Humor Experiments

I’ve been a bit slow posting here lately. I’ve been experimenting with humor, storytelling, and coaching. You can follow along for my comic sketches on my instagram and for OB nerdiness check out the new @brenegosling. 

After almost two decades working in the corporate, I’m finally coming around to trusting my funny bone. It’s a weird highly litigious polarized time to be alive. If I make joke publically, I need to accept that I will offend people:

  • There will be people who don’t know me, and therefore won’t get the irony of some of my jokes.
  • There will be trolls who will intentionally take what I say the wrong way, and
  • Let’s not forget my EXTRAORDINARY ability to stick my foot in my mouth (next time we have a beer ask me what I said to the CEO of J.Crew that time).
I’ve had this as my personal twitter tagline for 5 years, no one has disagreed with it yet.

If you don’t lose a negotiation every so often you’re not negotiating hard enough. (My corolary: If you don’t cross the line every so often, you probably aren’t funny)

~ Keith Chen, my negotiations professor now teaching at UCLA after being the chief economist at Uber

No Joke

My first week as the Insurance Marketing Director, the Leadership team gave me the feedback that I “did good work, but needed to stop making jokes.” I really wished I had the confidence and perspective to push back on that feedback. It’s the sort of casual disempowerment that destroys psychological safety, kills innovation, and very likely communicated an unexamined gender default bias. Unfortunately, fear-based organizations, don’t understand how to care personally without being creepy and default to political correctness. In those atmospheres humor and trust wilt.

Humor, like manners and booze, can be a social lubricant – IN MODERATION.

Comedy can be as succinct as poetry, as sticky as stories, and in the right context – reduce barriers so that challenging subjects can be raised for discussion. It’s also a sign of a confident, happy, trusting organization.


Book Kismet

Look what I found at the library book sale for $1 – a Brené Brown book I haven’t read! Honestly, this feels almost magical at this moment of my life.

Page One

You know a book is going to shake things up when you read, on the first page… “[re: false dichotomies], the first question we should ask is who benefits by forcing people to choose.”

OMG!!! What a great question! #meta

Many of you know I how I feel about double binds, and how too often it’s a cheap negotiation ploy by folks in power to tell “subordinates” they are too “this” or too “that” — never just right.

Getting greedy — asking for both!

As a creative and human — once we move beyond the basics, we have the opportunity for growth. And that is all about the “yes, and” combining, including — and creating something new.

Anyone out there have a good “yes, and” story?

I’d love to hear it!

The way out is through

This poignant letter by Nick Cave reminded me, as so many things do, of the chakras. I’ve shared with some of you how I use chakras as a meditation framework. One of the things I learned about the chakras is what blocks them. In the letter, the artist talks about how grief is intertwined with love, which resonates with my understanding of these energy centers. 
Instead of thinking of these shadow as “blockers”, consider perhaps ways you can accept them and move through them as part of the process of being, healing and growing.

Here’s a quick list of the 7 energetic chakras – their light and their shadow.

  1. Your ability to lay down roots and grow is supported by your capacity to move through your fear. 
  2. Your capacity to create and to savor pleasure is limited by shame and fear of judgment. 
  3. Your capacity for worthiness is limited by guilt and fear of rejection. 
  4. Your capacity for love is limited by grief and a fear of the future. 
  5. Your capacity for advocacy is limited by lies, dishonesty and the fear of authenticity. 
  6. Your capacity for understanding is limited by illusion and distorted reality.
  7. Your capacity for flow and divinity is limited by attachment and fear of losing (the illusion of control). 

Shadows are not good or bad, that is only the quality we give them. Shadows can grant perspective, dimension, depth, focus, and space. They are what we make them, hiding monsters, angels, or nothing. 

TEDxWomen – Indy Recap

Some observations and thoughts…

Molly Q. Ford – Bring a folding Chair

Of all the speakers, Molly’s mission most aligns with my own. Working in creative innovation, diversity of thought, inclusion is a big part of my purpose. I have also felt the isolation of L-only-ness, and I know most of us are all looking for allies and advocates. For a while seeing the ways bias manifest in the corporate world felt like a betrayal and made me very angry and skeptical of business. What I’ve learned since then, listening and coaching and being coached — is the way forward is compassion — for ourselves and others and that this is a fight worth fight. Molly’s talk reminded that I am on the right track — that being frustrated and angry is part of the process. My frustration as a white woman, who can sometimes “blend” and “hide” is not comparable to people of color. Being able to take a “rest” from some unconscious bias, is a privilege and a power, which I can enjoy but also share. We all want to be seen, to know we are not alone. What could be more gracious than elevating others voices? 

Something that I would like to see manifest from her talk – the “decade pledge.” At this rate, it’ll take a century for the wage gap to close. Instead, I’d like to see companies commit to equal pay for equal impact (as well as equal opportunity) — in less than a decade.

Tapati Dutta – The path becomes the purpose

Tapati’s journey reminds of the true meaning of compassion. To have gone through the life she has lived through a childhood of caregiving, gendered oppression, poverty and come through with so much love and empathy – is humbling. As Rumi reminds us — the wound is where the light enters and I think Tapati show us just how true that is.  I’m embarrassed by how messy the drawing came out — but I think also reflects how messy life is — I also am in love with her paradigm for viewing folks holistically. It actually reminds me of a comment from Laszlo Bock, former head of People at Google, when he said he looks for signs of “relative deprivation” when interviewing folks.

Something I’d like to see come out of this – companies applying the Risk/Resilience/Relative Depravation matrix, for inclusive, wholehearted interviewing.

Melissa Spitz – Be curious and compassionate

I posted earlier last week about Melissa’s talk. For me personally, there is some much in her story that I am working through with my own complicated relationships with my four parents. Her journey into compassion and coming to a place of curiosity with her parents is a humbling reminder for me — as I evolve from child to adult and caregiver. 

What I hope comes from this — sharing our stories, being vulnerable and finding the people who make us feel safe.

Claudia Angeli – Never is not impossible

The story of Angeli’s work helping the paralyzed walk again was AMAZING! Although I’ll admit I loved that Claudia began the talk admitting how boring science can be — sadly it’s why I never got into it. That said, I’ve come around to the idea of experimenting in business — which may be similarly boring and is likewise full of failure and rejection, although perhaps with much lower stakes. As someone who has torn her ACL three times — I also have a teeny tiny window in the AGONY of what it is like when your body won’t do what it used to. Of all the talks this one made me cry the most!

What I hope comes from this — I hope this inspires more women to get into science, manifest our human potential and push the limits on what is possible. 

Tamika Catchings – Ad astra per aspera, srsly

You speak with Tamika, you might not even realize she had a hearing impairment – the first thing you notice is her 1,000-watt smile and amazing energy. I loved hearing her journey beginning with the fierce desire to focus on her game – that determination to be the best,  take the shot and find her voice. In every hero’s journey, though, they’re called to something greater. In Tamika’s case, it was to use her platform for those with similar challenges, of course, few of us get Pat Summit to be our Yoda #fangirl #swoon. Pivoting from being a player to being an advocate and inspiration — from being a player to a leader — is just the beginning of Tamika’s journey.

What I hope come from Tamika’s talk — this brings us full circle back to Molly’s talk — and learning to lift up and rise up the voices of others. That we have a duty to the next generation – to leave this world a better place. The time to start is now. You are already enough.

Too much of a good thing. 

My freshman year, I seriously twisted my ankle during a tournament. That evening, I limped to my dorm and took a long hot shower to relax and “heal”. When I couldn’t walk the next day, folks who know about acute injuries, won’t be surprised that the doctor told me a hot shower was the OPPOSITE of what I should have done.

Handing me a pair of crutches and she schooled me in good ol’ RICE – Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Since then. I’ve been fascinated by counter-intuition i.e. when we want for one thing, but need another.

When our intuition goes wrong

Below are some Mind / Body examples of when to ignore your gut.

  • “Lean-In” running up a hill. My instinct is to keep my head down and charge. However, my friends who actually did track taught me that holding myself upright helps with both balance and breathing!
  • My “Tight” Hamstrings. My hamstrings are often sore and feel tight, but are in fact overextended. This is super noticeable by training coaches when I squat. Instead what I need to is to stretch my quads and strengthen my hammies.
  • Hushing babies (and anyone). When babies cry, I have found that it is more effective to agree with them, to acknowledge them and listen. “Yes, baby, I know, I hear you.” Holding space for their “suffering”, rather than denying it allows them to let it go. Actually, this works for other adults and ourselves as well. (See also Happiness Project + Radical Acceptance)
  • Coffee stimulation. Since I started getting into meditation, I’ve begun to pay attention to my heart beat before ordering another cup. While my instinct is often to get more coffee to charge ahead and focus. Often it is the last thing I need to get into the flow state. More often than not and too energetic and I would be better served by slowing down with a chamomile tea or a 20-minute meditation.
  • Social Anxiety. As I get older I’ve found that my introverted side really comes out. Reading a book or watching Netflix is generally so much more appealing than going out. The consequences of doing that too often, however, is you miss out on nurturing healthy social connections. Generally, reminding myself of this fact, and visualizing how good I feel after connecting with friends (and also giving myself permission to leave early) is enough to get me out the door. Nine times out of ten, I’m super happy I did.
  • Pressing harder on a task. My dad’s in construction and I was raised to be gritty and work hard. However, sometimes it’s best to slow down, listen, and re-evaluate when something isn’t working. Too often we grind away pursuing an old goal, or plan, when the target has moved or when there is a new opportunity. We all know folks who focus on doing work, rather than results. That’s safe. At least you can say you tried. Don’t give into that. Real leaders focus on doing less with more impact.

It’s all about balance

I’ve said it before but I think, the reason so many self-help gurus stay employed is that the answer is rarely a straightforward “either or.”  (Sidenote: Brene Brown mentions that she was taught that whenever you see a false dichotomy, ask yourself who benefits from requiring that choice!)
Life is all about balance, a “both, and.”  Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, nuance is hard to market, especially if our automatic brain is driving the bus. As an example, look at the seven deadly sins, each represents one negative extreme. but if you think about it, the extreme opposite isn’t any better. The answer generally lies somewhere in between.

So what’s the point?

There will always be plenty of critics, real and imagined, who will accuse you of being too much or too little. Screw the critics, they aren’t doing the work you are and they don’t won’t understand your vision until you make it real.

Keep going!

Create friendly agents – how to “program” your friends to bring you leads

Whenever I come across anything related to Harry Potter (i.e. events, theme park tickets, wands, games etc.),  I forward it to my friend Mary. It’s also a fun reason to send her a note. (I even made this blog post for her). How does this relate to your job hunt?

Your network has access to more opportunities than you do. Imagine if instead of delivering all things “Harry Potter” — your friends sent you perfect job leads and opportunities. For this to be successful your friends need to know.

1. You want HELP, and
2. HOW they can help (connections, leads, advice, encouragement), and
3. WHAT you are looking for (industry, role)

All of this can be challenging for different reasons. First, we are often shy or embarrassed to ask for help. Second, it is often difficult to explain to our friends what we are seeking. This is further complicated if we ourselves aren’t clear or unfocused.

A tip from one of my coaches is that you “should be able to explain what you are looking for, to a fourth grader.” It’s great advice but it isn’t easy. It’s especially hard if you have multiple talents because it very forces you to leave out talents and skills of which you are rightly proud. As, with most of the Career Habit, this gets easier with practice. Also if you’ve been practicing your habits, you know clarity comes through action.

The best time to practice “priming” your network, and A/B test your messaging, is before you are actively looking and when you have momentum. This is also beneficial because you are cultivating relationships, and earning trust takes time.

Resist Clickbait News

Americans need to learn to separate entertainment from news and politics as a bloodsport. “How” the news is presented is as important as what is and what is not presented. Start to notice the words, the tone, and the emotion that is evoked.

Storytellers and novelists want to evoke a reaction and conflict creates drama. Media often uses these same techniques to draw attention. I’m not suggesting I know where the exact line is — but I do think we need to be aware of how and when these techniques are used, and to choose our news according.

Check out these headlines from a fake news source I found on Facebook. They make it clear what the viewer should think with terms like “slam” and “exploit” and “blaming.”  More than that they are generating the conflict between liberals and their viewers.  (fact: as a “liberal” I have never blamed Trump for the weather). Watching the actual video – the tone and intonation is theatrical at best.

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 8.06.25 AM



The Power of Agents

“I don’t worry about contract negotiations – I let my agent handle that. I just focus on playing.” The other day, a client mentioned that comment from a famous football player.*

“Wouldn’t that be nice?” she commented, referring to how much more efficient it would be to not worry about jockeying for the next job — but instead to focus on the work?

“Absolutely,” I agreed, “that is the dream.”

Agents help minimize the emotional cost and labor of rejection and help focus professionals on the work that matters. From my experience, and following the work of folks like Adam Grant and Adam Galinsky, it is also very common for people to be much stronger advocates for themselves than for others.

To take a non-professional example, consider matchmaking. I am nature wing woman, since

  1.  I am often way more confident in my friends’ value than they are
  2. My emotional detachment from the outcome allows me to be much bolder
  3. My natural sensitivity helps me shield my friends from the fall out of rejection
  4.  My ability to reframe situations allows me to understand when a rejector was a dork clearly wasn’t good enough for my friend anyway, and
  5. I’m wired so that helping other people gives me way more energy than focusing on myself.

When planning your next transition – consider and plan for how you can use agents, both paid and unpaid, to accelerate your results.


*sorry, I’m showing my lack of NFL knowledge here and I don’t honestly remember who it was.

Why you can’t keep good employees…

Richard Branson once said that if you put your employees first, they will take care of your customers. I’ve worked for many organizations that put customers first and I have to say, I think Branson has it right.

Client-first organizations can often lead to disrespecting co-workers.  (“Oh I’m sorry a client emergency came up.) High status / low-status dichotomy, with those with access to clients on top. To me, lack of dignity creates value dissonance and is a sign of a broken culture.

For 18 months, I worked on a digital app that used predictive analytics to identify “High Performers” at risk of quitting. After reviewing longitudinal data for thousands of employees – we found that certain high performers were 5X more likely to quit after getting a pay raise or promotion. This was counterintuitive because one would normally think a raise would engender happiness and loyalty.

A couple of theories were tossed out including “market validation” and “poaching.” However, after some digging and interviews, we found that such defections were an indication of deeper dissatisfaction. When you have a cultural fit, where people feel challenged and respected – people are happy and loyal – they are less extrinsically motivated, less expensive and less at risk to leave.

That experience reminded me of this facebook post – about a truly broken sytem.

It’s hard not to be struck by the visible emotion and the heartbreak displayed by these teachers struggling to take care of themselves and their families – over their calling. In the corporate world,  discussions abound about organization’s higher purpose. In my opinion, this situation demonstrates an abuse of leadership. Smart, heartless, politicians use these teachers’ conflict between their values (serving kids + their financial security) to keep them “trapped” in a thankless and undervalued job. It is interesting that everyone in this video expresses some kind of guilt for quitting. Even though, they intellectually understand it is because of their government’s decision not to play them what they’re worth.

Sidenote: “Guilt” blocks the third chakra – i.e. the source of self-esteem, ego, and pride.

I’m struck by how hard many of them seem to have tried to do the work that is aligned with their values — and I am disappointed in a legislature and a society that takes advantage of that motivation. Finally, what I like about this video is the end where the teachers catalog their different jobs – because I think it demonstrates their market value and the opportunity costs of their labor. Sadly, I think a lot of politicians are pretty heartless and don’t value kindness, empathy, and human decency. Which should concern anyone interested in how are future generations are being taught.

Disagree With Compassion: A Case Study

This clip of Beto O’Rourke has been making the rounds on Social Media. Politics aside (and I think you know where I stand on such things) — it is a great example of communicating and collaborating. There is a lot in this response that I really appreciate. I think it is one of the best examples of responding with empathy and communicating with stories that I have seen in a while.

Below is a quick annotation of my favorite points.

0:13 Beto O’Rourke, listens and nods acknowledging the question.

0:28 Thanks the questioner, honestly and sincerely

0:33 Acknowledges that it is a difficult topic (read: emotional and polarizing).

0:35 Repeats the question concisely – confirming that he has heard the full question.

0:54 Confirms a shared value, i.e. respect for those who have served in the military

0:58 I love the short answer. It’s clear, direct and honest.

1:07 Reiterates his respect for people on both sides of the issue.

1:20 I love that he reiterates that we are all on the same team (American) — and can still disagree. As someone who is craving respect and civility in public discourse, I am 100% here for that. Divisiveness only benefits those currently in power.

1:46 Compassionate and consciously Beto starts to bring in the stories of the counter POV – i.e. the experiences of black folks

2:02 “The young girls who dies in the church bombing” — man that KILLS me.

2:26 “dragged out by their collar at the Woolworth lunch counter” — as a story teller – details are key in evoking the image of other people’s stories.

2:33 Beto connects both sides – THROUGH military service.

3:15 After providing a history lesson – connects that back to the REAL protest.

3:30 “They are frustrated with people like me” – Wow I love the personal responsibility there!

3:35 “frustrated by those in positions of public trust and power.” — I think we ALL can relate to that sentiment!







2. 4. 6. 8 – Who Do We Appreciate?

I’m still not sure I believe in the universe, or god, or cosmic energy or Buddha or whatever. That said, whether or not he/she/it is real, one thing is certain – he/she/it has a sense of humor.

It’s like the universe has been saying, “Heather, you don’t have to believe in me or fate or anything — that’s fine — but I’m just going to keep tossing signs and coincidences your way, just to keep you guessing.” Continue reading “2. 4. 6. 8 – Who Do We Appreciate?”

Talking about suicide

I didn’t expect to write this, however, learning about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain hit me hard. I’m going to get personal and go all over the map with this article – you’ve been warned. I’ve been aware of the link between depression and creativity since childhood. “Crazy” runs in my family (i.e. bipolar, multiple personalities, ADD, ADHD, depression etc.) so does creativity. People I love have attempted suicide, a few have succeeded.

For a long time, I assumed extreme emotional vicissitudes – fluctuations between highs and lows was simply the price of being weirdly creative. I tried therapy. For me, it didn’t do much and kind of pissed me off.

I eventually found my therapy in sports, friends and yoga + meditation. Continue reading “Talking about suicide”