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While we’re on the subject of me embarrassing myself in front of people I admire….

In the summer of 1997, while I was working at Lucent Technologies, we hosted a conference for the industry analysts – a multi-day event for anyone who was writing about the technology or telecommunications industries.  During this conference, the leaders of Lucent addressed the analysts, following which the analysts would go back to their offices to write their opinions of Lucent and its future outlook, and ultimately investors would make decisions based on what the analysts wrote.   

At that time, Lucent was a huge company with over $28 billion in revenue and over 100,000 employees.  So I felt fortunate to be one of the people able to attend the session during which Henry Schacht, Lucent’s CEO at the time, addressed the group.  During his talk, Schacht posed a question to the group of analysts:  “What do you think is Lucent Technologies’ greatest asset?”

I sat and listened as people called out answers only to hear Henry Schacht say, “No.”  Suggestions were made, such as “Your technology!” or “Bell Labs!” (the R&D arm of the company, from which many amazing inventions have come) to which Schacht replied, “No.”   Wanting to get to the right answer, analysts started to be more strategic:  “Your customers!”  “Your global presence!”  “The breadth of your product portfolio!”  Again, “No” and “No” and “No.”  This went on for almost ten minutes, which is a really long time when people are trying to come up with the answer to a question.

Finally, as suggestions were called out with decreasing frequency, Schacht put all of us out of our misery.  “I’ll tell you what Lucent’s most important asset is,” he said, “our people.”  I wasn’t the only one in the room who hadn’t seen that coming.  As I listened to Schacht talk about the innovation and creative thinking, the customer focus and determination, and the teamwork and integrity of the employees of Lucent Technologies, I realized that I was beaming.  I agreed with him; in the few months that I had worked at the company I was continually impressed by my coworkers, how committed they were to our company’s success and how good they were at their jobs.

Most importantly, I was impressed with Henry Schacht for his recognition that the people of Lucent Technologies weren’t just critical to the business, they were the business.  All too often I had seen a corporate executive lose sight of the fact that his or her company was not made up of projects, technologies or buildings – but of people – people who will be successful, or not, based on how they are led.  But Henry Schacht knew better, and I instantly became his biggest fan.

A few months later, I was running a customer meeting in our corporate headquarters.   The meeting was being held in the Board Room on the legendary “fifth floor” of that building – the floor where all of the C-level executives lived.  Shortly before the customers arrived I realized I needed to see someone in the Public Relations department on the third floor, so I hustled to the elevator.  Who is standing there but…Henry Schacht!  There was a ding, a door opened, and before I knew it the two of us where in the elevator, together and alone.

What a great opportunity!  Here was someone who truly motivated me, who made me want to be a leader in our business.  Just the two of us, riding together, on our way down.  I could let him know that his presentation at the analysts’ conference was really inspiring.  Or I could say that I am so happy I came to work at Lucent because of the great things we were doing in the marketplace.  Or I could say that I would be sorry to see him go, since he had recently announced his departure. 

So many things were running through my head.  Which did I decide to go with?  None of them.  In a rare moment of speechlessness, I couldn’t think of anything to say.  I just looked at him and smiled and said nothing.  I am sure that even the smile was a little bit off and somewhat strange, because all the while I was smiling, the wheels in my head were frantically spinning trying to come up with something pithy and smart to say.  Please stop here and try to picture that…it was sort of a wide-eyed grimace.

Suddenly, there was a ding.  Mr. Schacht, ever the gentleman, held the door and said “After you.”  That was when I realized we had just ridden from the fifth floor to the first floor.  Whoops.  So I said, “Oh, thanks, but I have to go up to the third floor.”  I wish I could describe the look of confusion and mild fear on his face as he realized that I had just ridden all of the way down with him even though I wasn’t going to the first floor.

There you have it:  Jen Crews making a lasting impression as a CEO-stalker.  Great.  Just great.

The following shall forever be referred to as “The Deepak Chopra Incident”. 

As I wrote about in “My Backstory,” I went through a very difficult personal time and got through it by turning inward.  I spent a lot of time by myself, reading and reflecting and generally trying to make sense of how I ended up in the situation in which I found myself.  Even though I was in a lot of pain, it was a special time for me because it changed my life profoundly and for the better.

There were quite a few books that really helped me during the journey from personal crisis to rebirth, and the one that was especially meaningful to me was The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.  In this book, Deepak Chopra presented me with a new way of understanding the universe and my perception of it, which caused me to reevaluate my life in every way and make some positive, necessary changes.

So, three years later, when I saw that Deepak Chopra would be doing a lecture and book signing through the Open Center in New York City, I was thrilled and excited to attend.  I signed up six months in advance when I first saw the promotions for the event.  Having recommended the book or even given it as a gift to many people, I also reached out to others who I thought would like to attend.   Through my suggestion, more than ten people registered for the event, including my now-husband and my parents.

A few days before the Big Night, I made a point of taking time to think about what I would say to Deepak Chopra if I had an opportunity.  So many things to talk with him about!  Knowing I would have a minute or two at the most, I needed to cull down the volume of thoughts and topics into something short that would impress upon him exactly how much his book, and he as a person, impacted me.  Should I tell him how many people to whom I had given his book?  Should I let him know that reading his book inspired me to move on from a marriage and abandon a career track, completely revamping my life in one fell swoop?  Should I explain that his words got me on a path to rediscover my personal creativity as a form of spirituality?  That I look at the world so differently now and I am a better person as a result?  Should I let him know he inspired me to write a book on leadership, and plant the seed so that he might write the introduction for it when it is finally completed?  Or, even better, maybe I could ask him to collaborate with me on it?  So many things!

Clearly, I had a challenge ahead of me.  There was no way I would be able to get an audience with Deepak Chopra.  In fact, as my father pointed out, it is possible that the books would have been signed in advance and handed out; after all, he must be a busy man and signing all of those books would take hours.  That was the worst case.  The best case was that I might be able to say hello to him while he signed my book.  Nonetheless, I hoped for the best and set about figuring out what to say to this man with whom I had developed an imaginary relationship in my head.

I utilized my sales training and developed an “elevator pitch.”  An elevator pitch is what you would say if you happened to run into a potential customer in an elevator and had only a few seconds to close a sale.  I honed my message carefully, trying to walk the balance between letting Deepak Chopra know how much he influenced me and sounding like a complete stalker.  After mulling it over for a few days, I felt I had developed the perfect thing to say and, as I sat on the train on my way to New York, I jotted the final version down in my journal.  Feeling satisfied and giddy with anticipation, I put my pen down, sat back and relaxed, enjoying the rest of the train ride with my friend.

When we got to New York City, we met our friends and family for dinner first.  I tried to exchange pleasantries but I couldn’t focus.  I wanted to get to the venue and get a good seat.  I was trying to relax and enjoy the meal, but I was getting stressed that we would end up too far in the back to see Deepak Chopra.  Dinner finally ended and we headed over.  We easily got in line and found seats near the front – enough for our entire group – and I started to feel blessed that things were falling into place.  This would be a very good night.  I couldn’t stop smiling.

This is probably a logical place to stop and make a brief mention of my relationship with my mother.  It’s complicated.  In a nutshell, my mom and I are very different personalities and in some ways polar opposites:  I am a tomboy and she is a girly-girl, I am a risk-taker and she likes for play it safe, I like my independence and she craves closeness, I spend Sundays watching football and she spends Sundays shopping.  We love each other, and we just have two very different ways of approaching things in life.

Back to the Big Night.  Deepak Chopra comes out to speak about his book, The Third Jesus (which is excellent, by the way).  His talk is amazing and I hang on every word.  He is funny, insightful, thought-provoking and inspirational.  He talks for longer than any of us expect and we all enjoy it thoroughly.  When he is finished, an announcement is made that Dr. Chopra will be signing books!  I look at my father, wide-eyed.  He is signing the books!  That means I can meet him!

I am in line to get my book signed, and my heart is pounding.  Everyone else in our group is making conversation while we wait, but I can’t participate because I am rehearsing what I had planned to say to him.  I watch the people who are ahead of me, and notice how much time they have with Deepak Chopra before they need to move on.  It doesn’t seem like they are being rushed, and I appreciate how patient he is and how willing to take his time with each person.  I am so looking forward to having my moment with Deepak Chopra that I can barely contain myself. 

Only a few people in front of me.  My heart quickens its pace.  Now only two people.  I am taking deep breaths and trying to stay calm, because I don’t want to miss my opportunity to make an impression on him.  One person ahead of me, and I can tell they are finishing up.  My turn!  It’s go time!

As I walk up, I am very focused, yet vaguely aware that my mother is right at my heels.  That’s alright, I think, she can hear what I have to say.  I move in front of the table where Deepak Chopra sits.  As he looks up at me, I hand him The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and say:

“I was hoping you would sign this book for me as well.  I just have to tell you that this book had a tremendous impact on me.  It caused me to shift my perception in such a profound way that I ended up changing virtually every aspect of my life.”

He looked up at me and, before he could say a word, my mother said:

“And my book club loved it!”

I was shocked and appalled.  This book gave me the wisdom and strength to leave a toxic marriage!  This book caused me to abandon a high-powered job for a more fulfilling career!  This book allowed me to manifest a completely new life for myself!  Your book club loved it?!?  Are you kidding me?!? No offense, but there is really no comparison here!

Then, before Deepak Chopra could say a word, I said:

“Mom, it’s my turn!”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized what I had done.  In one second, I went from being who I wanted to be – a woman on the path to enlightenment – and ended up back at square one – a girl arguing with her mother.  Great…just great.

Everything after that was a blur.  I don’t remember what Deepak Chopra said to me.  I do remember that he seemed mildly amused.   I remember feeling totally deflated that, while I had made an impression, it was not quite the impression I had intended to make.

So I ask you:  Am I enlightened?

Or maybe a better question is:  Is it possible to be enlightened while you are in the same room as your parents?

What would Deepak Chopra say?

I probably should have called this post  Lullaby Part Two

Why is “Rock-a-Bye-Baby” the most widely-known and easily recognizable lullaby?  I went to sing this lullaby to my son one time and then stopped suddenly.  Have you ever paid attention to the words?  It goes like this:

Rock-a-bye-baby in the tree top

When the wind blows the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

WHAT?!  Who is the sadistic person who wrote that song?  Why do we continue to sing it to our children?

Is it a veiled threat:  go to sleep or I will put your crib in a tree and wait for a strong wind?  Even the title is sketchy – “Rock-a-BYE-Baby.”  Put the baby in the tree and then…see ya.

Maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t seem right.

Last night, I was desperately trying to get my son to go to bed at an appropriate time and he was not having it, so he was crying.  Of course, no one likes the sound of a crying baby; I have to assume that is a genetic thing wired into all of us so that we attend to the little ones.  Well, my guy was screaming as if someone were torturing him, to the point where he was hyperventilating, so I was stressed and pulling out all of the stops to soothe him.  I even resorted to singing lullabies – Lord knows why this kid actually stops crying when I sing, because most people start crying when I sing.  I have to assume that is also genetic.

But last night even my singing would only work for a second or two before the crying resumed and I would have to try again.  I have a limited lullaby repertoire, and I had to do quite a few repeat performances because this whole mess was going on for at least 45 minutes.  First, I tried “Mama’s Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird” (which I think is the name) because I just learned all of the words on a baby-related website – it’s shocking how much my life has changed.  Next, I tried “Amazing Grace” because my friend told me that she sings it to her son at bedtime and I thought that was really sweet.   Not only is my rendition nowhere near the quality of her beautiful take on the song (yes, Carey, I mean you), but I couldn’t remember the second verse so I just made it up.  On some level, it feels like a sin to make up the lyrics to a hymn.  I’m not talking about the same degree of sin as murder or mouthing off to your parents, but a sin nonetheless.

So after a couple of performances of those two songs I was almost tapped out – I told you my repertoire was limited.  Then I remembered the classic:  “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”  It’s soft, it’s pretty, and it’s about the night.  Excellent!  I sang my best possible version and…still no luck, the kid was screaming bloody murder.

After a couple more repeats of the aforementioned songs, I remembered “The Alphabet Song.”  OK, I don’t normally think of that as a lullaby but I was grasping for straws and it couldn’t hurt to throw in a bit of learning, right?  So I started singing it:  A, B, C, D, E …oh forget it, you know how it goes and if you don’t you have issues.  Anyway, sing it in your head right now, I’ll wait.

Now sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

Notice anything?

That’s right – it’s the same tune!  The music for “The Alphabet Song” is the same as the music for “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star!”

I felt totally and completely gypped.  All of these years I never noticed that those two songs used the same exact tune.  Now some of you are thinking, “Duh.”  And others are thinking, “I had the same experience when I sang those songs to my (child, niece, nephew, friend’s baby) – welcome to the club!”  Still others are thinking, “WHAT?!  I feel gypped too!”  I know.  I am not sure why it irritates me so much, it just does.  Neither of those songs are that long, so how hard is it to come up with a new tune?  For real.

Oh, it gets better.  So now I am annoyed and distracted and I still have a screaming baby.  I finally decided that I needed to take him downstairs after an hour of this because even though I am trying to set up a bedtime routine, Rome wasn’t built in a day and, besides, I need to know which song came first so I can determine who ripped off whom.  I know, I need to step up my parenting game but again, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

So I hand the child over to my husband so I can look up the origins of the songs and, assuming the Wikipedia entry for “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is correct (always a good thing to consider), it gets worse:

  • Not only does “The Alphabet Song” share the tune with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, it is also used for “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”  I mean, come on.
  • The original melody was taken from a French song – so we’re back to the French, are we?
  • This is the best:  the French version of the song is about a girl recounting to her mother how she was seduced by man who beat her afterwards.  Now I am speechless.  And if you believe that I’m speechless, I have a bridge to sell you.

I was a little disturbed that a few lullabies could send me off on a rant, so I tried to accept what I cannot change:  that these three songs share one tune.  I suppose this is just another more step on my path to peace and serenity.  After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I decided last night to change the last line to my previous blog, entitled “Rude,” and I would love to know what you think.  Once you have had a chance to review the change, feel free to express yourself below…

This past weekend, I attended my eight-year business school reunion.  Yes, our class became so tight that we are resorting to non-round number reunions.  The program was a full-time MBA that we pursued on the weekends while we were working full-time during the week…for two years.  It was a lot to take on at once, and I am sure that one reason we all became so close was that the experience was similar to that of being in a foxhole together – we weren’t quite sure that we would survive and we needed to rely on each other to make it through.

Being at the reunion reminded me of an incident which I will now recant for you.  Believe it or not, this is the first of two posts about foul language.  Sorry, Dad.

A little more background…as I mentioned, our MBA program was more stressful than the regular kind because we were working full-time and going to school full-time.  It was manageable if either work or school was going smoothly while the other was busy, but at least twice a semester both work and school would blow up on me at once. 

When I am under pressure, my go-to stress reliever is cursing.  I don’t know why it makes me feel better to use profanity, it just does.  Maybe it’s because there is a component of anger in stress, and cursing is a way of expressing anger.  Maybe it’s just efficient, because throwing a couple F-bombs takes a lot less time than getting a massage or meditating.  Of course, I can’t just use any old expletive when I am stressed; only those with hard consonants do the trick.  Something like “F*CK” is much more effective and gratifying to relieve stress than something like “SH*T.”  Think about it.

One day, on a break between classes, I was lamenting the fact that I had an upcoming test for school and a serious customer issue at work within the same week.  I felt like I didn’t have time to handle either thing well, but that was par for the course.  So I am with two of my classmates who are also stressed, one of whom was from Paris, France, and we are talking about our situations.  You know what happens next.

I say, “I am going to fail this F*CK-ing test unless I can get this customer issue resolved in time to finish studying, goddammit.”

Then, recognizing that these two particular people were not entirely down with my chosen form of stress relief, I say,

“Oh, sorry, pardon my French.”

Following this statement I notice the completely horrified and offended look on my French classmate’s face.  Whoops.  I am sure many of you have heard that saying before, and some of you have said that saying before, but have you ever thought about what it actually means?  Essentially, it implies that French people are rude and use obscenities, and when you say something offensive you can try to pass it off as French.

Which was worse, using the offensive language or blaming it on my classmate’s entire society?

When I told this story to one of the program administrators at the reunion over a drink, and she laughed and said “Who cares?  He was anti-American anyway.”

Well, I wonder why?

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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© Operation Peace and Serenity, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Operation Peace and Serenity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.