What makes you come alive?

I was the quiet kid. I didn’t practice my storytelling. I didn’t yearn or learn to be the center of attention. 

Drawing attention to myself, from teachers or from peers, came with negative side-effects, causing unfounded envy or pressure. There is beauty in discretion and obscurity. Anonymity has always been a sweet friend. 

Having arrived at the other end of fame, I resent it; mainly because now people expect me to pay my respects, to acknowledge others, while not long ago I relished in my anonymity.

Today we had a business meeting, with two unassuming business partners from a smaller city. My kind of people. 

We tread lightly in the business world. Often times appearances count for too much, in some circles. Name dropping is silly, and yet we are forever doomed (against our belief) based on where we’ve lived, whom we’ve worked with. People ask Conrad where is he from and he responds with a serene, yet unmovable confidence: “Valea Chintaului”, leaving little room for further explanations. Most often people look confused. 

We embrace simplicity, and we are curious to see beyond the tough armor. The new friends didn’t disappoint. On the contrary. Just as Conrad said afterword, meetings like these inspire us. To evolve. To push ahead. To be better. To do better.

I vividly remember my last interview at Apple, the first connection talk with my most inspiring leader, the many conversations I had with my teams, individual or as a group. My heart is still with me. Sometimes I forget I can influence change anywhere I go. I forget that I don’t need a primed context to feel energized by human connection. 

We came to this meeting open and curious, to look in people’s eyes, to see, to understand and to share our heart. 

I was reminded what type of art I was made to live. And it is never, never too late to do it. 

On my 5th wedding anniversary I got a guitar, because I love to sing and I have been moved by music, so I wanted to pay it forwards. I envisioned myself sharing my heart through songs and that I would change the world this way. In a way I do make the world a better place through singing. I sing to my daughter at bedtime, every song I can remember. And I remember hundreds of songs. Most songs are Spirit filled, learned in the church. And Conrad tells me he loves my voice. But that is not the art I was made to live. Music is just a bonus. 

I believe the inspiration was mutual in today’s meeting. Among other things, we talked about the skill gap in our workforce. In Romania. Conrad was just explaining how the grinders were engineered. For a conversation happening in English, he was quite captivating and visual and clear. I could see Dad in him. And I recalled the stories about how Dad would come from work in the evening, take a piece of paper and ask the kids what they would like to know how it works. He would create diagrams and pictures for his kids to explain the engineering of this world. I strongly believe that my artist husband has the mind of an engineer because of his Dad’s drawing/play time back in his childhood. 

As we agreed that often times our young workforce would like hefty financial rewards fast and easy, with very little struggle, I personally believe that young adults want to matter, and they want to come alive. The feeling of inadequacy among our young workforce is getting stronger and pervasive. In Cluj, the best paying jobs are in IT, but most people are not necessarily passionate about it. Passion grows proportionally with the amount of work we put into something, and the recognition we get for our work well done. A few companies try to do it right, through HR programs, leadership and recognition. The work, development and growth is an ongoing business though.  

Talking with these men about the lack of skilled workers, especially in fixing machinery, I shared the issue I see at hand, based on my experience. Many years ago I applied for a technical job because it said I didn’t need to know everything. That they would teach me if I was willing to learn. That’s how my career at Apple started. And teach me they did. In time I myself became a trainer and leader. Here is the reality: if our society wants loyal and skilled workers, they need to implement training programs and screen for potential, not for accolades. 

I told them to imagine a young woman walking into a coffee shop, with her jeans overalls and tools bag saying she came to fix the machine. Undoubtedly she would be looked at funny. With a little distrust, a little contempt. Sadly with probably a laugh, albeit discreet because we are professionals after all. But wouldn’t it be fantastic to see diversity in every field, and not think twice about it? At Apple we had a pretty even gender representation in our stores. Women are technically inclined and savvy. 

When Jackie started kindergarten this year she wanted to play swords with the boys again, as they did last year. But all of a sudden the boys told her she can’t play because she is a girl. These kids are 5 years old! What do they know? Who teaches them that girls can’t fight? I told Jackie they didn’t want to play-fight because she is too good, having trained with her daddy. 

Next time they have a special week at kindergarten, I want to go and tell them about the workforce in the world. About my time Apple. I want to inspire them to pursue their dreams, to get technical, to go to trade school, to learn to use their hands to keep doing crafts. To tell them that women can be technicians and men can be teachers.

More than to write, I love to tell stories. Life stories. Perspective. World view. Belief and the power of connection. I’m a leader and trainer at heart.

The Spring before moving to Romania I received as a gift a book by emilypfreeman.com titled “a million little ways”. It turns out there are a million little ways one can come alive. What is yours?