Be the Umbrella


This metaphor first came into my life with resonance, thanks to an amazing boss and mentor, back in the mid nineties. It was when I was at Ford, where it was as exhilarating as unruly in the studios. Think Mad Men level glamour and misogyny, but nineties hair and suits.  I even had to wear stockings when I first started, it was that old school. And pulling a full sized tape drawing in a skirt and heels, while maneuvering on a terrazzo floor? That is a completely different post altogether.

Now back to my boss-sensai. She was an amazing manager, communicator, and mentor. I’ll refer to her as Justice for this post. She was my second manager when I left the car design studios, and gave Color & Trim a go. This is worth mentioning, because finding a female manager in the studios was as probable as finding a unicorn. There were none. This is also why I wanted to go into Color & Trim, to actually work with and learn from women. Plus I was able to travel to London, Paris, and Cologne on the regular by changing studios. Another huge upgrade on awesome, in my book. 

Now what impressed me most about Justice, was that she was never ruffled. She would show amused exasperation, controlled frustration, or targeted concern. However, it was never that dreaded boss disposition. The kind that has the team thinking, “oh shit, the boss is pissed, and you don’t want to get the dump from her truck.”

I remember distinctly in one of my early touch bases with her, sharing how much I appreciated and admired her managerial style. Her poise and steadfastness. She quite simply told me that “a good boss is like an umbrella." The conversation was that brief. She's British, and my 24 year old American’s world was rocked by her succinctness.

In my early career, within the storms of corporate studios, it struck me that it took Jedi level powers to say these simple words, mean it, and do it. Especially back in my twenties. Her words were as mysterious as achieving mental telepathy. I was a organ of emotions, and so easy to get a reaction from. I was terribly susceptible to crying, had the poker face of Buddy the Elf, and the curiosity of George himself, so I found myself constantly emotionally in over my head.

And in the moments the words passed her lips, I knew that she was 100% ab-so-lute-ly flipping right. I marinated on that quite a bit, both after that meeting, and over the years. Her words actually became a safe harbor for the years I did not benefit from having an awesome, or even seemingly human, boss.

We’ve all had our endless list of shitty bosses, and their #1 qualifier is usually the fact that they are A Funnel. And you know the exact sort I'm talking about. All their stress, confusion, pressure, and issues, funnel right into your lap.

They are the fastest to throw people in front of buses, and cut others off at the knees to either save their jobs, or move ahead. I could fill a novel on all The Funnels in my career.

But over twenty years later, here I stand. The Umbrella. And ironically, I walk through life with a self inflicted a funnel over my noggin by being a business owner. But this funnel is one which I don’t actually mind. I have no issue admitting my faults, cleaning up my own messes, or helping others with theirs’.

In shifting gears a bit, I have read some very intriguing articles about how motherhood bolsters women’s performance in the workplace. The abilities we learn from motherhood to multitask, be selfless, and anticipate essential needs, translate into some awesome ninja level skills.

Now I am not saying parenthood makes better employees, I am saying parenthood is a life example in which some of us can do some really significant maturation and growth through. Parenthood can be swapped out for innumerous life experiences that offer growth, enhance our fortitude, and increase our tenacity. It’s just a personal example, and transitions nicely to the following thoughts.

I find in our tangled threads of life that include career, motherhood, significant-otherness, fur-baby companion, you name it ... what we learn in each one, helps all aspects if we are self aware.

Being a Mominator to an exquisitely emotive and intuitive young woman, becoming The Umbrella was instant. Not a ramping up period, nor a “close, but no cigar.” It was a smack, dab, stuck the landing, sort of shift in my emotional IQ.

For example, when we were doing a home project and I nearly cut off my thumb? I didn’t even blink. I simply hid my hand from my daughter, and asked her to get Daddy because I had a little bit of a cut, and wanted the doctor at the ER to double check that it was okay. I didn’t flinch, tear up, or dramatize the event en route to the hospital either. It wasn’t until she learned of her poor bloodsoaked Bucky Badger spirit towel being pitched in the ER, that she grasped the breadth of the situation.

It is that sort of strength that translated into my business Umbrellaness. It actually took me a handful of years to achieve with work, ironically. But I suppose it also reflects my personal life commitment, compared to the cast of characters in business. I stuck the landing in Momhood, but perhaps it was my rebellious spirit which kept me a bit more inept at reigning it in businesswise.

I’m pretty much as steady as I can get, and can be as stoic as it comes when required. These are both things I couldn't comprehend how to achieve when Justice shared her boss analogy with me over a couple decades ago.

There are a few exceptions where I have no emotional armour whatsoever. Parental pride in my daughter makes me go misty. Music has a direct line to my tear ducts, and compelling art can give me a lump in my throat as well. I even cried at my niece's wedding this past winter. And I'm not a romantic, nor have I ever in my life cried at a wedding, not even my own. But it happened.

All that aside ... today, at 46, I have a steadiness I only dreamt of. My younger self thought of self control as a constriction. A lid screwed on tight. A knot in the balloon to keep the air from escaping sort of thing. Where in actuality, it is nothing like that at all.

Being steady, and the ability to be The Umbrella, is the opposite of a contraction. It’s an openness. Being able to be The Umbrella, is a swelling. A container made larger, an eaves extending to cover more folks who need it. I am also able to fill my life with so much more happiness and contentment in being The Umbrella. I am not fighting to keep anything in, and I don’t have to be sealed to keep anything out.

Who knew Umbrellaing was so much more than being a good boss?

Also, knowing when to say, "hold my umbrella," is entirely another post. I believe we all need to be vulnerable, have time to heal, and rest when we can. But having the ability to Umbrella, for me, is a Sensai Life Goal if there ever was one.

What about you?

Where in your life are you The Umbrella?

Is it even a notion you value?

Or is it a path you’re still working towards and discovering? If so, where do you aspire to be one?

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