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Monday Motivation – Remarkable Woman

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Today I am profiling my dear friend, Melinda.  I can’t believe we have been friends for almost ten years!  We first met living in the International House in Sydney and our friendship was cemented by a semi-spontaneous trip to Malaysia and Singapore at the end of our semester abroad.

I’m so fortunate to have Melinda as a friend. I deeply admire her perseverance and self-assurance – there is no obstacle Melinda can’t overcome.   We have shared so many fond memories together exploring Chicago, Sydney, DC and of course, Malaysia.  She is incredibly loyal and is always willing to lend me a helping hand. Who else would help you organize the pantry while in a cast or help you find an apartment while still living overseas? Whether it be crafting (making Christmas ornaments or sewing) or eating (we seem to do that a lot… 🙂 ), we always have so much fun together.

Melinda was born in 1987 in New York. She currently lives in Chicago, IL with her husband.


What did you think you wanted to be when you grew up? A singer because I liked the idea of fame and attention.  That lasted until about 10 years old.

How would you describe your current occupation? I am a probate attorney.  I started this job 5 months ago and absolutely love it. Even in law school, I wanted to work in elder law because 1) there is an increased demand with Baby Boomers coming of age; and 2) I can do some good while earning a living.  I believe it is important for people to plan for their future, especially when it comes to important decisions about end of life care, finance management, and distribution of assets after death.

What was your first job, best job and worst job? First job was a violin teacher.  I was in high school and it was nice to finally make some pocket change and put my (then) 9 years of taking violin lessons to use!  I think my current job as a probate attorney is the best job I’ve ever had.  It is the culmination of my education and fits my professional personality perfectly.  I’d have to say my worst job is when I was in high school, working in the basement of a music store, cleaning instruments (including wind instruments with other people’s spit).

We all have difficult experiences or turning points in our life that shape our path in unexpected ways. What is one of the most influential experiences in your life that has led you to where you are today? As an adult, moving 3 times to different states/ country and having to start anew were trying times.  I remember having a breakdown in the supermarket because I wanted to buy metal bakeware instead of the tinfoil ones because I wanted to create a home. However, the tinfoil pans made more sense since I’d likely move again and could just throw them out.  This has also taught me how to make new friends, even though I am an extreme introvert.  This has also taught me to trust in myself because I was always able to make it work, however complicated the situation was.

Is there any one person that stands out to you as having a particularly strong influence on your life? Most people say their mom stands out, so I’m going to agree.  My mom wasn’t the Chinese Tiger Mom.  I often tell people that she raised 3 monkeys because my 2 siblings and I would run around the house yelling and screaming all day. My mom was a full time stay-at-home mom.  When I say full time, I mean 24/7 because she would never leave the “office,” especially when we’d wake her up in the middle of the night to kill mosquitos in our bedrooms.  She taught me there is no limit when it comes to helping your family.  She picked us up from school, chauffeured us to after school activities (and often our friends too because their parents were working), cooked a multi-dish dinner from scratch every night, and did all the household chores.  In the mornings she even made breakfast for us to eat in the car because she knew we would roll out of bed and into the car to get to school on time.  As I got older her perspective changed from “taking care of” her kids to supporting our decisions.  Whenever I tell her about a new step of my life, her response is always “as long as you’re happy.”  That phrase says: I’ve raised you well and I trust you to make the right choices.

What does success mean to you? My vision of success has changed over the years. As early as junior year of high school I began pushing, planning, preparing, for the next accomplishment.  First was getting into college, then taking the LSAT, getting into law school, passing the bar, and finding my ideal job.  I was always so focused on the next step that I forgot to enjoy the present.  Now that I am at a low-stress, life-balanced job in the field I’ve always wanted to be in, I can breathe more.  At one time, my definition of success also included working at a large firm and making partner. However, in recent years I’ve realized that you don’t have to achieve the highest rank in your field to be happy.  Success happens when you realize you’re happy with what you have.  That requires knowing yourself and separating society’s expectations of you.

What career or life advice would you give to younger women finding their way in the world? Reach out to other women.  I went to an all women’s college where alumnae are always willing to help each other.  People always love to talk about themselves.  Ask your question and listen carefully to the response, even if it’s not what you expected.  You may gather information that you hadn’t thought of before, come up with new questions, and learn from other’s experiences.

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Returning to our regularly scheduled program – the story of Einstein and Cooper

The last few weeks have been crazy in our household to say the least! In the last two weeks, we adopted two pugs, celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and have been glued to the tv watching presidential debates and the Cubs! This post is the story of adopting these cuties (Einstein and Cooper) from the Northern Illinois Pug Rescue Association (NIPRA).

 

You might be thinking, “but Sarah, back in September you said you wouldn’t be adopting a pug until 2017 and even then, it would only be one, not two!” Well, about that…. When I wrote the blog post back on Jeff’s birthday in September, I started googling “pugs chicago”and fell into the rabbit hole that is PetFinder.com.  I somehow came across NIPRA’s website – I noticed they were having a fundraiser at the end of September and suggested to Jeff that we attend. My plan was to ask other owners about breeders in the area so we’d know who to contact when we were ready for a puppy in 2017. I didn’t even think we’d be “qualified” to adopt a rescue pug having no experience as dog owners! Just in case, I submitted a prospective application to NIPRA to find out whether or not we’d be eligible to adopt and I may or may not have forgotten to tell Jeff that I’d submitted an application until we pulled into the park for the pug fundraiser…. 😉

Prior to the fundraiser, I’d already scoped out the pugs available for adoption through NIPRA – the available pugs had a number of health issues that would be challenging for us as new dog owners but I still wanted to meet them. Once we got to the park, I noticed all of the pugs available for adoption had these cute bandannas saying “Adopt Me” and I saw two little guys who weren’t posted yet on the website.

Turns out, NIPRA had several pugs that were still being held in foster care until they completed their medical and dental treatment. Einstein and Cooper captured my heart immediately.  They were older dogs (8-years-old) which was key because we really did not want to house train puppies. They had been well cared for and had minimal health issues. I knew these were dogs that would be adopted quickly – only catch was they had to be adopted together as they are a bonded pair.

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Me auditioning with the dogs at the NIPRA fundraiser

I could tell they captured Jeff’s heart as well since he didn’t seem entirely opposed to the idea of adopting both of them.  Even though we were both really nervous about the idea (we would be doubling our family overnight!), I knew in my heart it was the right decision to adopt these nuggets of joy.  My maternal instincts and marketing skills went into overdrive – before we left the fundraiser, I made sure the NIPRA volunteers knew that even though we had no pug experience, we would offer them a loving home and learn everything we needed to know. And then I followed up with several annoying emails to NIPRA reiterating our interest 🙂 I did not want these little guys to be snatched up by another family.

NIPRA’s vetting process is extensive but quick – in addition to submitting an online application, we had a home visit to ensure a safe environment for the dogs and we had to get written approval from our landlord (that was also nerve-wracking as we weren’t sure if we were allowed two dogs under our lease. Fortunately we have a great landlord!).  I have been really impressed with all of the volunteers we’ve met over the past month.  The icing on the cake was the boys’ foster family was absolutely fantastic. They gave us extensive instructions on feeding and cleaning the boys and have kept in touch to make sure we’re adjusting okay.

Einstein and Cooper have now been with us for two weeks! They are wonderful, but it’s been quite an adjustment getting them to feel comfortable and safe in their new home. We’ve made several trips to Petco for new harnesses, leashes, beds, food, etc and a few trips to the vet for additional vaccinations and blood tests. We’re settling into a routine of walking a mile each morning and each afternoon. It takes us quite a while to get anywhere as the boys insist on stopping every five feet to pee or smell the trees, grass, bushes, rocks, cement and whatever else they can find! We’ve found better walking routes with wider sidewalks and less distractions.

I read that it takes 2-3 weeks for adopted dogs to show their true personalities. We’ve nicknamed them Sir Einstein and Hurricane Cooper. Einstein more mature and serious, and Cooper is a wild child! We’re so happy they joined our home and hope we can give them as much love as they give us!

 

Remarkable Woman

Remarkable Women – A Call to Action

Today I am mad and I am writing a call to action to end the rampant sexism in this country. Last night, my husband asked me “Have you seen #repealthe19th hashtag on Twitter”? Not entirely knowing how to use my Twitter account, I did a quick google search to see what he was referring to. Earlier in the day, two maps were published by FiveThirtyEight showing what the electoral map would look like if just women or just men voted in the election.  Instead of a “wow, we better pick up more female voters”, a hashtag started saying #repealthe19th – meaning, repeal the amendment that granted women the right to vote. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s 2016. Women have the right to vote in all but ONE country. We can have careers in whatever field we chose, run for office and fight in combat.  The last time I checked, 100% of all men have at least one female relative. YOUR MOM.  In addition to a mother, we all have grandmothers, and most of us are blessed with aunts, cousins, sisters, daughters and friends who were born with two X chromosomes. Are we really that threatening?  This hashtag is an ugly sign of the sexism that still runs deep in our society.

One challenge with ending sexism is that many women still blame themselves. At least I did – I used to think it was just me.  I’ve spent much of my career in a male-dominated industry, but I never thought of it that way. On the surface I thought we were equal. I was raised to be a strong, independent woman.  Yet men would speak over me, I wasn’t invited to meetings, I was ignored.  I was called “darling” or “sweetheart”. But surely it was me – I wasn’t assertive enough, my job wasn’t important enough.  I asked for advice – my dad told me just to keep talking 🙂  A lot of the baby boomer women I worked with said I was lucky  because when they first started working it was so much worse – their butts would get pinched. I started reading about leadership thinking I’d find my hidden strength in the written words of experts – the disappointing message was basically women should be more like men. (I’m looking at you, Sheryl Sandberg!). But then I had a life-changing experience in Australia.

I had the fortunate experience of working closely with my husband when we were on our expat assignment in Australia.  We were in different departments but it was a small team so we often sat in meetings together (I liked to call us the dream team!).  Over time I started noticing an interesting trend.  I would make certain arguments and I was cut off, told I was overemotional and was generally made to feel very unwelcome.  Then I started noticing that my husband would make many of the exact same statements – only he was praised! I was so perplexed. At first, I fell back on, well, it must be me. Maybe it’s how I state my opinion or maybe people just don’t like me. And then I recently started working at a company that respects women. My voice is heard. People ask for my opinions. And I realized it’s not me.

It’s not just me; it’s not just you. There really is still an unspoken bias in our society against women. That’s why we don’t have equal pay, why we don’t have access to adequate childcare, why we have to fight to prove if we’ve been the victim of abuse. It’s all on us. I could go on for days about the strain this is causing on our society but instead, I’m going to offer some hope and a few tiny ideas that I think will help us move towards a solution. I have no idea how to eradicate sexism – but I have given a lot of thought to little changes I can make in my day-to-day life. For women, I think we should be authentic and support the women around us. For men, I asked that you treat all women with the respect and support and maybe give us a little extra praise now and then.

For the ladies – Women before us have made tremendous progress over the past century but we still have a ways to go. But the saying is true. A rising tide lifts all boats. The more women that rise up in corporations, elected office, NGOs, etc., the higher the bar rises with them. And you know what? We’re making waves.  But as we do so, we need to help those around us. Not everyone has time to mentor a young employee, but we have the time to be authentic. I have told my younger employees (men and women) that it’s okay to have emotions, it’s okay to cry or be angry. I’m not saying to start hysterically crying in a meeting but keep it professional and be yourself! The more we are ourselves at work, especially as we move up the ladder, the less stigma there will be for everyone starting out.

For the men – We cannot eradicate sexism without your help. At home, you are our champions and our cheerleaders. Can you imagine how different the world would be if men spoke to all women with the same support and respect as you do the women in your family? The next time you’re in a meeting at work, take the time to listen to the woman sitting next to you, and back her up if you agree with her position. Congratulate a woman if you think she did well on a presentation; praise her if she did a good job on a report. Do the same for men because we should treat everyone equally.

We can’t solve all of the world’s problems in one election or one blog post (though that doesn’t mean I won’t try!). But we can take the time to be kind to those around us.  I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on my Remarkable Women series and hope you continue to be inspired by the strong women around us.  Rant over. Enjoy the rest of your week 🙂proverb