I’ll Stop to Collaborate. But Are You Listening?

People like me are everywhere. Young, ambitious, digitally-savvy professionals who churn out strong, creative work that yields impressive results. But are people really listening to us?

I often describe myself as driven; my career is always top-of-mind, wedged somewhere between my health, my dog, and my husband. A self-starter and leader by nature, I’m also no stranger to collaboration. In fact, I thrive off of it. I’m also among those who call out companies that create collaborative, creative facades by way of a measly open workspace.

Collaboration is among a long list of jargon to describe how people work, but what does it really mean? When I collaborate with a team, it means that I respect each person, their ideas and the physical time they’re investing in our work. From an agency perspective, time is truly money — hours are classified as either billable or non-billable, and without respect for time, and by extension, respect for process/protocol, the system can easily fall out of sorts.

In the same way that I won’t ever apologize for my success, I also won’t apologize for my thirst for order. I’m not a textbook “creative” — a term I have to put in quotes because I oh so seriously resent it. If you never establish a process, the collaborative energy is broken from the start; expectations aren’t set, people aren’t held accountable, and there’s no room for anyone to develop and earn a sense of ownership of their work.

Establishing a bit of structure isn’t a bad thing, but it does require sincere effort and commitment. It’s critical to stop before you even start to ensure that you’re listening to each team member so that they feel empowered to take on their brunt of the work with clear direction and a strong support system.

Vanilla Ice may be a failed rapper, but his “stop, collaborate and listen” lyric is a call to action that is often overlooked. Oh, and I should clarify, Ice is not back with a brand new invention.

You Can Choose Your Friends

Now more than ever, I’m reminded of a saying that my mom would repeat when my siblings and I would argue. “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” This was often thrown around with complements like, “blood is thicker than water,” and so on, but never has it felt more applicable than now.

I often write about my family, and our relative (pun intended) dysfunction (almost always paternal). My wedding was met with the coldness of first cousins not coming for an array of excuses, and uncles and aunts barely staying through dinner, all without congratulating us on our nuptials. Nearly immune to the sting of familial nonsense, I found it funnier than I did rude.

It’s not that I don’t like my family. I’ve worked to develop relationships with some cousins, and I genuinely enjoy getting to know them. But then there’s this element in the generation above that I’ll never begin to understand.

I’ve always been pegged as the outspoken one – and I suppose the proof is in this post. And, like anyone with Kirsch blood pumping through their veins, I’m a stickler for protocol. When I poke fun at the fact that my paternal aunts and uncles barely stayed at my wedding, in their minds they likely reason that they were there, and that’s what matters. In their defense, I don’t really know them. In my defense, they never really tried to know me.

Like I said though, it’s the generation above – the parents – that I find to be at the root of this problem. Shame on our parents – all of them – for allowing drama between them to trickle down to the kids. It’s hard to navigate past family mishigas that’s been over a decade in the making, and so bonds that could have been formed among cousins never quite flourished.

But if we really take the time to traverse the course of this dysfunction, it’d probably trace back to the grandparents. The silence – perhaps you could call them silent feuds but that seems like a stretch – between my uncles and aunts and me is trivial compared to the relationship I have now with my dad’s parents.

At my sister’s bridal shower – one that should have been nothing but a celebration of simchot, my grandmother planted a sour seed. She was upset that the thank you note I sent her after my wedding was only two lines long. Leave it to my bubby to be the one person who can accuse an act of gratitude of being an act of hostility. This accusation – an alleged clearing of the air – came four months – yes, that’s right…nearly half a year – after the note was sent.

Passive aggressive at best, her words about the alleged diss were vile. I’m a woman of my words, and so I stand by whatever I wrote in the note. I’m not so bothered that she was bothered, I’m bothered by her complete lack of respect for my family. My parents – and honestly, mostly just my mother – have bent over backward for my grandparents over the years. My grandmother’s words have always been laced with insult and offense (very much meant), but I would have hoped that out of respect for my family – if not my parents, for my sister – she could have held her tongue a while longer.

Instead, she erupted at me – accusing me of fighting some sort of fight on my mother’s behalf. And that’s when she won. I gave in, and I reacted in defense. I let her know that she had offended me by insulting my character. If anything, I don’t fight my mother’s fights, because she taught me to only fight my own, and to always pick my battles wisely. I would never have chosen to engage in verbal battle with my grandmother. But I’m also not going to be walked all over. The truth hurts. It hurts that she’s never had my back. It hurts that she’s never defended my character or my mother’s. What hurts most of all, though, is that she couldn’t – just for once – embody a typical grandmother, and accept my initial apology. Instead, she let me say my piece, which was the final step in seemingly severing our relationship.

I’m grateful that I’ve been able to choose such fantastic friends, and that my mother’s family has been so unconditionally supportive and loving. I’m also thrilled to have married a man – and his family by extension – that only communicates from love. And, if I’m lucky enough that the time comes where more relationships are built on my dad’s side, so be it. I’d embrace such a thing with open arms.

Writing this post has been difficult, because it stoops to the same level of immaturity as my grandmother’s confrontation, but it’s a necessary evil – and a cathartic one at that.

Family Ties

I come from a family of relative dysfunction. I speak to less than a handful of my paternal relatives, and I have both grandparents, so that’s two right there. That said, I don’t like to treat family like a four-letter word. In my book, to love is to love unconditionally.

I’m close with my immediate family, and most of my maternal relatives. We had it easy. Much like my mother’s family and their days in Detroit’s shtetl-like Jewish neighborhoods of yesteryear, we grew up within one square-mile of each other. Each house had its respective open-door, open-fridge policy; cousins were more like siblings.

We had our drama, we had our arguments, but as my mother (and grandmother before her) liked to declare “you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family.” Her other favorite was “blood is thicker than water.”

I hold those sayings close, especially as I plan my impending wedding. It was natural to me, for example, to choose Michigan as the setting. My roots are there, and with three grandparents over age 80 and great aunts and uncles who played such a strong role in my upbringing, it would be so selfish to consider getting married anywhere else.

On top of which, it’s important for me to have my family as part of the bridal party. We tormented each other as kids. I share stories with friends about how my siblings (I’m looking at you, Dr. Kirsch!) would hold my arms back and scream, “free hits on Alex!” But, I love them. My sister and brother-in-law are gracing our family with a true simcha this February as they bring a baby boy into this world. My sister Anne and her fiancé Michael are starting their lives together in Miami. My brother (the doctor!) and his lovely girlfriend (also a doctor!) prove that love can flourish no matter the distance.

Our relationship as kids was fuzzy; we were so close in age that fights were inevitable. But, no matter how much we hurt one another with words or actions, my mother — learning a lesson from my father and his brothers — made sure we always spoke, and that we always made up and moved on.

My mother is my hero. She takes care of her father (my beloved Zaydie Sam), and my father — someone who suffers from a long list of conditions including diabetes and Parkinson’s. She is a giver, and a caretaker, and while I don’t always want to hear what she has to say — sometimes it’s because of how she says it — I love her most of all. She has spent almost no time caring what people think of her, and instead, has devoted herself to our family. To ensuring that we’re all in the loop on family ties, that we’re all happy and healthy, and that we have what we need – literally and figuratively – in life.

When my parents cut me off financially at age 21, I was preparing to move to New York. My father, who comes from a family where protocol and money are king, was determined to share that he thought I was meant for law school, and in publishing I’d end up penniless. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t share her predictions on my future. Instead, she said, “You’re meant for New York.”

She was right.

I’ve been here for nearly four years, have achieved great success in my still-short career, and am getting married in just over a year.

None of that matters though. Life is too short. Family has taught me in all part of life that you’re never too old to ask for help, or for forgiveness, and you’ll never be too old to say “I love you.” Three words, eight letters, endless good feelings.

Protocol

The Kirsch family is all about order, protocol, and numbers. My dad’s parents have three sons and ten grandchildren. Because the sons and daughters-in-law don’t typically get along (something that they still, after years of drama, find ways to rhetorically gloss over), most family celebrations are separate. As a result, the real thing that seems to make occasions special for my Kirsch grandparents is the protocol phone call.

Last Tuesday was my Bubby Zita’s 78th birthday. Before I could squeeze in my birthday greeting (minutes from being belated), my grandmother informed me, in her predictable nature, that I was the final of her ten grandchildren to call and wish her a happy birthday.

For some, this treatment would breed resentment. For me, however, I delight in their predictable, competitive nature. I’ve stopped caring what order I call in, because either way, I know they’ll use it (the fact that they heard from all of their grandkids) to brag to their friends, and I’ll go on, guilt-free, until their anniversary in February, or my grandfather’s birthday in March.