A return of sorts

Long ago, when I started a blog, I called it Not so Shiny Jules. It was random observations from just an ordinary human. As I shifted, it shifted with me to make room for more specific and pointed conversations about observations in the workforce world and I renamed it Julie Brock because I had also written a book and hoped to write some more.

And then life happened.

I didn’t write another book, instead I wrote a sort of long piece about reasonableness in a time of contention. I changed jobs two more times. We transitioned one boy to high school and the other to middle school. Randy changed careers.

And somewhere in there, my habit of writing shifted to the back burner. In one toxic place of work I allowed my voice to shut off because of threats and scrutiny. It was about reputation and maintaining status quo. It clipped my wings and recovery has been hard and slow.

It’s why The Reasonables continues to live in my google drive and here it bits, because the constant drumbeat in my head was one of accusations and fear. Who the hell do you think you are? Who do you think will listen to a damn thing you say? You are…and fill it in with the lowest form of insult and demeaning comments you can find.

I was done. I had listened to lies from people who didn’t matter and those lies weaved a dark cynical web in my soul, I felt my spirit fall into a protective deep abyss, and I’ve spent the last four years spelunking and calling for her.

Maybe she didn’t fall or retreat or leave at all. That might have been another lie I told myself while I was in the dark and couldn’t see the lies weaving tight, tight knots across my heart. Anxiety told me it was protection, no one could hurt me again.

But that is the strongest, most wretched, worst lie to believe.

We will get hurt. If we fear it so deeply that we cut ourselves off, we miss out on living.

I risked a lot by leaving my classroom in the middle of the year in 2015. I loved my work and the kids other parents entrusted to me for nine months, thirty-four weeks, 184 days, a year. I had created a system that made room for every student. It challenged each person to take ownership of their education, assess where they were and make a plan to get to where they wanted to be. I was a guide on their journey, and it was beautiful. I had non-readers start to read. I had kids who told me they couldn’t write start defining themselves as writers. I made room for failure, room for time-management, room for humanity and it was a place I loved.

My teaching license lapsed in June and I cried.


I won’t return to the classroom in that way again. It isn’t because I was burned out, but because the season had passed. I was good, maybe great, but was I making a dent in the overall system? Was I perpetuating a grind that was training our young humans to jump through hoops versus own an education they were proud of?

Sometimes the system cannot be changed from within. Sometimes a whole new approach has to be taken to create lift, to create change, to challenge the status quo.

And so I am returning to this writing thing, but this time around the mountain, I picked up some new knowledge. This time in my sabbatical from writing I found some truths that were slowly but deliberately gnawing away that densely woven web. I can only be who I am. And that doesn’t require explanation, a label, or justification. yes, I am an ordinary human observing the world, but I’m not just an ordinary human. As Walt Whitman reminds us, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, so I contradict myself. I am large — I contain multitudes.”

Into the deep abyss I go, not to find a thing, but to marvel in the multitudes of humanity. I have no idea what it will reveal, and my curiosity is giddy.


Whether a season or that sentence between paragraphs, a well planned, well executed transition is my favorite. We live among old oaks whose bark is wizened. They are the last to turn their leaves and sometimes, they skip the yellow and just drop them. The birch and elder play along with fall and autumn, but our oaks are beyond it.

In Oregon, fall and autumn came so steadily and then in October, a rain storm would ravish the trees, and Halloween was spent under slickers and walking on all the leaves knocked down by the wind. There is a steadiness of the seasons and still an unknown of the transition and how it will settle, how it will sit. Will we, readers of seasons or essays, be easily moved from one idea to another, or will it jar us, knock our leaves off, and leave us rereading or trying to decide where we are in the entirety of the experience?

Photo by  Chris Pagan  on  Unsplash

Photo by Chris Pagan on Unsplash

We are in a mighty transition now. As the world warms up and parts of the globe become inhabitable. It will move us, whether we want it to or not, to evolve, adapt, change. As school systems change because of the increased efficiency of our learners forces it to, we have an opportunity to re-think education, what it is for, and how it is delivered. As workforce trends continue to influence the influx of technology and automation, we can take this time to think what work can and should look like for each individual within the organization.

We are in transition.

And what I love about transition is the ability to see change appear.

Change is here. It is. Will we hold on to our leaves so desperately like old oaks, or will we be like the aspens and maples, leading the way and blazing the path with our brilliant colors?

Lay Overs

If you fly Icelandair, you can schedule a stop over in Iceland for no additional cost. What a great way to promote more tourist traffic to the country and, perhaps, a way to take care of their staff to get them home more often. I’m not sure, it is just a guess, but I know that there are places you can’t fly to in one shot and you have to take a lay over, so why not increase the likelihood of someone then spending time and money on theirs?

Other layovers aren’t as spectacular as taking a day or two to stop in Iceland, but still are vital to the overall travel experience. We certainly won’t be flying direct to Australia from Minnesota anytime soon. Los Angeles is an essential stop on that travel excursion as the pacific ocean isn’t tiny.

Traveling through our careers are no different, really. Sometimes it is necessary to take a position that seems a little out of the way, or seemingly a nuisance, but in reality, for your overall health and to ensure you get to where you want to go, it is necessary.

image from wiki commons

image from wiki commons

I’ve taken a few “layover” positions in my career journey. Jobs that seem off pointe or a little out of scope, but in reality have been crucial for me to develop the skills and talents necessary to perform the next role. Every position I have held, I have made sure that it provided me a skill or a set of learnings that make me a better fit for whatever is next.

Flying straight through to the destination isn’t always the best decision, and for impatient people that is hard to hear. However, if we take an Icelandair approach, and be intentional about our layovers, we may just enhance our journey with some unexpected beauty.

Hottest Commodity on Earth

I asked a group of high school students what school was preparing them for and their answers varied from the deeply cynical, "success" to the question marked "college?" Not one said work.

When I asked what they were going to do after high school, shoulders shrugged and a jumble of thoughts carried through the room, "College? Move out? Uh, get a job?" 

When I asked what kind of job, again, shrugs and question marks. And then I asked, "What do you think the hottest commodity on earth is?" Again, blank stares and then the brave soul, "What's a commodity?" 

You, I answered. You are the hottest commodity on earth. Not gold, not processors, not lumber, and not corn. You, humans, you are the hottest commodity on earth, and every hiring organization needs you.

Work, job, career, workforce, careerforce, entrepreneur, business owner, manager, tradesperson, vocation, we need to be clear with our future that we are, indeed, preparing them to work. As long as they buy into the mythical money, they will make a transaction, a barter, a trade for it. The difference now, at the heart of technologically driven change, is the intersection of baby boomers retiring at a remarkable 10,000 per day until 2029. Leaving us now with .6 qualified workers per job opening in Southeast Minnesota. 

It is a job seekers market in a market that is changing faster than our systems can adapt. Tom Fisher, University of Minnesota professor and Director of the Minnesota Design Center, presented the future of work at a Southeast Minnesota Together Summit. He says, "Jobs will be replaced, but work continues. What is the work that needs to be doing, and how do we figure out entrepreneurially to do that work?" 

Profit isn’t a purpose, it’s a result. To have purpose means the things we do are of real value to others.
— Simon Sinek

How do we change our education system to transparently prepare our future for work? I am all for standardized assessments if we can make sure we are assessing the right skills: Leadership, adaptability, creative thinking, problem solving, autonomy, enthusiasm, and self reflection. How do we train our managers to be mentors, gurus, and guides? How do we shift organizations from top down to project-based or flat organizations that promote leadership at every position? How do we encourage communities to develop systems that are adaptable and accessible? How do we help people see that showing up to work is a gift of time and talent and that paying for that is an investment? Simon Sinek says, "Profit isn't a purpose, it's a result. To have purpose means the things we do are of real value to others."

Photo by  Mario Purisic  on  Unsplash

Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

It isn't enough to design a great product and manage customer service through damage control on social media outlets. A company's first customer base is its employees. Tony Hsieh in Delivering Happiness says, "Your personal core values define who you are, and a company's core values ultimately define the company's character and brand. For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.” Ultimately, the companies who will weather this workforce storm are the ones who are willing to assess their company through the eyes of their employees, be proactive to opportunities, and build a culture that is clear, consistent, and builds community. These organizations will have strategy and action that aligns to vision, mission, and values, and will onboard for culture and skills. 

An engaged and committed workforce is a business strategy, not a corrective action, not a nice-to-have, and not fluffy. Engaged people increase the bottom line because they want to do their best work, they believe in the vision, and consistently deliver on it. They are in alignment with their strengths, skills, and passion. There are so many ways to invest in meaningful ways, and your people will tell you. It is as simple as asking what Mary Oliver asks of us, "What will you do with your one wild and precious life" today? Tomorrow? and the following tomorrows? Or if that seems a bit big, then consider, "Are you working to your potential? Are their strengths and skillsets you would like to use more often? Do you feel supported and challenged? Have you taken time to reflect on your next best step? Ask to listen. Ask to act. Ask to engage the hottest commodity on earth.  

Want to talk more about culture and how to become an employer of choice? Contact me. 

Maintaining Constructs

We build from the ground up. We lay corner stones within our foundations. We construct our buildings, both figuratively and literally to last. However, the strength and longevity of our buildings are contingent on the cornerstones, the foundations, and the materials used. Cheap in, cheap out. If great materials are used, then maintenance becomes crucial to the lasting power of the building. And every building, no matter how amazing the materials and upkeep, reaches a moment in which reconstruction, restoration, intervention must happen or the building, even though it looks pristine, will fall. 

Photo by  Will Langenberg  on  Unsplash

And we will say things like, "We didn't see it coming? How did it happen? But it looked fine?" Unfortunately, we can cover up crap for a while, but the longer we do, the harder it will fall and the more casualties we bring down. 

So we need to check in on our constructs. What do we believe in so strongly that it holds up our identity and ideals? These constructs drive our world view. They keep us grounded in belief. And just like buildings that age, it is important to check in on the cornerstones and foundation for cracks or wear. To replace them is not hypocrisy or betrayal, it is progress and repair. It is a myth to believe that what serves us once will serve us forever; the world is too big for that. 

What I appreciate about Winter is its ability to force us to look at the foundation because it will break shit with its hearty cold. It forces us into the basement of our soul, into the neglected corners of our heart, where we allow cobwebs and vermin to take up shop because we are convinced it is doing it's job. It is holding us up. When in actuality, we have been neglecting it in the name of strength, but by looking strong, the termites have been busy tearing holes in what was strong holds. 

Go look, It isn't that scary, and truly, knowledge is power. You don't know what pipe to fix before it bursts, unless you look. This is a beautiful step in vulnerability because it forces us to look where we don't want to and, in most cases, consult an expert, so we can repair or replace with confidence that it will hold for a few more decades, years, moments. And frankly, as long as they are checkin in with regularly, no time is better than another, it is about the quality that is experienced by knowing that construct belongs, is solid, and is doing its job. 

When the Wind Rushes In

Fall has this way of beating us with beauty and then sending in the wind to knock it all down. In Oregon, this is when we start to lament the gray and rainy season coming. In Minnesota, we lament the fact that Winter is coming

The winds push in and pick up everything it can, sometimes we aren't prepared for that. We aren't ready for the predictable, unpredictable gusts of cold, blustery air. Yet we know it comes, every fall. Just as we know the cold comes, every winter. And here we stand at the beginning of the year, it too comes, predictably, every year.

Photo by  Kunj Parekh  on  Unsplash

Photo by Kunj Parekh on Unsplash

We can plan for the predictably unpredictable. We may not know how strong the gusts of wind will be, but we know they will be there. We may not know what the year will bring, but we know the year will come.

What will you prepare for this year?

I am not a resolution girl, because I predictably break them. I make them and break them before the month is out. But I do plan for the year to come. I spend a day reflecting on where we have been as a family, and then I set a vision and plan for where we will go. It doesn't always go to plan. I did not plan on changing jobs and ultimately careers in 2017, but I did. I did not plan on flying to Oregon in December to say goodbye to my Uncle, but I did. I did not plan on writing another book, but I am.

I am predictably horrible with follow through when my interest wanes, so I have to plan for that within the plan. I have to find time to create, to try new things without any expectation of follow through, so the other things I am working on, that do need to be finished, will be.

What is your plan for when the winds rush in? How will you be prepared to stand in them so they do not blow you away? What pieces of your foundation do you need to build so when the winds of an unexpected travel or sickness or change ravage your body with spinning sand, you are ready for the gusts.

In motion

We are in constant motion. Blinking of eyes, twitching of nerves, shifting of muscles. We must move so we do not become stiff and stale. 

In our professions it is no different. As we truly enter into a season in which it is a job seeker's market, it is important for hiring organizations to see the opportunity of being part of people's professional gain as fiscally more of a gain than capturing a person's talent. 

People don't like to be captured. 

People like to be valued and invested in. 

Gallup reports a mere 33.3% of people who are engaged at work. What is happening with the other two thirds of staff? Gone are the days of transactional work. People do not owe any loyalty to a company, and it is actually up to the company to actively invest in their human capital in order to increase their bottom line. 

2018 is on the horizon. As you set vision and strategy, what will you do to invest in your people's professional gains? How will you create momentum for people to perform to the best of their ability? How will you become an employer of choice, not because you have all the check list things that "millennials" want, but that you have asked and listened to what your employees need and put their words into action. Into motion. 

I quote Simon Sinek over and over because it is true: People don't buy what you do, but why you do it. It is no different for your employees. You want them to build your company? You have to provide opportunities for them to build themselves.  


Gorgeous, unexpected, brilliant. This is the reaction to seeing a Firefish either in a tank or in the wild. It has variations of colors, but the fins are striking and the contrast like no other. Their temperaments are calm and inviting, which makes it a standout in the tank. 

Who are the Firefish in your arena? Who are the people who are unexpected and brilliant? Who has the even temperament that will make for a solid leader? How are these Firefish being invested in, shown different pathways within your organizations, and encouraged to excel? 

Sometimes our own processes can hamper us from seeing the vibrancy of a Firefish, and where else in the company they can not only thrive, but influence and be an agent of change.


Firefish from http://www.liveaquaria.com/

Firefish from http://www.liveaquaria.com/

Finding the right fit

I don't use a tailor, I just try on a lot of different sizes and brands trying to find the right fit. Jeans and companies are a lot alike, they make their standard product and expect us to fit our unique asses in. 

And when I find the fit that makes my butt look great, I'm loyal. 

And there is a place for tailoring. No company is going to be perfect. Just like no jean fit is. They get close, and there is usually an element that we will compromise for the rest. The important piece is knowing what you are willing to compromise and what you are not. 

Non-negotiables are vital for understanding what the next step can and will be. 

For jeans, I can't have a muffin top, I have to be able to do squats without my underwear showing in the back, and they have to be long enough so I can wear both heels and flats with them. The last one I actually will compromise if I fall in love with the feel, but it stays on the list because I don't want a junked up closet that will only work with certain shoes. 

I don't want a junked up work environment in which I compromise my why or my values. Instead, I want a company that gets it almost right. A company that reflects my values and one that allows me to work my why for the better of the whole.  


Today, what are you saying yes to? Is it in alignment with your personal why? Is it serving you well?

Photo by  RayBay  on  Unsplash

Photo by RayBay on Unsplash

Often we pick up the routine at the beginning of the day, week, month, year, with little more than a glance or a consideration. When I lived in LA, it was crazy to watch how traffic shifted from the weekdays to the weekends. Weekend traffic was chaotic and unpredictable because people weren't on autopilot. They had to think about where they were going, how to cross six lanes of traffic in order to get to the exit. More accidents and road rage happen on the weekends because people are awake and frustrated that it isn't going as smoothly as it "should." The only reason the should feels so foreign is because we aren't necessarily awake to or aware of the rote. 

Saying yes is a conscious way of waking up. Saying yes confirms the choice and allows us to consider if it is the right thing to say yes today.

In the mess

Welcome to the mess. Roughly 10,000 boomers are retiring each day. They won't stop until 2029. This isn't new, this isn't out of the blue, age happens. We have known this was coming, it's just that we are here in it now, and it feels harder than we thought.

Photo by  Lucy Chian  on  Unsplash

Photo by Lucy Chian on Unsplash

Right now, the best thing we can do is recognize we are in the mess together. There is no us or them. There is no better than or worst than. We are here with 1.1 qualified candidates per job opening. We are here with people who want to work, want to be seen, and want to be valued. We are here in the mess, and there is no clear path, because we haven't ridden this particular storm out together. And that is the best part. We are changing right now, and change is messy. It is the beginning to some remarkable, innovative, fun, exciting, adaptive, and failing forward work. 

We have some choices to make, in the mess. Do we fend for ourselves, or do we work together? We have a strong group of humans who won't stand or tolerate companies who fend for themselves. Which is going to press us to look in. Press us to reevaluate. Press us to try something without totally knowing the results or the projections. It is exciting and messy that status quo won't work for this storm. 



What's in it for me?

I recently was quoted in a story about Workforce. We are facing an unprecedented low unemployment rate nationwide, and yet today, Gallup reports a mere 32.9% of us actively engaged at work. In the article I talk about two questions a company has to be able to answer honestly and transparently for their future employees: What's in it for me? and What's in it for us?

What's in it for me?

This isn't a selfish question. This is about professional development, lifelong learning, and leadership. This is a question that gives the future employee the scope of their own path and advancement within or frankly, outside your organization. Don't be fooled, this isn't an entitled question, it is an honest one. As a culture, we blend our workday and our personal time together. People are looking for work/life integration, not because they are entitled, but because we continue to believe that our time and talents should be valued and paid for. Employees are looking for a culture that matches their values, because then work doesn't feel like work, it feels like helping, doing good, leadership.

What's in it for us?

This is the most exciting question. If a company can follow Zappo's lead and create a mantra around work that matters, greatness occurs. It is a question about WHY your organization does the work it does. Why are you getting up every day to come to work? Why did you take on your position of leadership, and how is it positively affecting the world? This isn't about installing a nap room or flex time if managers continue to micromanage and create distrust. This isn't about putting ping pong tables in the break room if there is still a culture that floor workers can't cross onto the carpet. This isn't about desperation for workers, this is about attracting the right workers who see value in the products and services produced within your organization. And they feel the value you pour into them to make a positive impact on our communities and our world.

The world is big.

Photo by  Eric Didier  on  Unsplash

Photo by Eric Didier on Unsplash

One of my niece's best friends lives in Australia. They have not been in a physical space together, but they face time often.

This is the world we live in.

A world in which kids aren't on their phones merely to keep their Snapchat streak going, but to fact check or find a more interesting way to learn what is being talked at them for 6.25 hours a day.

We are at a crucial crossroads. As companies, we are in competition with the world for the hottest commodity on earth: people. And they are not disposable, They are not expendable. They are beating hearts who, if engaged and bought into your culture, will grow the bottom line...if you can answer two questions.



Revise v. Refine

Revise. Again. Cut, tear, push, pull. Read. Revise. Again.

It is an endless cycle, and one that cannot be avoided if refinement is the goal. We only refine after we have a foundation that is sturdy and strong. When we first start in our career, we will take many years building our foundation one questioned and revised block at a time. 

amphitheater on Raspberry Island, MN

amphitheater on Raspberry Island, MN

It is tireless work and often mistaken as a quest for perfection, but there is no perfection. There is persistence that pays off in satisfaction, but to rest on the laurels of perfection is a charlatan's dream. Once the foundation is tested, cracks come, blocks split, and we tear down and revise again. 

Refinement comes softly, slowly, and simply. Refinement is a pinch of essence here and there. It is a grapple between a word, not a phrase. It is a sweet perfume earned, tirelessly, with the pursuit of a sturdy base. 

Revise until you trip into the refined sense of yourself. And then do it again.



spring grove, mn homecoming parade, 2017

spring grove, mn homecoming parade, 2017

We are all cogs in the machine of life. It doesn't mean a cog stays stationary. Cogs can plug in wherever they want. The difference is when a cog is cognizant of it's importance to the entire machine, it sees which other cogs rely on it to move the machine forward.

One cog doesn't make the machine. Life isn't about going it alone. It is about recognizing our unique way of movement and plugging in with others to move the machine positively. 


To Be Reasonable

Photo by  Jaie Miller  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jaie Miller on Unsplash

That seems a small thing, right? Be reasonable. Ben Franklin would ask us to be temperate. To pause. To reflect. To consider.

To be reasonable is to be the best version of self today, and to continue to work toward the best version of self for tomorrow. And when we fall short, because we will, to own our actions, take a pause, and make it right.

It isn't hard to be reasonable, but it takes a sense of vulnerability and consideration. 

Simulated Success

Extrinsic motivation will only work so long until the stimulus gets old, the routine tired, or the subject wears out. Genius is born out of wonder, dedication and the privilege of time.

Are we giving time for people to discover their own paths? Are we carving time out and setting the expectation that developing and experimenting are imperative parts of the work?

Certainly, we can set up simulations, copy someone else’s genius and a spark may turn to smoke and a little flame. If we want bonfire results, we have to get out of the way of wonder. As supervisors/teachers/managers/parents, we are the bellows, blowing air into the coals of our employees/students/kids. And when that fire catches, and the motivation is roaring with the rise of flames, we step back and watch in wonder of how success, true success, can transform dry logs into blistering heat.

Success must be fostered, fed, and owned by the creator. Success cannot be simulated.

Failing Forward

It is no secret that I am a fan of failing, nor that leaning into failing is actually learning. We are facing unchartered territory every day. It isn't that we are in a epoch of change, or that our times are so much different than other times, it is the very nature of life: every day is different.

We wake up into change. The weather changes, our mood changes, our sleep patterns change. Routines are very rarely routine, rote, perhaps, but routine? No. We don't know if the lights are going to ever be in our favor on our commute or not. We do not know if the interactions with others are going to be the same or not. Life is constantly changing and we are constantly adapting or shifting in response.

Anne Shirley is well advised by her teacher who reminds her, "Every day is fresh, with no mistakes in it." And I would add, "yet."

Shying away from mistakes is detrimental to growth. We don't have time for people to chain their brilliance up behind a fear of failure, because we will fail. Every day, we will fail. So let's get comfortable with it, embrace it, and not just talk about it.

Below are 3 practical ways you can fail forward and reclaim what has been lost to worry.

Daniel Pink encourages us to keep a failure resume. It isn't a shame chart in any form, it is about recording both the failure and what was learned. It is a way to mine the data and move forward.

Seth Godin says to lean into failure, and find that point that is a full lean, but not falling on your face.

And once you are comfortable with your own fails, it is time to make space for your tribe's fails by creating a failure lab.

Because failing is imperative to innovation. Failing is learning. Failing is oh so on fleek.