Nothing to fear except fear itself…and me.

Image Credit: Velvet Android via Flickr As a teacher, there are many skills one must acquire to survive the madness that is public education. Thick skin and eyes in the back of your head are a few, but no skill is as infamous as the “teacher voice.” Even as adults, most people cringe when they hear that tone—low, slow and with a hint of ice. It’s an art form to achieve the perfect mix of severity and mystery…a tone that stirs fear in the receiver, but at the same time they can’t turn away until they know why the voice is singling them out.

In the short time I was in the classroom, I became a master of the “teacher voice”. Fortunately this meant I didn’t have to use it often. Fear and anxiety are not exactly the type of feelings I care to be associated with on a regular basis.

katie with santa beardAnd yet here I am, more than five years later, listening to friends confess my having stirred similar feelings in them from time to time. Me, the woman who dances in aisles at the supermarket and was recently photographed wearing a Santa beard, strikes fear into the hearts of even the most blunt and thick-skinned folks. People twice my age get chills every time they hear my ask, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

I just can’t understand it (and is there really a non-threatening way to ask to chat?).

Naturally I brought this conundrum to my husband…a man who has every reason to fear me on a daily basis.

Perceived Authority

The first explanation he offered was that I am often perceived as an authority figure. Even if I have no direct authority over someone, my willingness to offer opinion and provide feedback can come across as overpowering. The desire to avoid negative feedback, even if I never had given to that individual previously, is enough to cause anxiety.

I find this so utterly confusing. In instances where I possess actual authority, such as over interns, causing fear among these young charges makes sense. Well, sort of. Even though I try to establish myself as compassionate and encourage a fun work environment, it seems nothing ever eliminates the fear. Of course, fellow coworkers have no problem using this to their advantage, as I recently learned the intern’s fear of me was used to dissuade uncooperative behavior.

Watch Out for the Quiet Ones

The second explanation centered on my inability to mask my emotions. I’m completely unable to keep happy secrets (let me tell your birthday gift two weeks early), will always cry at animal videos (oh look honey—the big dog is teaching the puppy to go down the stairs!), and have no shame throwing my hands in the air and swearing when something goes wrong. I’m a flurry of emotions and actions pretty much all of the time.

So when I go dead silent…it freaks everyone the $%#@ out.

It seems the minute I stop bouncing around, revealing everything I’m feeling and thinking, everyone assumes an eruption is coming of epic proportions. Not that I’m tired, or just don’t have anything particular to say—if Katie is silent, batten down the hatches.

I have no idea why this is. Sure, I have a wicked Irish temper, but it has only been witnessed by three people IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. It takes A LOT for me to go off the deep end, but yet apparently everyone I know lies in wait for it.

Even after having discussed this with friends and my husband, I’m still left a bit puzzled. Perhaps it’s better I cease trying to discover an explanation and instead use my perceived evil powers for good. After all, if others can use the fear I instill to get work done, why shouldn’t I?

Something tells me though I’d be no good at it though. The minute I try to be that serious, I’d laugh.

Image Credit: Velvet Android via Flickr

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Achievement Unlocked…and then?

I’ve had a lot of dreams since I was a kid. First it was to be a movie director, which my parents encouraged by allowing me the use of our video camera at seven- and eight-years-old (very trusting considering how pricey these were back in the day). Then I wanted to move from behind the camera to in-front of it, so my parents paid for an acting lesson during the summer.


Image Credit: someecards

Eventually dreams became plans. I started researching colleges when I was in eighth grade (NERD!) and knew by sophomore year of high school I wanted to study political science. I stood proud, the lone planner among my friends who just looked forward to moving away from home. I was ready for the future!

Except then I found out I could graduate college a year early. WTF? I hadn’t had time to come up with a new plan! WHAT DO I DO? My dream of being chief-of-staff to a president was fizzling out ever since I took my first communications class and discovered I’d loved writing and event-planning more than politics. Quick, come up with something! I jumped on the first thing I could and ended up joining the Teach for America corps.

And while incredible, it wasn’t my dream. But it did get me thinking. I loved what TFA was doing and wanted to help more nonprofits. In fact, I wanted to run one some day. Yeah, that’s my new dream! I HAVE A PLAN! Get a masters degree, do some PR work, make the right connections and in 5-10 years, I’ll be an executive director.

Except, once again, life came at me early. 3 years in I’m recruited by Gangplank to come in and help out. What was supposed to be 50% GP work ends up taking over my life and now I’m living the dream–applying for 501c3 status, applying for grants, expanding locations and planning 50+ events a year.

At 27 years old, I’ve made it.

So now what?

Yet again, I’m unprepared. I didn’t have time to come up with a new dream after leaving Gangplank. Experience tells me it will come in 1-2 years, just as it has since I started high school. But I’m impatient. I don’t like not knowing. All I know is to be on the lookout for when it bites me in the ass and trust, well, that it’s the type of dream that does indeed bite asses.

But I have hope. Tess Vigeland, former reporter for NPR’s Marketplace Money, gave a fantastic speech at this year’s World Domination Summit (woot #WDS2013!) about leaving her dream job with NPR to pursue something new–and having absolutely no clue what that was. No offense to Tess, but it does give me comfort to realize that if someone who has a ton more knowledge and experience than I is going through this , maybe I’m not so bad off.

After all, I’ve got a history of getting to stuff early =)


Generation Flux

Confuse akkittangala

Confuse akkittangala (Photo credit: Beni Ishaque Luthor)

A lot of publications have been trying to understand the changing nature of today’s job market and the impact it has on the younger generations. Most paint a fairly dim picture – degrees that mean nothing, skills left untaught, high unemployment – essentially a generation wandering around, looking at the sky for an answer.

When I saw the chosen topic for Fast Company’s January issue of this year – ‘Generation Flux‘ – I put off reading the issue for a while. Even though it is my favorite magazine, I just didn’t want another reminder of the insecurity and fear that creeps into nearly every day.

Of course, I never should have doubted Fast Company’s ability to find the unique and innovative. The issue focused on leaders under 40 who were changing their industries. What surprised me was they were not all entrepreneurs. Many were staff of larger corporations (Microsoft, Greylock Partners, etc). The thread tying them all together were the strange paths they took to get there.

And their message – ‘Be not afraid’.

The ones who are optimistic and embrace change are the ones that will survive and forge new realities. I want to get there, but I’m finding ‘the Flux’ gets to me more and more these days. Blind leaps of faith are hard and the payoff is unknown. How can we support one another?

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