On being ... proud

By Ingrid Sapona

Some On being … columns feel like they write themselves. This one isn’t one of those.
Today’s column has been a struggle mainly because I’ve been debating about whether it’s too personal to write about. (I know that probably sounds odd, as most columns are pretty personal.) Maybe I should just admit that my struggle with today’s column is because it lays bare something I’ve been judgmental about for a long time. (Funny, I thought – OK, hoped – that admitting that would help the words tumble magically onto the page. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.…)

Anyway – the topic for today’s column came to me when I was at my sister R’s retirement party two weekends ago. R is retiring after 30+ years on the faculty of a U.S. university. The past 12 (or more?) years she’s been associate dean for academic affairs in one of the University’s colleges.

OK – so let me get the embarrassing part out of the way. Though I love and respect both my sisters immensely, I’ve always felt frustrated by what I see as R’s lack of ambition. I know what you’re thinking: you don’t get to be associate dean by accident. But honestly, in a way, she did. She didn’t seek the job out. She was asked/invited to apply for it and then she got it. So, you can see why I’ve always felt she kind of fell into it.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think she deserved the position. She did. She is incredibly competent and organized. In the latter years of her tenure as associate dean, an increasing part of the work involved resolving complaints against faculty and students. Such issues involved working with diverse teams and crafting fair solutions – two of her particular specialties. And yet, to my way of thinking, if she were ambitious, she’d have proactively sought out such a position or tried to move on to a dean’s position after a few years. I know, pretty judgmental of me…

At her retirement party, the faculty and staff of the college presented her with a beautiful wood box filled with cards printed with thoughtful comments and reflections her colleagues wrote about her. After the party, I was reading the comments and I was moved by all the tributes. But one comment in particular struck me like a bolt of lightning. The comment was to the effect that R never approached things with an agenda. That rang true to me, as I figured no ambition = no agenda.

But the comment didn’t end there. R’s colleague went on to say that because R had no agenda, she always approached things with the best interests of the students and faculty at heart and with the aim of doing what’s right. That was the lightning bolt part. Indeed, it’s precisely because R didn’t have an agenda and ambition for herself and her career, that she was always able to steer toward being fair, finding consensus, and doing what she could to help others.

That last part also made me realize something about R that I’d never focused on before: of us three sisters, she has always been the most people-focused. In other words, her ambition was about forging bonds with others. Indeed, by going about her career in her way and on her own terms (rather than based on her little sister’s terms), she not only fulfill her desire to connect with others, she made a big difference in so many peoples’ lives. Who could ask for anything more from one’s career or life?

As it happens, last night I attended a women’s networking event sponsored by a big law firm. The event and panel of speakers centered around the launch of a book called The Collective Wisdom of High-Performing Women: Leadership Lessons from The Judy Project, edited by Colleen Moorehead. As you might imagine, the topic of women’s relationship with ambition was front and centre in the discussion. The first thing that stood out to me was the acknowledgement that even successful women find talking about ambition uncomfortable. Boy did I need to hear that, given my wrestling with whether to write about ambition today.

Ms. Moorehead, who hosted the event, kicked off the discussion by explaining that one of the messages that came through from the stories the women execs shared for the book is that women have redefined ambition. Rather than defining ambition based on the model that’s centered on greed and self-promotion, for women ambition tends to be broader and more inclusive. Moorehead calls it a “collective ambition” that manifests itself in ambition for one’s company or one’s team. Man-oh-man, that definition describes R’s version of ambition to a tee.

Before leaving the event, I went up to Ms. Moorehead to tell her how much I enjoyed the event and that I’m looking forward to reading the book. I also told her about the guilt I felt about having misjudged my sister as lacking ambition when, in fact, she’s always had an inclusive ambition. Colleen smiled and nodded.

As I turned to leave, she said, “Just be proud of your sister.” I turned back to look at her and assured her I am very proud of both my sisters and lucky to have them as role models.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … spoiled, really?

By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I don’t live under a rock, though, so I do know that a few Sundays ago fans were eagerly awaiting the premiere episode of the final season. But, other than the fact that the show is very violent and that there are dragons, I don’t know much more about it. As for the Avengers movie premiere that same weekend, the only thing I was curious about was who they’d cast in the roles of John Steed and Mrs. Peel. I couldn’t imagine anyone as dashing as Patrick Macnee or as sexy as Diana Rigg. Boy was I surprised when I heard the new movie’s about Marvel cartoon superheroes! (Surely I’m not the only person who thinks of a bowler hat and straight black cane when they hear of the Avengers.)

In the days after these (apparently) long-awaited premiers, there was almost as much talk about “spoiler alerts” as there was about what folks actually thought of the shows. I found the whole spoiler alert stuff over the top. Folks who complain about others spoiling things for them are self-centered whiners. If you didn’t get a chance to see the movie or the show as soon as it came out, that means something else in your real life took precedent. That’s life, folks. Besides, the shows aren’t like a total solar eclipse that only comes around to your area once or twice in your lifetime. Once a show or movie’s been released, you can catch it nearly on demand.

I think the burden of avoiding hearing about what happens is on the person who wants to remain in the dark. Of course, that would mean they might have to unplug from social media for a few days. Oh no! They might also have to avoid the coffee room at work if co-workers are in there, in case they decide to discuss it. It’s true, they may even have to avoid some traditional newscasts because the mandatory end-of-show banter might give something away. But relax … in a day or two the anchors will be chatting about some other non-news “news”.

I don’t see how knowing particular details – or even the ending – of a story really spoils it. Knowing that the ship goes down certainly didn’t spoil The Titanic for the millions of folks who went to see it. That’s because enjoying movies, shows, and stories isn’t just about knowing what happens or even the plot twists that get you to the ending. Besides, knowing what to expect can free you to pay attention in a different way. (The viewer who spotted the Starbucks coffee cup in that scene in Game of Thrones, for example, certainly wasn’t as focused on the plot or even the action of the scene.)

I think people who worry that their enjoyment will be spoiled if they learn anything about the plot or ending are missing the point. They don’t realize that in movies, shows and life, it’s the journey that provides the thrills, chills, intrigue, and satisfaction.

I imagine you’re probably thinking it’s a bit odd that the whole spoiler alert “phenomenon” bothered me enough to write a column about it. I’ve been thinking about that too. What bothers me is the amount of time and social energy that’s spent on things like superhero movies and fantasy dramas. In the meanwhile, folks are ignoring the very real, very terrible things going on in the real world.

Well, here’s a spoiler alert for you: while everyone’s busy escaping into fantasy worlds, folks aren’t paying enough attention to things here on planet earth. Indeed, the way things are going politically – and climactically – unless more of us start taking notice and action, I worry the ending may come sooner than we believe is possible and none of us are going to enjoy the journey.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona