, greedy for affirmation and self-justification. We seek our will be to done, grumbling and blaming when it isn’t. Sin hides God’s true image from the world that he loves. We desperately need a time of focused heart examination because sin – whose property is always to destroy and separate – will steadily suck our spirits dry to the bone.  The point of Lent, then, is not to give up chocolate or Cabernet or chips, but to give up sin!”

That’s a tall order.  But one I decided to place.

Rarely are we offered a season where we are given the opportunity to clean out our souls like we spring clean our houses.  We have been given 40 days to look at all the clutter and all the things that so easily entangle us and keep us from running the race that He has set out for us (Hebrews 12).

During a season where the church universal mourns the execution of 21 Egyptian Christians, we should also mourn how we, in a nation that affords us every freedom, have become lukewarm and unaffected by our faith.  There’s nothing worse (Rev. 3:16).  We’re unaffected and unmoved and that should become unacceptable during this season of searching our souls.

I am giving some things up starting today.  I’m also beginning some new things.  I pray for the discipline to continue through this season faithful to my commitments.

Kristin Schell wrote a beautiful post on Lent and what it is and offers up some great resources to if you want to dig deeper this season.

Seeing Red

Happy Monday!  I didn’t know how to capture all the good, and less good, from the past few days and seeing red seemed to sum it up.

First up, drum roll please, a NEW FRONT DOOR!  I have wanted a new front door since I moved into this house in May 2006.  We have a gray house with black shutters and less than inventive landscaping.  Our black door with an inset glass middle featuring a 1980s style etched palm tree drove me bananas.  But new front doors are expensive.  And my dream door was impossible to find.  Why my darling hubby finally agreed to a new front door this Christmas, after years of asking, I’ll never know (though I think that his father may have helped), but I sure am grateful.

I found the slab at a home building company that was the style I wanted.  From there, I selected the black hardware I wanted for the door as well as the cherry red I’d wanted all these years.  It took several weeks for the handyman we hired to sand, paint, and install the door but HERE IT IS (molding still to be finished)!  And just in time for our fourth neighbors table; literally, he was cleaning up the porch as neighbors began to arrive for our Valentine’s celebration!

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Next up, while Bray and I had a nice dinner out Friday night, the gift card I had for the restaurant was declined!  I was furious and seeing a whole different kind of red.  A company here in Houston owns several high end restaurants, and I was told the card could be used at any of their establishments.  Yet when we went to pay the bill (I’d picked this particular restaurant because we had the card), they said that it could only be used at the place it was purchased.  What!?!?!  Yes, I’m on a mission with their corporate headquarters today to fix what fast became a dinner pricier than we had budgeted.

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Bray headed out Saturday morning, and we woke to a festive Valentine’s Table.

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The festivities didn’t last long; the eldest took a serious turn for poor health.  Every symptom you could have, he got it.  Fevers and shakes all day, throwing up to the point of dry heaves on the way to Texas Children’s Saturday night, headaches, back aches, stomach aches.  The doctor was wonderful.  She ran every kind of test and saw how pitiful he was just laying there.  We couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but she got us on zofram for the nausea and called in Tamiflu because he was so flu symptomatic even though the initial test came back negative.

This was my Valentine’s date:

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I joked that I spent Valentine’s Day like I did when I was 16 – at home with my mom, except this time I’m 30 pounds heavier and have three kids :)  Thank heavens she came so that the other two weren’t completely neglected.

Finally, we decided since Valentine’s Day was such a bust, we’d celebrate on the 15th.  We couldn’t go to church since the eldest was still contagious, so we did church at home and then made a big yummy lunch (the big guy had so quickly improved my Sunday morning that I never even started the Tamiflu), and we baked a cake and the kids decorated it.  We were seeing red with our big red sugar heart in the middle.  We played outside before the rain hit and ate well and redeemed the weekend.

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How about you?  How was your weekend?

Fashion Fridays: Valentine’s Two Part Special, “She Said”

I hope you joined us last week as we launched Part 1 of our “He Said”/”She Said” Valentine’s Fashion Friday special.  Well, now it’s your turn girls.

I asked and you responded.  What do wish he would or would not wear?  How would you dress your man if you got to choose?  Now I might say that just like the He Said post, She Said was more consistent on the “what not to wear” responses than on the “what you love” responses.  What a woman wishes her man would wear was all over the map and depended on the event and the type of woman.  Nonetheless, I’m going to try.

First up, The Don’ts (guys, take note):

1.  Denim on denim – it’s out.  It went out sometime around 1989.  Don’t pair denim shirts with jeans.  Which takes me to…

2.  Certain jeans – women like their men in jeans, but not SOME jeans.  These fell into several categories but the “don’t do” jeans included baggy, acid washed, too worn, dated, short, etc.  You get the gist.  Just consider buying new jeans and cleaning out your old ones fella.

3.  Ugly shoes – with all the fabulous women’s shoes out there, why are there so many ugly men’s shoes?  I actually think it’s harder to find cool shoes for men than it is to find ugly shoes.

4.  Pleated pants – now most men are still clinging to their 1990s pleated pants.  However, it really is more flattering if men wear flat front pants.  As I noted though, there were a few women that preferred the classic look of pleated pants, so it just goes to show you to talk about it.

5.  T-shirts with messages that are not actually that funny or that are gross or insensitive.  Consider ditching the message shirts.

Next up, the fun part – The Do’s:

1.  Layers/Sweaters – I think these have fallen out of favor because too many men get hot.  But if you buy in lighter weight fabrics, you can accomplish the incredibly handsome look without sweltering.

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While I am partial to the half zip sweater, you can do this in any number of styles or colors (one girlfriend specifically said, “MORE color”).  Also note the jeans.  One paired a great pair of charcoal jeans, and the other has a nice medium washed blue.

2.  Nicer casual – one way to immediately dress up an outfit is to throw a blazer on.  Even a button down with jeans automatically gets an upgrade when you don a sports coat.  Or swap out a pair of jeans for a pair of neutral pants and presto you look like you made more of an effort.  Finally, if you really want to make her swoon, try it all together (see this last example) – color, layers, a sweater with maybe, gasp, a tie!

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(All looks but the next to last two courtesy of J. Crew. Next to last two courtesy of Nordstrom’s.)

For a few tips, regardless of where you’re headed or who you are trying to impress, check out menswear websites to get ideas.  Look at this excellent J Crew Work Trip Cheat Sheet – https://www.jcrew.com/mens_feature/CheatsheetWorkTrip_sm.jsp

Or Nordstrom’s men’s landing page has great ideas on how to wear jeans or the latest shoe on the market – http://shop.nordstrom.com/c/men?dept=8000001&origin=topnav

(And I know this sounds nuts to a guy, but um, Pinterest has some great examples if you just want to send your wife/girlfriend on a quest for a fresh look!)

Run these ideas by someone first because sometimes what appears in vogue may not work well for your body type or your work/city environment.

Ladies, your turn: What do you love or hate to see?