TEDxUCLA 2015: Beyond the Box
Whose am I?
I had my first encounter with emotional maturity when I was 31 years old.
I was sitting on a beach in Santa Monica, not too far from here, thinking about a job opportunity that had come open for me to pursue. At the time, I was a regional director of a very popular TV network and a VP job had come open. So like most things I did back then, impulsively, I threw my hat in the ring for the job.
But as I sat on the beach that day, I didn’t feel the normal thrill and exhilaration from reaching new career heights. In fact, if I thought about this one long enough, my insides hurt. It doesn’t fit, something whispered, like a dress that’s too tight. The following Monday morning, I pulled my name from consideration.
So what happened on the beach that day? Well, somewhere deep inside that I didn’t know existed at the time, emotional maturity was beginning to grow, which is the state of mind and heart and spirit that will always trump ego. I’d throw my hat in the ring that day for the title, the power, ego drivers. But a new set of drivers was beginning to emerge in me.
So today I’ll spend a few minutes with you on emotional maturity because at least for me, it has guided my best and bravest decisions.
So let’s start with definitions. Emotional maturity is often confused with emotional intelligence, and they’re two different things. Both deal with self, how we manage self, and both deal with how we interact with others. And today I’ll just deal with how we interact with others.
You know there’s so much literature around emotional intelligence — books written about it, online quizzes to test your EI, books for kids on how to learn emotional intelligence — but very little on emotional maturity. And you might say it is the highest form of emotional intelligence.
So with emotional intelligence, we are aware of emotions in others, and you might be surprised how many people are not. So that’s what emotional intelligence is. Emotional maturity is when you respond with heart and mind and spirit, not ego.
Now a good girlfriend of mine, Judy, you see her up there, she calls this soul energy. And I like that a lot. We live so often in a world of ego energy, but when we’re moving toward maturity, we’re moving into a world of soul and heart and mind.
And I’ve had all of this on my mind a lot lately, ever since I wrote this book, New Rules of the Game. The second half of the book deals with emotional maturity. But there was so much left unsaid, unwritten, because I didn’t want to write a ten-pound book.
And it’s such a critical leadership skill. Emotionally mature leaders, for example, just one example, recognize that difficult life and work situations are not just meaningless suffering, but can be moments of grace in teaching when we allow them to be.
I once read about a Quaker teacher who taught by posing questions, and one of the questions he suggests you ask yourself is, “Whose am I?” Because you can’t ask that ultimate existential question, “who am I,” without the context of those around you, your home community, your work community, your student community.
Well, I didn’t realize it back on the beach that day, but I was asking, “Whose am I? Who else does this decision impact?” Well, it impacted my new husband, who wasn’t crazy about the thought of leaving LA. It impacted my work team because I didn’t have any clear succession in place. And I’m sure it impacted many others.
So with all of that in mind, if you will allow me for a few minutes to tell you whose I am: I am the daughter of these two lovely folks, mom Greek, dad Italian, first-generation immigrants. We were raised in a suburb of Detroit on a street called Shalawn Street.
And guess who else lived on Shalawn Street? Well, my grandparents two doors down, and many of my 14 aunts and uncles and assorted cousins. It’s like an ethnic Spanky and our gang.
So it was kind of hard to get into a lot of trouble and throw parties and do things like that because the family police were always around, and that could be suffocating at times, but there was also a sweetness to it.
So fast forward to today. My family, my husband Bill, son Andrew. We adopted Andrew from overseas, so when he asks, “Whose am I?” It’s a bigger question for him than for a lot of kids his age. And even though we adopted him, he somehow inherited his father’s sense of humor, which can only be described as irreverent.
So Andrew got a, just graduated college, he got a job, he’s moved to Chicago. And Bill thought would be a great idea to send him an Easter basket a few months ago. So he puts this Easter basket together and he’s got a nice chocolate bunny in there and he throws in condoms. Who does that? Apparently my husband. But there is also a note he put in that said, “There will always be Easter baskets.” So that Andrew knows wherever he goes, our hearts are with him.
“Whose am I?” is also answered by these gentlemen. We are the startup team of Home and Garden Television. This picture was taken last August. We were celebrating 20 years of being on the air.
You know, when I got the call for this job, I’d been at some pretty notable television networks: HBO, NBC, CNBC. And with those moves, my ego was squarely in place. But when I got this call, something whispered, “It fits.” Like finally finding the right key to open a lock.
And as chief operating officer of HGTV, I had my biggest growth spurt in emotional maturity because now I was connected to hundreds of people and to a senior team, and we would go on to all build a business that today is worth billions of dollars.
Along the way we engaged this gentleman, Dr. Martin, I call him Dr. M, to share his wisdom. And he would constantly remind us on the senior team: “Don’t forget, the person with the power must be the person with the grace.”
So we set out and called a meeting before we were even on the air, and it’s probably the most important meeting in the 20 years of the business because we wanted to define what this work community would be all about. And out of that came these core values.
So some people have commented that these seem to skew gender female. And trust me, there was a lot of debate around the table about these values. But what I learned is that by sitting at the table and having a seat of authority as an equal, I could help to influence the creation of a culture that is collaborative, inclusive, supportive. And today, those around the table don’t look like the people on the beach. It’s about half, male and female, which is just about ideal.
Along the way, about nine years into the building of the business, something happened that changed my life. My mother and sister died, both unexpectedly, in a matter of a couple of weeks apart. It eviscerated me. I didn’t know whose I was anymore.
In the quiet of a grieving time, something new began to take shape. Something that felt bigger than my day job. I did return to work and after some additional time there, I departed.
So that was four years ago. Today I write, I teach a practice of meditation called Centering Prayer at a lovely little retreat house in the Smoky Mountains, and I work with women one-on-one to help them manage all the areas that they battle in the workplace every day. Lack of self-esteem and self-love, lack of understanding why men act the way they do, which is a lot of what my book is about. Because I’ve worked side by side with men my whole career, I can play interpreter and help them to build trusting relationships.
And the biggest, baddest boogeyman of them all: rigid gender stereotypes. That it seems every institution wants to perpetuate, not just business. Because you see, we know that as women, two things can be true at the same time. We can be senior leaders and mothers or other caregivers. We can play leadership roles and support roles, sometimes in the same meeting. What is true is that when women ask, “Whose am I?” The circle that we embrace is a large one, and I think that’s a marvelous thing.
So I will leave you with a question that will put you squarely on the road to emotional maturity. Whose are you? Thank you.