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Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Like everyone else, my company has spent the past five weeks figuring out how our entirely in-office team could suddenly, in the course of three days, become an entirely remote team. Needless to say, it’s been a *bit* hectic. The first week and a half mostly consisted of a lot of frantic phone calls, people driving back to the office to get forgotten cables and long conference calls with our technology providers when things didn’t work like we thought they would. (Literally nothing worked like we thought it would.)

However, to the credit of our amazing team, we are now functioning as normally as possible, with everyone except the tiniest skeleton crew in the office. (Three people, spread across 7500 square feet with as much hand sanitizer as we could get, and temperature checks every morning.) We’re all now wizards at Microsoft Teams chats, and Zoom meetings, and forwarding phone calls to cell phones, and everything else that comes along with working remotely. And while we miss the heck out of each other (our office was always loud, and joke-y, and fun), we know that this is what’s best for all of us, and the community, in the long run. We’re incredibly grateful to still be able to work when so many can’t, and we are acutely aware of the critical role we play in getting products to market — we’re all eating at home a lot more, and the shipments of ice cream and cheese and melons and oranges my company moves each week are keeping grocery stores stocked and bellies full. That means something, and gives purpose to our days. …

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I just cried for the third time today.

The first time was in the shower, thinking about another day spent in my home office, staring at my own dumb face in Zoom meetings, fending off dogs and kids and trying trying trying to get something meaningful done.

The second time was when I logged into our ERP system and saw that we had six orders for the week. …

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Author’s Own Photo (And Actual Vision Board)

I believe in the power of beginnings. Sundays, the first of the month, the beginning of a new quarter, a first date, the start of a new fitness regime — they are all important. How you begin a project, or a period of time, or a relationship sets the tone for the rest of it. (That’s not to say you can’t recover from a rough beginning, but it is much easier just to have a good start.)

I’m especially fond of the New Year. I think there is a power to January 1st that can create real change in a person’s life. And yes, I know that calendars a just a construct, and time is a flat circle, etc., but as humans, we are conditioned to treat January 1st as a new start. And THIS January 1st, coming on the heels of such a difficult year (2019 was brutal in my business), was especially important to me. …

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Photo by Adam Tinworth on Unsplash

This New Year didn’t get off to a great start. I had hopes. I had aspirations. Reality had different ideas. January 1st was going to bring waves of change to my life — a new eating plan, a better business year, my 40th birthday, weight loss, etc. Instead, I saw everything I’d planned for fall apart, in rapid succession.

We arrived home from our holiday vacation to a house with a broken furnace and had to sleep in our long johns, under four blankets. The furnace repair company that we had used before Christmas ghosted us, and no one would return our calls. I’d decided to pursue a plant-based diet, but the restaurant we stopped at for breakfast on the drive home had literally no options for me besides dry toast. I wanted to lose weight but the cheese binge I went on before saying farewell to dairy had left me five pounds heavier than before the holidays. (This was pretty much a direct correlation between the amount of cheese I ate and how much weight I gained. …

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Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

I grew up on a small farm in Ohio, raising beef cattle (not to be confused with dairy cows), chickens, goats, and the occasional hog when my brother was in 4-H. We only ever had one or two head of cattle at a time, and we lived on 50 acres — what people in our area called a “toy farm.” It was nothing compared to the hundreds of acres most of our neighbors owned, and certainly just a blip on the radar when you consider the size of the factory farming operations that now exist in our country.

Our cows were always bought at the local livestock auction — a big, dusty wooden building in the center of our small town. Like all livestock auctions, it featured a ring, surrounded by tiered wooden benches, like a tiny theater. Animals were driven into the sawdust ring by a man with a cane as an auctioneer took bids. Most of the animals were small, just taken from their mothers and ready to raise and eventually sell for meat. This made them cheaper — you could buy a calf or piglet, feed it until it was full grown, keep half the meat to feed your family and sell the other half of the meat to pay for the next calf. To get to the ring, you walked a plank on the second story over all the pens where the animals were kept. That walk always terrified me, because even though there were railings, my child’s mind was convinced that I was going to fall into the pen with the pigs or calves or even worse, a bull, and get stomped to death. Or at least covered in animal poop. …

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Photo by RODOLFO BARRETO on Unsplash

Over Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law commented that she admired my organization because I had looked at the traffic online before we started our 325-mile drive home. (I had gone on Waze the moment I woke up to see how long the drive would take.) I just laughed and said, “Actually, it’s kind of a curse.”

I wasn’t joking, or humble-bragging. It is a curse to be as obsessed with punctuality as I am. From the minute I wake up, I’m backward-planning my day, trying to figure out the most efficient timeline for everything. And if I get off schedule, or (GOD FORBID) I’m late, the self-recrimination is intense. …

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

When I first started my company ten years ago, I didn’t think much about managing my emotions. For one thing, I was the only person working there, and for another, I figured my eventual employees would just have to deal with my moods, just like I’d always had to deal with the moods of my bosses in the past.

But as the years passed, I became acutely aware of how my emotional presentation affected everyone else in the company. I have a big personality, and a lot of energy, and when that energy isn’t positive, it can seriously derail the entire office. I’ve watched it happen — in that way we can sometimes observe ourselves from 30,000 feet when something is going really well, or really badly — I’d come into the office in a foul mood, bark at someone and watch all the air leave the room. …

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Photo by Tanner Daniels on Unsplash

The first time I saw the Cincinnati skyline was in the summer of 2006. I was here on a weekend visit, spending time with a man I’d just begun dating. As we drove down the hill from the East Side where he lived into downtown (you have to drive down a hill from anywhere to get into downtown Cincinnati), the skyline appeared and, breathless, I thought: “I’m home.”

I’d visited lots of cities and never once had I had the feeling of absolute belonging as I did that day. …

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Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Last week, I had to let someone go who had worked for me for nearly six years. It was a difficult situation, made more so because his exit wasn’t his fault — we’d simply made a strategic change that had eliminated his job. It was a textbook definition of a layoff (change of work conditions, etc.), but that didn’t make the termination any easier.

This employee served on our management team, and had access to all our passwords and security keys, and could have very easily shut the company down for a while, if he’d wanted to. I didn’t have reason to believe he’d go that route, but my first priority is always to protect the company and the other 25 employees I have, so I had to tread carefully. Additionally, he and my business partner were close, socializing outside work, spending time at each others’ homes, scheduling playdates for their kids, etc. …

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Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

One of my favorite scenes from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is where Clark Griswold opens his annual Christmas bonus check. A courier hand-delivers the envelope, and in front of his entire extended family, Clark announces that not only is he using his bonus to put in a swimming pool, but he’s also already paid for it, even though he didn’t have the money in his account yet. When he opens the envelope, instead of a check, it’s a membership to the Jelly of the Month Club.

I was reminded of that scene last week, when, during a holiday catch-up lunch, a friend of mine told me he’d been fielding angry phone calls from his co-workers all morning because none of them had gotten their anticipated annual bonus. This friend of mine, Bill, had even been promised a bonus, which he didn’t receive. He said he’d opened his pay stub that morning expecting anywhere from $2000-$5000 in extra pay, only to find none. He and all his peers were stunned, hurt, and furious. …

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

My partner and my daughter have a phrase that they use when I come home from work in a certain mood: they say I’m “coming in hot.” (The phrase originated in the Vietnam War, when helicopters would land fast, weapons ready.) Basically, it means I’m still wound up from work, moving too fast and spoiling for a fight. I’ll come through the door pointing out things that aren’t being done right, and peppering everyone with questions.

When I come in hot, the rest of the evening feels off-kilter. Whatever my family was doing before I got home, it is forgotten, and any joy they feel at seeing me evaporates the minute I bang into the house. I can immediately see their faces close off and watch them take a literal step back from me. …

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Photo by Marcus Zymmer on Unsplash

A few years ago, one of my salespeople was rambling during a performance evaluation when she suddenly stopped herself mid-sentence. “Land the plane, Sarah,” she said. “Land the plane.”

I looked at her, confused. …

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Photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash

In a recent performance evaluation with one of my sales team members, my employee suggested that, in order to get more results, he starts staying through his lunch (which he spends at the gym) and coming in a little earlier (than his normal 7 a.m. …

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Photo by T. Chick McClure on Unsplash

My mother has strong opinions. A lot of them. And, like most children of opinionated parents, I’ve internalized them over the years, and never thought much of it. But it came to me lately that I might be wrong to do that, as I was moving into my new house. I was loading stuff onto the lazy susan in my corner cupboard, grumbling to my boyfriend about how dumb they are, when he asked me, “Why do you hate lazy susans so much?”

I just stared at him, open-mouthed. I had no idea. I’d never actually had one. I shouldn’t have had an opinion on lazy susans at all. But there it was, a deep and abiding hatred, living in my brain next to my rejection of Kool-Aid, Top Ramen, white bread, and Mountain Dew. None of these opinions were my own — they were my mother’s. And yet, I felt them as strongly as anything I’ve arrived at through my own experience. …

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Photo by Kayla Farmer on Unsplash

My daughter, Catherine, loves farts. Like most eight-year-olds, she thinks that farts, and farting, and fart noises, are the apotheosis of humor, and no matter how many times a fart joke is told, or a fart is…well….farted, she howls with laughter. Most of the time, I sit by in my very studied mom-disapproval mode, shaking my head and frowning, talking about how little girls are supposed to be heard and not smelled, but it does no good. The farts continue in spite of (and perhaps because of) my disapproval.

One night, though, my darling little princess pretended to propel herself around the entire house using only the power of her farts. For a solid five minutes, she rocketed from the kitchen island to the couch to the back door and back, blowing endless raspberries between gales of laughter. I couldn’t help it. I started laughing and didn’t stop until tears were streaming from my eyes and my sides ached. I laughed so hard I was nauseated. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve never laughed that hard in my life. After her performance, we both collapsed on the couch, teary-eyed and exhausted, but utterly joyful. …

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It’s usually pretty easy for me to figure out when I’ve pushed myself too far, when I’ve allowed my work and personal commitments to completely overwhelm all my self-care, when I’ve burned the candle at both ends and the middle.

I start to wish for the flu.

And not that wussy 24-hour stomach bug that people call the flu. I want what I call the “legit flu” — influenza. The one that lays people low with fevers and body aches. …

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Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Three weeks ago, I moved from a home far out in the suburbs to one in the middle of the city. I had grown tired of the sterility of suburban life, of having to drive 15 minutes to get a cup of coffee, of walking around my small, homogeneous neighborhood where everyone looked just like me. I felt isolated, too; the small sea of lawn between me and my neighbors serving as a barrier instead of the invitation to linger I’d hoped it would be.

Living in the city has solved most of that — we can walk two blocks for an amazing cafe latte, stroll two blocks more for delicious pizza, and then round the corner and let my daughter run rampant at an enormous playground. It’s been everything I’d hoped it would be…and more. …

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Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life. Even as a child, I put immense pressure on myself to be “perfect” — whatever that meant. …

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Photo by Rachel Danner on Unsplash

The industry I work in (freight transportation) is officially in a recession. We’ve had three straight quarters of decline in revenues, freight volumes, and per-mile rates. More than 600 trucking companies have gone bankrupt in the first half of this year, putting 20,000 truck drivers out of work. As one business publication put it, it’s been a bloodbath, especially following last year, which was one of the most profitable years the trucking industry had ever seen. We’re all reeling, and suffering from some serious whiplash.

My company is well-positioned to survive the recession — we’re incredibly lean, we review metrics and KPIs weekly so there are no surprises, and we’re on solid ground, financially. But it still isn’t easy. We’ve spent the entire year struggling to find revenue and hold down costs, while waiting for the market to turn and prices to start climbing again. We’re as small as we’ve been since 2012, and we’ve put all major capital investments on hold until profitability improves. …

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Photo by Laurynas Mereckas on Unsplash

Next year, I turn 40. (I’ve written about my angst around this birthday before.) Until about two years ago, I was that lucky person who never really experienced chronic pain — I had occasionally training injuries, and I suffer from infrequent migraines, but nothing serious. I glided through my days free from stiff shoulders, achy knees, or sore hips.

Then I turned 39, and everything fell apart. Over the course of two months, what had been a minor twinge in my elbow became excruciating pain when I tried to lift anything heavier than my hand. …

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Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I sat down for lunch with a man I didn’t know at all. He’d graciously agreed to meet with me to discuss how he’d moved his office from the suburbs of Cincinnati to a more urban location, something I was considering doing myself. A member of the city government had connected us, and I was hoping to get the straight story about how difficult or successful he’d felt the move had been.

Because we hadn’t met before, as I was waiting for him at the restaurant, I looked up his LinkedIn profile. I was hoping to find out what he looked like so I wouldn’t keep gazing expectantly at every man who walked through the door, an awkward proposition for a woman sitting alone. As soon as I found his profile, though, I cringed. His photo screamed “SALES GUY” — the loud pinstriped suit, the full manspread, the $300 haircut — all he was missing was finger guns. …

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Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Talking to a friend at lunch last week, I heard an all-too-common lament: a new manager had come in and started making sweeping changes to her department before even working a full day. She was, understandably, upset, hurt and resistant to an outsider dictating that she change everything about how she worked without first trying to understand why she did things the way she did.

This strategy of storming the gates and implementing change is, as I said, far too common and rarely works. I certainly understand the impulse — you are brought in by your new employer, or into a new department at your current company, and you want to show immediate results. You want to prove that you are worthy of the job, or promotion, you’ve just received. But instead of getting those results, change-minded managers often have the opposite effect, alienating their employees and burning any goodwill their presence could have brought. …

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Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

When my daughter was born, I had just started my business, so I didn’t get a maternity leave. I had her on a Friday night, came home on Sunday and sat back down at my desk to work Monday morning. I wore her in a baby sling, answering customer phone calls and typing around her tiny body. Instead of napping when she napped, I put her down in her crib next to my desk and used those hours to work more.

By the time she was two weeks old, I was so tired I was hallucinating. I picked her up for a night feeding and thought her face had melted off. (My now-ex-husband moved into the guest room during this time “because someone needed to get some sleep.”) …

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I’ve been in sales most of my career, have run a sales team for a decade and have been teaching sales at the university level for nearly as long, and recently, I made a radical change to my sales team, one that I never thought I would. I eliminated commissions, and put everyone on salary.

Now, this was not an easy decision, nor was it arrived at lightly. I worked for years to craft a compensation plan for my sales team that would drive profitability, and it worked. (I even wrote an article here on Medium about it.)

But it had to be done. Yes, our profitability was good, but the company hadn’t grown in four years. We weren’t attracting new talent, and most of the people who were already selling for us were complacent — happy to do the minimum to earn their commissions and then coast, and we had a frustrated sales manager who had no leverage to drive performance. Whatever we were doing clearly wasn’t working. …

About

Lacy Starling

Serial entrepreneur, educator, storyteller. Laser-focused on helping organizations improve culture, strategy, sales and marketing. www.starlingconsults.com

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