Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Swan Song Sounds More Like Gurgling

The phrase "swan song" is a reference to an ancient belief that the swan is completely mute during its lifetime until the moment just before it dies, when it sings one beautiful song. It's not true of course, but it makes for a good expression. Today, I was supposed to be that fabled mythical creature; yet instead of a swan song, I looked and acted more like a swan diving beak first into a pool with no water. The swan would not sing a beautiful song because she was flapping her wings at the bottom of that pool with a badly damaged ego and a wretched bloody beak.

I have served in a leadership position on a particular board of directors for the past ten years. This was all volunteer work, done with my company's blessing but certainly not required. Today was my last board meeting followed my a luncheon to install the new board. It is tradition to recognize those going off the board, to say nice things about all their efforts, even when they've held their seats for years without doing much of anything important.

During my ten years on this board, I challenged the status quo, asked the board to break apart the current structure, created new committees, restructured initiatives, pulled from reserves to build and invest back into the organization, and personally recruited most of the leaders who went on to follow me, each year making us better, each year building on what I started.  I served for five years as an officer, including two terms as president.  This had not happened since 1973. It was important for me to have two years.  I needed to spend more time overseeing the implementation of the new committees and strategic plans.  I wanted to make sure the roots were firmly planted before I walked away.  It was my baby. My passion for this organization was further demonstrated by my choice to remain on the board for the next five years, until today, when I arrived ready for my swan song, ready for tears and accolades to flow.

I invited my closest friend to be my significant other.  Someone who could revel with me.  I even asked my son to attend but his work schedule prevented it.  Thank the Lord for those small blessings, I would have been mortified to have him witness my gloriously embarrassing swan dive.  As the entire 2010 board was called up to be recognized, I was expecting my moment.  They had to say something about me before they installed the 2011 board.  If they didn't, it would be too late.  So I stood there with my head in the clouds, waiting to act surprised and humbled by the good words that were surely coming my way.

I had been too busy rehearsing my speech to realize they had already transitioned to the 2011 board installation.  People in the crowd had to motion for me to sit my ass down. And just like that, it was over.

Now everybody knows I've never once been mute.  Perhaps that's why I was not given my swan song moment. I had tendencies to hog the microphone and passionately disperse my particular brand of what one of my friends referred to as "diarrhea of the mouth" at more than one event. Everybody knew it, I knew it but I was all about generating excitement.  And being a writer, excitement presents itself in me through words. Every leader that has followed me seems to be making a conscientious effort to limit their speeches, as if they are making up for all the time I babbled on and on.

I don't think it was intentional, I know and love these people and believe they would never purposefully slight me or hurt my feelings.  There is a lot to do when you're planning these big events and some things just get missed.  During my years as president, my passionate writing and love of the cause drew national attention to our little Milwaukee chapter.  We were named best of the best for those two years, competing with mammoth chapters like Chicago, Dallas and Houston.  The annual reports were written by my hand but encapsulated the excitement I felt from a passionate hard working board who had created something truly wonderful. I wasn't doing that for the recognition. I did it because I needed them as much as they needed me. I was going through my divorce. It replaced my marriage, giving me something to love, something to quell the post divorce trauma while I healed. All my talent, time, energy and passion went into this chapter because a new chapter was being written in my life. And yes, it is true what they say, in the end you get more than you give.

I received bountiful blessings in terms of personal development, confidence building, leadership training and making life long friends around the world.  I was meant to be there at that time with too much time on my hands and an ability to write and inspire those around me.  It was one of my many personal beginnings as well as the beginning of what has become a Milwaukee legacy.  We remain the brightest, shiniest star in the entire international organization.  It is my legacy, along with all those that served with me.

As soon as my bruises heal and my beak stops bleeding, I will remember that and I will sing my own personal swan song to myself.  Not just before I die, but just before I begin, yet again.


  1. Oh Angie, I am so sorry you were not recognized for your years of contribution. You could have used that now more than ever.

    It is pouring isn't it?

    I am sending a monstrous emotional rubber ducky made of pink fluffy clouds and sunshine.

  2. Thanks Bert. Ernie is losing his happy-go-lucky demeanor. These days I'm feeling much more like Oscar the grouch!

  3. During the occasions I engage in your posts and stories I am so often moved and struck. Yet I find the swan song hitting me a different way. I am sad, can't fix it and wonder how I'll make it up to you? Through someone else's recognition as I think of you and the missed opportunity. I guess an odd version of 'paying it forward' for you and psying bavk for me. I'm sorry my friend.

  4. Anonymous - First let me preface by saying this post was written from a place in my life where absolutely everything, big or small, irritates the hell out of me. It is a time of tumultuous transition.

    What I intended this post to convey was my sense of humor, the way I embarrassingly conducted myself with my overblown grandiose expectations. There is nothing to fix, nothing to make up. It gave me another story to tell about the pitfalls of human nature in the real world.

    In the end, I said it exactly as I meant it. I did nothing for the recognition. I did it for me because I needed something to do. And I got so much more back in return. My lesson here is to remember to do what you do, take all those blessings and don't expect people to remember it. It's enough to know you did it.

    With that said, going forward, I think perhaps the most personal affront came when I checked in at the table only to find I no longer had my officers name tag but a little sticker. Not even a past president label. The 2010 President commented on the same thing, she arrived at the luncheon as if she was already gone, stripped of her current presidential name tag.

    These are the minor oversights that can dig much deeper. Her time was not over until the end of that luncheon. This was a staffing error. There is nothing to feel bad about. Our staff is experienced enough to have known better. But new people come in, everyone is busy and mistakes happen. That is the way of life.

    I always found focusing on the recognition of others, through mentions at the podium, newsletter name dropping or personal thank you notes was what kept everyone motivated, inspired and working so hard for the greater cause. You are right to pay this forward. Each and every time you speak or write anything, remember to mention people by name. They LOVE it!

  5. My dear friend and fellow board member, you must come to the holiday party where the deserved accolades and praise is planned. This is where we will celebrate our members and friends with a special tribute. Too many swear ins and tight agenda for it to happen at the annual meeting. We should have told you in advance. You heard at the board meeting how you are adored and how much your above and beyond service has meant so much to the organization. Let us continue to show you what your time and dedication has meant to us by attending the holiday event. We truly love you, HB. PS: I will follow up with a phone call just in case you are not tracking comments to your blog.

  6. Dearest HB - I figured this was the plan and it is my fault for not coming out and asking for what I needed to fit my schedule - but starting next Monday I am a full time mom and I am not drinking anymore. Getting a babysitter for an evening event with alcohol is just not something I'm prepared to do this year. I am in fact, skipping all such occasions in our industry. It is a time of great transition for me and the focus has to be on my kids.

    But please know, I love you and I know you didn't forget me. I will always be there for the board. Just call anytime, for anything.

    I was just cranky and venting, I promise. All is good.


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