Girl Interrupted.

I rejoiced too soon.

I was enjoying my time free of work emails too much. 2.5 days of work-free bliss turned out to be too much to ask. And then the holiday joys came crashing down by a series of SOS emails and angry client emails.

Oh well… back into work mode.

Picked up the phone, opened up the laptop and my work mode came back. Concalls, virtual IM to connect back with the office, get the status updates, find a solution and get on it. Eventually I had to pick up the phone and yell at a supplier, 16 hours ahead of my current time, just so that people will stop mucking around and GET THE JOB DONE!

Perhaps I’ve been fire-fighting too much this year. I no longer can tolerate time wasting yada yada yada. I don’t have time for problem pity parties. Just get on it, work it, solve it. No, seriously I do not need to spend half a day dwelling IN the problem; let’s get us OUT of the problem, exactly how our clients paid us to do, and exactly what our professional work expects us to be.

(Breathing slowly now)

Just when I feel like nothing has changed, and I’m frustrated that I have to fly all the way to Vancouver and STILL deal with the same-old problems that I wanted to leave behind, I see Shae….

Our Newfoundland Shae, snuggling on her sleep mat. Ain't she a dear?!

Shae, our family dog, was with me all the way throughout the entire frustrating work crisis-handling time. Her sweet face just calmed me down. Here I am all tensed up and annoyed in my work seat by the fireplace. There she is, snuggling in her mat, and relaxed as always.

Seeing Shae sleeping by the fireplace made me realise: I’m still on my vacation.

Hokay. Girl uninterrupted. Vacation mode back on.

Thanks Shae dear… you’re the best dog in the world!!!

No Christmas for the juggler

My husband just posted on his Facebook: “No Christmas for the juggler.” All I can tell him is, “Don’t be sad, dear.”

I know exactly how he feels when he posted that. It is terrible to be so resigned.

Today I am blogging because I am sick and resting at home, after half a day’s work. Otherwise, I am sure I’ll still be at work at 9.30pm or on the phone with my US/Asia colleagues.

Right now, Nik is still at work rushing multiple deadlines and juggling global conference calls.

Why do we work so hard?

I often as myself that.

We could be enjoying home-cooked dinner right now. Or taking a slow stroll by the beach that is so near our apartment. Or spending time with my little niece, whom we haven’t seen in a month. Or doing simple tasks like writing out Christmas cards for our friends and family.

Instead, we’re both slogging deadlines. Empathising with each other’s increasing stress levels. Understanding each other’s work burdens. But still slogging away.

It’s a terribly terribly draining feeling not to have a rest for 6 months. Then watch as everyone slows down for the festive season, but your rest-starved soul has to still keep going at full throttle. The new year is in sight, yet you know by then there is still no rest.

Why do we work so hard?

I know we both have a strong sense of responsibility. We cannot help but want to finish the tasks that are put before us. We sometimes are so focused on completing our work tasks that we forget where is the line between madness and sanity.

We both need a spa day really soon. Either that, or we’ll soon need a lifeline.

How to cut down my commitments?

The first paragraph of the article said:

Do you feel constantly busy – and in demand? Are you the one person at work who everyone seems to ask when they need a favor? Do you have a host of family obligations – driving your kids all over town, helping your mom spring clean her house, cooking dinner for your household? And are you involved in voluntary groups who demand your time and attention?

I certainly do. It caught my attention.

I kept reading on, and realised that of late, I have allowed myself to be over-committed. I now have so little time for friends, family, personal errands (I have not collected my laundry for 2 weeks now!) and even lesser time and space to rekindle my soul’s sanity.

The article continues:

None of these things are bad in themselves – but they can all add up to a frantic and hectic life where you never get time to enjoy each activity before you rush on to the next. They can sap your energy, and prevent you from going after your own goals.

That definitely resonated. I had planned to take three days off for the last week of December. I needed to catch up on sleep, read a book and just zone out. However, I am now committed to 2 new business pitches, and will probably have to cancel my leave.

How did I end up without taking a day off for the past half a year? And an endless calendar that already stretches into 2010 with no escape in view?

I over-committed. Too many tasks, too little people to do it, and I often feel obliged to take on these tasks only because it seems like I am the only person who can fulfill the role.

“Sure, perhaps Mrs Jones thinks you’d be the perfect person to host the block party … that doesn’t mean that you need to agree.”

I need to say “no” more.

The CEO must decide who swims

Says Maigread Eichten, president and chief executive of FRS, a maker of energy drinks. I love one particular statement in her interview with the New York Times: “I feel like I’m a judge, … which is that my job is not to make everybody happy. My job is to chart the right course and, at the end of the day, I leave this building and if I feel like I’ve done the right thing and people respect me, I’m happy. But on any day someone is probably unhappy with a decision that I made in the day, and that’s the best I can do.”

I realize many women leaders in our modern day and age are still being penalized for our gender. We are still fighting to find the balance between work and family, and the balance between our emotions and our rationality.

I do not understand why we have to be made so apologetic about our innate DNA.

While watching “Fringe“, I was watching a very familiar scenario. Agent Olivia Dunham was reprimanded by her superior, who claimed that she was being too emotionally involved with a particular case and it was clouding her judgement. She initially accepted the comment and probably had some moments of apologetic punches internally. But when she finally collected her thoughts, her response was fabulous:

“Yes I am emotionally involved with this case, but that is what makes me so good at my job and I am not about to change the way I do it.”

It is true that women leaders have their strengths because of their emotions. Their ability to relate and to empathize should not be undermined. Neither should we undermine ourselves for that matter. There should be nothing to apologize for being passionate for what you do. You cannot make everyone love the decision you make. You cannot make everyone agree with your point of view. The thing is, you’re there to lead and chart the path, not be the prom queen. Popularity does not mean good leadership. It just mean good showmanship.

At the end of the day, what you really want to achieve is to make sure those whom you lead get a piece of the greener pastures and the clear blue skies.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

August 23, 2009

Corner Office

The C.E.O. Must Decide Who Swims

This interview of Maigread Eichten, president and chief executive of FRS, a maker of energy drinks, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.

Q. When did you first learn how to lead people?

A. You’re really taking me back. I was a lifeguard and a swim coach at a pool in the Walnut Creek area outside of San Francisco. The hardest thing about being a swim coach in a somewhat affluent area is that all the parents want their kids to swim on the team, of course, and to swim every event. And while you want to win, you also want to make sure all the kids get to swim. So there’s this balance.

I was 17 and you’ve got these parents screaming at you every weekend — “How come Johnny didn’t get to swim?” and “He’s better than Sally.” — and you’re going back and forth on this every week: Do I want to win or do I want to swim all the kids, and the kids are looking at you and the parents are screaming at you.

That experience is very similar to many days how I feel here. I feel like I’m a judge, and I use that mental image a lot, which is that my job is not to make everybody happy. My job is to chart the right course and, at the end of the day, I leave this building and if I feel like I’ve done the right thing and people respect me, I’m happy. But on any day someone is probably unhappy with a decision that I made in the day, and that’s the best I can do.

It’s the same thing with the swim team. Mr. Smith is probably mad that I didn’t swim his daughter, and sometimes I have to look at little Jane and say, “You know what, you’re not going to swim the 100 fly today, sorry.” It’s a team sport.

Q. It sounds like good training for dealing with all the stakeholders in a company.

A. It’s a balance. You’ve got the board, you’ve got investors, you’ve got employees, you’ve got the press, you’ve got consumers, you’ve got retailers. It’s the hardest thing, which I didn’t expect, about being C.E.O. You’re a judge, and you cannot make everyone happy. It is impossible. It’s the same thing with parenting.

Q. Talk about how you give feedback to employees.

A. One of the most memorable things one of my bosses at Pepsi told me was that if you really care about somebody, you give them constructive feedback. And if you don’t care about somebody, you only say positive things. That’s stuck with me all this time. So I really try to make sure that I give people good, constructive feedback — positive first, of course, then constructive, and I give it in real time. It’s got to be in the moment. It’s got to be private.

Q. Tell me about your goals as a leader and manager.

A. I want to get better at taking more risk. My goal is to do one thing every day that kind of scares me or that’s kind of hard. Today, it’s being interviewed by you. I think that, to get better, you have to challenge yourself. You have to put some things out there that are hard for you personally.

Q. When did you develop this rule to do something risky every day?

A. Probably about 10 years ago, when I left PepsiCo. I moved out here to San Francisco, which is where I grew up. I made a lifestyle decision then that I was going to change some things up. I went to work at VeriSign, and then the downturn hit in 2000. Everyone needs to manage through a downturn. You learn a ton. It’s much harder than managing in good times.

I also decided to start taking some calculated risks and pushing the envelope as a way to run both my business and my personal life. I believe this leads to success and a really fun life adventure.

Your learning curve is so much steeper doing it that way, because calculated risk is really how we learn. And I think it’s a better leadership style because you’re growing, both as a person and, I think, as an executive.

Q. You mentioned all the things you learned in the downturn. Any other broad take-aways?

A. I reflected a lot on this when it came around this time, and I’ve talked a lot about this with fellow C.E.O.’s. So the first thing you learn is that it’s going to end. The sky is not falling. The sense of panic that starts to overtake people is overplayed.

So you chart a course, and you plot out kind of a worst-case, middle-case, best-case plan. You’re probably going to have to do some cost-cutting, and get that plan laid out, and then stay on strategy. This is your reality, and that’s how it is. The sky isn’t falling, and you have to show calm confidence every day. Your employees are watching your behavior.

Q. How do you manage your time?

A. I work out really early in the morning, and I use that time to kind of set my key priorities for the day — the two or three work things, the two or three personal things, and what are the key personal relationships that I want to make sure are set. That’s usually one of my top priorities — making sure that the team works well together. If I sense something’s off a little bit with the team, that’s usually one of the first things I zero in on.

When I come in, my first priority is to go through the to-do list before anybody’s here, and make sure that I’ve got a list on my desk of no more than 10 key things that I want to get done. I find if you have a to-do list of more than 10, it’s just not going to happen, and I pretty much stick to that list. I walk around a lot and if I see in people’s eyes that they need help, or if I get a sense that something’s up, I drop things because sometimes people just need help.

Q. And you’ll sense that just by the look in their eyes?

A. Absolutely, or I can hear it in their voice. I can hear it in their voice, and I think that’s really important that you have sense for your people. I call it my Spidey-sense. My 13-year-old daughter does not like this, by the way. It’s the same Spidey-sense I have with my kids. If something’s off, something’s off, and if I get a sense something’s off, I drop everything and I will not let go until I know what it is because it’s a sign there’s a problem.

Q. So how do you broach it?

A. Well, my people know me well enough. They know I’ll come in, I’ll close the door, and I’ll just say, “O.K., spill it.” There’s no warm-up for me. They know I will not leave. I want to help. I always say to them: “Look, guys we’re in this together. We’re a team.”

Q. Are you a gadget person? BlackBerry, iPhone?

A. Both. The iPhone I love for the apps. Then the BlackBerry I use for my work stuff.

Q. How do you deal with the constant pull of the BlackBerry?

A. One thing I love about having three kids is, it’s all about them. So when you’re with them, they only want to talk about them. They’re very sports-oriented, so we spend a lot of time on sports. They keep me from being too overly focused on the BlackBerry because they will take it away.

Q. What career advice will you give your kids?

A. I interview a ton of people and I get really frustrated with interviews, to be honest, because I find that people come in a lot of times and they don’t even know that much about the company, which I find just really odd.

I went to business school, and I decided I wanted a PepsiCo internship. They were only taking one intern, so my shot at getting this Pepsi internship was slim to none, because I had no experience.

But I decided I wanted this internship and what I did was — I think about this all the time when I interview people, sort of, why don’t they do this to me? — I researched all the people coming to campus to interview. I knew everything about them. I knew everything about Pepsi-Cola and the PepsiCo company. I knew everybody in the U.C.L.A. recruiting office and I wrote the story of myself as a brand and I came up with a whole talk about why Pepsi should hire me, and the assets I could bring.

I had called up the two or three people who had been Pepsi interns from other campuses, and I found out every single thing that they had done as interns. So I had done all that work before I took this interview. I was one of the four people they took back to New York for an interview, and I got this internship. I was probably also incredibly annoying, but I certainly was superqualified.

And what I would say to my kids is, to get the job you need two things. You need the functional skills, but then you also have to be superprepared, and you have to have incredible passion. You have to make that person want to hire you. They have to have a reason to hire you. There’s no excuse why you can’t have that.

I’m just really surprised by some of the people I interview. A few people, when I say “FRS,” they say, “I haven’t tried the product.” If they say that, the interview is over.

via The New York Times “Business”

Airport delays: the ironic un-stress

I had just spent nearly three weeks in the US. I was here for a work trip to NYC for one week. Then extended another ten days for a vacation. I spent one week in NY then another few days in Miami.

Sounds like a fabulous summer?

Not.

Throughout the ten days of my vacation, I was constantly bogged down by work. Though in the US, and thankfully (or not!) Eastern Time, I was working to Asia timezone. When I was ready to unwind, to enjoy my dinner and rest up, it’d be working hours in Asia. Urgent phonecalls and work emails will start ebbing in. I’d be working on my laptop or BlackBerry for hours before I can end my day. When it’s morning here, I’d be starting my day by checking emails and responding to work requests again. Every time I am in the line, waiting for the subway, or waiting for a dinner table, I’d be Blackberrying.

As you can imagine, my poor hubby was kinda having the vacation with an absent wife.

Ironically, I could only enjoy a brain rest when my flight was delayed by a looming severe thunderstorm here in NY. Yesterday, I was due back from Miami to JKF, then catch a connecting flight out of JFK for Singapore. The Miami-JKF flight was delayed by 3 hours at the airport, and then we spent another hour on the tarmac waiting for clearance to take off.

I’d admit that it was stressful seeing the hours tick tock away, knowing that I have a connecting flight to catch in NY. Yet, it was those precious few hours that I could literally empty my brain and not worry about incoming work emails.

Ironically, when we frantically found a hotel to rest in for the night, it was the one night out of the entire trip that I could truly truly just r..e..s..t…

Some people need the beach to unwind. Some the Bliss spa. Others a good retail therapy. Today, I found a new one: airport delays. Ironically.

Yvonne Out

emptav0022cI had been truly down and out for the past three weeks, struggling with my health with one thing after another. Three weeks of incapacitating illness wore me to the bones. The little energy I had left, I channeled it to getting work done to meet the clients’ deadlines. There was no energy left to blog, even though my thoughts are still running active. Nah, I’d plonk into bed – every day for the past three weeks – completely beat.

When the world first got wind of the “swine flu”, or the H1N1 flu as we call it by now, I caught a bad bout of flu and fever as well. First day it started was 21 April 2009. The fever was mild but stubborn. It persisted for nearly three weeks. During these three weeks, I had the good company of body aches and chills every day, until it got to a point where I no longer can tell whether I was aching from the fever or aching from being sick. I alternated between hope and dismay: I’d feel all well and recovered, and I’d head into work the next day, eager to clear the backlog. Then the fever would return and I’d be sent home by the company doctor to rest up. I’d feel better again, and head back to work, and the all-too-familiar body ache will return, and the routine starts again. I went through countless blood tests, all negative for Influenza A or dengue fever.

“Don’t worry, you don’t have the swine flu,” says the doc.

“Hope you get well soon. It’s really not a good time to be having flu and fever now,” says a concerned colleague from Boston.

It was definitely not a good time to be sick. There were so many deadlines in tow, and so many office matters to take care of. Being the head of the office means you don’t really have the luxury of getting ill. There were days when I’m running a fever and supposedly resting at home, when in reality I spent up to eight hours every day rushing out multiple proposals. For those of you who had experienced the fever, you’d know how dense your brain feels and it was a torture having to sit up and go through proposals after proposals, making sure I was churning out good work and not delirious ideas.

If I were squeezing my brain juice to the core, I probably had enough juice bottles to compete with Cosco by now.

I really do not know why I push myself so hard. I know no one is indispensable at work, but now that I’m managing the office, there is truly no one else I can rely on to take over from the quality checking, strategic planning and business management.

Perhaps it is the principle in me, that I simply cannot let bad work leave the door. I feel strongly that I need to upkeep the reputation of the company. A company that has employed me and endowed upon me the stewardship of its Singapore and Southeast Asia operations. A company that has treated me well and fairly in the one year that I’ve been with them.

My family and friends will say that I have an over-inflated sense of responsibility. I just think that kindness and goodness should be reciprocated.

Paused

I have just returned from a vacation with my hubby in Osaka, Japan. It was a badly needed rest, as I have been clocking in many intense work weeks and I felt I needed a little pit stop.

However, all the time I was in Osaka, I kept having this recurring picture in my head:

I felt as if someone had pressed the “pause” button in my life and my schedules. Yet somehow I felt the impending rush that was due to come when the “resume” button is turned on.

Today marks the end of my vacation. We reached home late last night, and rested for the night. This morning, rise and shine and I caught up with the team to make sure all is well in the office. There are more deadlines to be met, decisions to be made, information to be passed on. At 6pm today the client scheduled for a meeting, and I need to be there.

Did someone pressed the “resume” button back on???

I’m officially still on leave, but I guess some things can’t wait. The mental picture in my head flashed back once more.

In a strange, sadistic way, I’m glad to be back in the action. At least here I can act on the urgency of things and I can respond when required. While on vacation, there is nothing you can do to help. Everything is remotely controlled, but you worry, and you keep getting bugged by a stupid mental picture in your head while you’re supposed to fill your head with wonderful Kodak moments of a vacation. Thing is, Osaka was not captivating enough as a city for me to turn on my full vacation mode. Which was why half my mind was still set on things at work.

The making of a workaholic? Perhaps. Or perhaps it is just the necessary way of life of any urban dweller holding a job.