Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Ever since reading about the appearance of tiny paper sculptures appearing magically in libraries throughout Edinburgh this fall, I have been thinking about the thrill of the unexpected, about how much it delights me to come across something which someone else thought – a lot! – about, and did, not for credit or recognition, but in order to delight someone else, to focus attention, to slightly alter the world. In this gift giving season, the unexpected gift seems to be on its way toward extinction, replaced with the asked-for, the gift card, the predictable.

Unexpected gifts come in all forms. This past weekend, I came across Santacon, the gathering of Santas of every type congregating throughout San Francisco. Even if one was already sick of hearing piped-in Christmas carols being relentlessly played (as I am), the sight of these Santas and elves, some of them traditional, some of them very risqué, brought huge smiles.

Far more subtle is sidewalk graffiti, with messages I sometimes understand and often do not, but which always change my walk from hurried and thoughtless to suddenly aware of being present.

And then there is the unexpected greeting. Sigh. Standard operating procedure for me upon arrival anywhere is a taxi pickup or, if I’m really lucky, a curbside pickup by a friend. Imagine being greeted, instead, with an unexpected in-person welcome, complete with hug, kiss, and a bag of peanut M&M’s (my secret vice). Talk about a priceless gift.

With our ability to search all or look up anything, I find serendipity and spontaneity to be less and less frequent occurrences, making these unexpected gifts/happenings/sightings all the more precious, and is completely affecting my gift-giving thoughts this holiday season. So if you have given me your gift list, that’s fine. But don’t necessarily expect me to have given you one. I’d much rather be surprised and delighted!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Plus One

As a professional woman, and an executive who raised children while my career was growing, I have been to many a company gathering where spouses and significant others were invited and I never got to know any of the wives, the "plus ones". I usually assumed I couldn't possibly have anything in common with them, and that they probably resented my position as a working mom when most of them were stay-at-home moms, supporting their husbands, my peers. Shame on me. How silly, ignorant, and close-minded.

Why am I writing this? Because I was a "plus one" the other night, attending a company holiday party with the man in my life, and I got to experience something new. I got to experience what it's like to be the woman at the table who most assume is not worth talking to, is not going to have an interesting conversation or point of view. I got to see what it was like for no one to want to talk to me based on my position or accomplishments, and it was a powerful lesson.

I had nothing to prove; I was there to be with someone important to me, to see a part of his world and meet some of the characters in it. I knew that some people at the party, but not all, knew of my existence in his life, and that this party was about him and his company, not about me and mine. And yet, it was sobering to be ignored and trivialized at the dinner. Why did it happen? I think I was likely ignored because I was a woman, the girlfriend, the arm candy. We both silently enjoyed the moment when someone at the dinner table finally asked me a question about my work, and based on my response, the conversation all shifted in my direction. But that's not the point. The point is that until that moment, I was no one, persona non importa. And that I have treated others in the same way.

One woman sought me out during the cocktail hour, and I was so grateful to her. Her warmth and inclusion meant so much. I know this is going to change the way I approach my next gathering, one in which my peers and their plus ones will be making merry. And I just hope that others, especially other professional women, think about the same thing at their next gatherings this holiday season.