Just Keep Failing

I present a series of selfies I took a few weeks back on the eve of a big professional goal…. that didn’t happen.

Friends, I fail. I fail a lot.

I want to remember that failing and resilience is part of the journey. It’s been my experience that many of my woman identifying peers are perfectionists. We’re doers, we’re achievers, we’re hustlers. But here’s the thing: that’s impossible to maintain. Failing hard and failing often means you’re doing something.

Dreaming and doing, baybee

My career and volunteer service has increasingly demanded that I continue to develop management skills. I am not alone in this, particularly as people guide their work through the pandemic and the (maybe, kinda, sorta?) post-pandemic world. There are two ways to approach this. As usual, the first is to do nothing and rely solely on instincts. In my estimation, this has a low probability of success. Even if it finds success, it has a low probability for fostering loyalty from a team or organizational growth. Few people, or at least myself, have baked in instincts for our managing the work of others and scaling organizations.

These are not the sorts of things our ancestors prepared us for. Knowing I should run from an attack? Baked in. Finding cover during cold and wet weather? Baked in. Investigating things that make us curious? Even that, baked in. Knowing how to position our donor portfolio to attract more foundations? Needs to be taught.

So then, we’re left with ‘doing the work.’ During the pandemic I took on managing a bigger team, continued to supervise a large group of graduate students, and attempted to develop a new center almost entirely on Zoom. I turned to leaders I admire for guidance – including Molly Brummond’s New.Now.Next. women’s leadership cohorts. In these sessions we did a few things, but one of the most notable exercises helped me develop tools to fall back on when things are tough.

It’s easy to lead when everyone is performing excellently, things are on a roll, and growth is thriving. Sadly, those sweet spots rarely pop up on their own and rarely live long – not because people aren’t loyal and talented – but because life is life. As in, life happens.

Molly challenged our group to develop our own leadership statements and walked us through that process. This statement is my guiding light during decision-making and going into awkward or difficult conversations:

  • Am I being true to these ideals?
  • These are my values, am I following them?
  • This is how I think about leadership, and is the kind of leader I can be at my best.

I started with the values I developed working through Brene Brown’s work on leadership. These are the core parts of who we are and what we rely on. For me, these are:

  • Creativity
  • Initiative

Dreaming and doing, baybee.

From there, Molly walked us through a series of questions pushing us to think about our core beliefs about success. In the end, I got to this, which I (such a nerd) made into this desktop image:

I believe everyone has something to contribute.

My attitude will be nimble and I will be adaptable. My words will be reliable and clear, but gentle.

I will lead by celebrating our differences, initiating opportunity, and seeking creative ideas.

I believe my enthusiasm for new and different opportunities is my best resource.

I expect myself to stay calm, kind, and collaborative in situations where it is easy to let frustration, judgement, apathy, or fear lead my actions.

Prairie Ink

My fourth tattoo is one I have wanted for a long time and finally made happen. Micheala at Iron Brush tattoo is so talented and made me feel so comfortable! Her Instagram is @gettininky.

The prairie doesn’t have the intensity of the mountains or the grandeur of the ocean, its beauty is a quiet one. Calm, consistent, balanced, wide open. These constellations represent my children’s, my partner, and mine. Plus the spacey water color which, obviously, is important to me. I wanted something that was not a zodiac or purely space tattoo nor a blatant parent-child tattoo, but instead reflected on lots of things that are meaningful to me:
the stars,
the prairie,
my family,
and balance.

Our elements form the Avatar, so I just couldn’t resist it (Cancer/water, Aquarius/air, Leo/fire, Taurus/earth). Balance.

The tree is a cottonwood tree, several of which stood in the front yard of the house I grew up in. The trees have since had to go, but were still the notable part of my childhood in Nebraska.

My skin was angry but forgave me. This is my fourth tattoo but it’s been 18 years. It hurt like a motherfucker. Finally, did I buy the shirt in multiple colors in anticipation of this tattoo? Yes, yes I did. 🙌🏽

Get paid.

A message (and reminder to self) to all my mid-career friends in similar situations:

When I was early on in my career I did many free speaking gigs and projects that were additional to the requirements of my job. This was good! I was new, I was building up my credentials and expertise, and my reputation. For certain causes and groups I still work for free and of course certain events are within of my regular salary and work.

More broadly though, the most important thing that I’ve taken out of the last 2 to 3 years, and a phrase I want us all to practice saying is “I can’t do this unless there is compensation for the additional hours.”

Get. Paid.

Or, if you don’t actually want to do it, don’t.

Amen.

Solstice

Monday was winter solstice, the shortest day, the longest night, and a time that has always deeply resonated with me.

Gratitude and gratuitous table setting will always be my jam.

We decorated our Yule log, celebrated our earth, thanked the light, and acknowledged the night by having a “dark dinner” and taking a long nighttime walk with our homemade lanterns.

One of my favorite Mary Oliver poems felt like the right fit this year.

In winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
but he’s restless—
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake.
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds—

which he has summoned
from the north—
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent—
that has turned itself
into snow

Be well and blessed be.

Fall Family Portraits

We haven’t had “real” photos taken since Eleanor’s birth, so when a law student (with a background and love for photography) offered an awesome fundraiser for the Student Bar Association I jumped on it! I’m not much into having posed portraits like this, but see the value in it, so a quick low pressure experience was great. She donated her photo session fees to the association and we got 30 minutes of her time. A win-win.

Thank you Dana Jurgensmeier!

Also, I never really share my kid’s faces on social media, though I sign the releases of schools and activities to do so. I’ve, pretty randomly, decided to share them here as part of our family photos. I can’t articulate a great reason for why I feel OK about this and not about day-to-day posts on social media, but formal family portraits seem like much less of an invasion of their personal autonomy. Life is full of decisions that live on a spectrum, this is one of them.

A Lost Semester: A Note on The 2020 Pandemic From Executive Director Magilton

The letter being shared in our Program’s 2019-2020 Annual Report and with our alumni this September.

As our team put together this report and reviewed the full gamut of events and activities we completed this fall, I felt a new wave of loss over all the great plans we had for spring 2020 that were, of course, cancelled. When the world stopped this March and all the “out of an abundance of caution” cancellation emails started rolling in, academic programs everywhere were suddenly forced to change course. Of all the losses and pain that COVID-19 has caused globally cancelled conferences and academic events are, with out doubt, some of the least important. Acknowledging that, it was still hard to cancel work we had put our hearts and souls into. There was so much I looked forward to sharing with you here that is missing – and that hurts.

Even more seriously, the rug was pulled out from under students everywhere. I am proud of how Nebraska Law responded and we did our best to support students and employees who suddenly found themselves learning and working from home. From “old school” efforts like student phone trees, to more modern efforts in helping students navigating Zoom classrooms, we took efforts to the next level to retain our community.

Did we do it perfectly? No. Spring 2020 was an unprecedented time, and it continues to be so as I write this. There is no blueprint to help us establish best practices for building community when our community can’t be together in person. The past six months have taught us a lot of lessons – and while I hope we don’t have another occasion to apply them in the same context, opportunities to learn always provide opportunities for gratitude.

That feeling is the one I want to leave you with: gratitude. I could outline our response plans, discuss how our online program made us uniquely suited to make the switch, tell you what it felt like to watch our students graduate and move away without being able to hug them, but instead I want to thank our community for rising up to meet the challenges we faced this year.

When all the networking mixers, airport connections, conferences, and “hustle” is stripped away, what is left is the heart of the mission, the research, and the community. This has been a year for introspection, creativity, empathy, and making space for new ideas. While this isn’t the year I would’ve wished for, there is space for gratitude for what this year has been.

To our alumni, friends, and loved ones who have been impacted by COVID-19, our hearts and thoughts are with you.

Elsbeth Magilton
Executive Director of Technology, Security, and Space Law Initiatives
Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law Program
Nebraska Governance and Technology Center

Starting School.. in fall 2020

We finally made a choice about how the kids will be attending school during the first quarter amidst the pandemic.

We are under no obligation to validate it and fellow parents – neither are you.

This all sucks, big time. Everyone has different situations professionally and financially and by-and-large our leaders failed us. We’re all just doing the best we can with the options available. If you’re panicked, frustrated, angry, sad over back-to-school: I am too. Always up to talk and commiserate, however your kids are attending this fall. 

For what it’s worth our kids will be going for the first 10 days so they can get to know their teachers and get some in-person instruction on using their chromebooks for remote learning, which they’ll switch to until we reassess in mid-October for the second quarter. 10 days is the time set by our district to stick with one method or the other – so 10 days in and one and half months remote. It is an imperfect plan, but still at least reduces exposure over the next 9 weeks, while acknowledging other needs. 

Eleanor is starting kindergarten and I’ve lost so much sleep and cried many tears processing this. 

I do want to say that I feel the folks in our public school system have had their hands tied and are doing the best that they can. We are so proud of the work our elementary school has put into keeping kids safe, using classroom cohorts, and with masks on. 

We are proud Roadrunners! #beepbeep 

But also.. #fuck2020 

Yule

“I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
‘We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,’
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.”

Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

I’m not a Christian, nor is my husband, but we celebrate Christmas. It’s kind of gross, I know. Ingenuine and dishonest. The holiday has so permeated our culture, particularly here in the Midwest, that I don’t have the heart to rip it away from my children. I’m not strong enough to deny them the tree, Santa, or jingle bells. Judge that for what you will.

I still feel, however, a need to be spiritual during winter each year – and not just in discussions of gratitude, giving, and family joy (which are also important) but in a deep and old way. I believe strongly in honoring the land and the earth. I don’t have any defined beliefs regarding what lays beyond our world and my suspicions vary day to day. One thing I’m sure of though, is that the cycle of the earth and the ground beneath our feet deeply matter in some ancient way.

To be clear, while it appeals to me somewhat, I’m not Wicca or Pagan either. I’m simply an agnostic descendant of Scandinavians who likes trees and experiencing all the seasons. It’s not a flashy station with a settled dogma, but it’s mine and here we are.

For the past few years I’ve held a special Winter Solstice dinner for my children by candlelight – this is the traditional “dark dinner” where we light every candle in the house and turn off every light bulb. We “light the night” to welcome back the sun as our days begin to stretch longer again. This year I added yule log decorating, some historical discussion of winter holidays that existed before Christmas existed, creating our own solstice lanterns, and a “moon walk”. The day was truly something special between my kids and I (my husband had to work that evening, but did join us for a follow up dark dinner the next evening).

I rarely require much decorum or silence my kids, but I asked for some while I read a few poems about nature, winter, and introspection. They agreed that serious moments, while potentially boring, “make things feel important.”

From our crafty family to you yours – Love, light, joy, and reflection.

“I speak cold silent words a stone might speak
If it had words or consciousness,
Watching December moonlight on the mountain peak,
Relieved of mortal hungers, the whole mess
Of needs, desires, ambitions, wishes, hopes.
This stillness in me knows the sky’s abyss,
Reflected by blank snow along bare slopes,
If it had words or consciousness,
Would echo what a thinking stone might say
To praise oblivion words can’t possess
As inorganic muteness goes its way.
There’s no serenity without the thought serene,
Owl-flight without spread wings, honed eyes, hooked beak,
Absence without the meaning absence means.
To rescue bleakness from the bleak,
I speak cold silent words a stone might speak.”

Robert Pack, Stone Thoughts

3 Guidelines (that I made up)

Are you a working parent of young children passionate about your career? Sucks, huh?

I kid, but I get questions about career balance relatively often and I have funneled my advice into three key realities I try to live by. Because this is the internet, I’m going to preface this post by saying I’m not comparing outside-of-the-home working parents to working-from-home or stay-at-home parents. I wouldn’t dare enter that corner of internet comments. Rather just the self-derived advice I’ve come to live by that I’ve articulated primarily while on panels or speaking to recently graduated alumni (or panicked pregnant people).

(1) Guilt is not a merit badge. You don’t have to wear it. Do not pretend you don’t love travel or your job to ensure people know you also love your kid(s). It is OK to simultaneously love your job and your kid(s).

(2) You don’t have to say yes to everything to feel successful – professionally or with parent groups, sport teams, and schools. Edit ruthlessly for meaning and purpose to your life.

Stop equating “exhausted” with “successful” (I’m working on this one big time).

(3) Frame all professional decisions with the understanding that no matter how indispensable you are at work, if you get hit by a bus they will ultimately replace you.

Your family and friends can’t. 

Finally, most of these are true whether you have kids or not. Balance is not something achieved and then archived. It’s a widely flailing place we rarely hit consistently. The best we can do is keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, stop trying to “keep up” with those around you, and do the best quality work you can do: at your office and in your home.