shining a light of humanity on the conversation

Last week I was riding the bus and felt like I was at a bursting point. My Facebook feed was ‘blowing up’ once again and I was watching the two silos in America duke it out. Some of the things I was reading made me do something uncharacteristic and weigh in on social media on a sensitive political issue.

I usually prefer to have these conversations in person, because I don’t find the forum of ‘comments’ very productive in have a conversation that truly seeks understanding.

I also understood in that moment that the majority of the people on my feed had never heard me tell my story and how I process what I see on the news from a very personal level. Because they know me as a person, and not as an abstract image on television that could have any manner of story told about it, I felt an obligation to share.

I am reposting the content of that post here because (based on the comments I received) it helped two groups of people.

  1. People who were able to develop a more nuanced understanding of an issue that has been watered down to soundbites and sometimes lost its rooting in humanity
  2. People who live the experience every day but did not have the words to accurately articulate what it really feels like to feel powerless towards this issue

Here is what I wrote in its entirety:

I generally keep things on a positive note on my Facebook feed. Not because I am blind to my surroundings, but because I think it is important to shine light even in the midst of all the darkness that may surround us sometimes.

Today is a little bit different for me. I feel helpless because it feels like my life is in imminent danger whenever I leave home. Not because my pants are sagging. Not because I don’t know how to say please or thank you. Not because I am loud and boisterous (read threatening), when I ride the subway. Not because I walk around with a ‘hoody and swagger’.

I do all the ‘right things’. I am educated. I am a devoted husband and father. I am a devout Christian. I am a geek. I love superhero movies. I live to inspire and motivate. I’m not ‘mooching’ off anybody.

I’ve had friends tell me that I’m different from those ‘guys’ on the news. They are not referring to ‘the ones like me’. Those guys ‘did something’ that led to their fate.

And yet, I am still terrified. For me and for my son. For the ‘gentle giants’ in my life – one of whom posted a heartbreaking post last night about how he spent a night in jail a few days ago because he fit the description: 6’4 black male … and just happened to be in a particular neighborhood.

Maybe I should take a bath and wash off my blackness. Because when my car breaks down and I am looking for assistance, there is no way for me to physically show my Harvard degree, or my faith, or my sense of humor, or my family pictures, or my paycheck, or my charitable donations, or the title deed to my home.

So please tell me what else I could possibly do to ensure I survive that encounter. Because right now.

I. Just. Don’t. Know.

I can’t get myself to watch the most recent video. And I don’t plan to. When I watch those things, it is impossible for me not to see myself, or my son, or so many men in my life that I love and respect. None of us can wash off our blackness, so we are in the same boat.
P.S. If it is possible to take in a suspected terrorist alive after a shootout, surely there is a way for both me and you to walk away alive from our encounter.

consolidating my online presence

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about my online presence.  As I am helping more and more people strategize about their presence online and how to maintain a consistent brand, I have realized that some pruning is needed for the different places I have created assets online.  I strongly believe that focus and intention are more important than being present everywhere at all times, so I have decided to close down some of my ‘outposts’ and redirect them here.  If you clicked on a link that got you here, that is the reason.

My focus now (until experience tells me otherwise) is that I am going to maintain two blogs, facebook, and twitter. I will occasionally produce content on other networks, but these will be the main components of my platform.

This is the purpose for each one:

  • This blog is my personal blog where I explore ideas and write about a wide range of topics without restraining myself to any editorial direction.  I loosely focus on creativity, technology, health and leadership – but once in a while, I write things that don’t neatly fit into those buckets.
  • MoreThanAHut Blog is where I write about platforms and tribe building, especially from the perspective of owning your online presence
  • Facebook is my choice for daily engagement and ‘in the moment’ expression.  I like the immediacy of the audience on Facebook and the ability to have a more personal engagement with my relationships
  • Twitter is mostly an announcement and article sharing platform for me.  I use it to spread my written articles and any other information I come across that I have not yet digested into more coherent ideas for a blog post.

This is subject to evolution over time because my goals will evolve and the tools will change – I will make sure I reassess the decisions here periodically to make sure the solutions that best serve my tribe are the ones I focus on.

today is its own day

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Today is its own day.

Regardless of what yesterday looked like and what you are worried about for tomorrow, today is its own day.

You can only live in today.

To change tomorrow, you work on your plan today.

So make today the very best you can, so that when you go to bed tonight you know that you gave it your all.

Then wake up tomorrow and tell yourself again …

Today is its own day.

living 2015 like a BOSS

“… Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
(Matthew 17:20 NIV Bible)

lion-roar

Every year I use the month of January as an opportunity to reflect on my upcoming year and how I would like to focus my attention. I find this more effective than setting arbitrary resolutions that I am not truly committed to follow through with. This year, a series of events and circumstances has crystallized for me what my key theme for 2015 should be.

The colloquial phrase ‘like a BOSS’ is the easiest way for me to summarize the theme because it captures the posture with which I am looking at this year.

The combination of two things in my current reality have made me realize that my only way to come out of this year where I want to will be by exercising a level of boldness that is usually outside of my comfort zone.

The first is that I am experiencing a very high level of constraints on my resources. Money is tight. Time is limited.

Despite these constraints, the second thing is that my vision is bigger than it has been since my mid-20s. I have a very clear picture of what I want spiritually, relationally, physically, professionally and financially.

It’s a big picture.

And the only way to bridge the gap between my resources and what needs to happen will be through a strategic use of leverage – squeeze a lot out of a little.

I will seek out and take advantage of opportunities that are as efficient as possible, while maintaining my integrity and commitment to serving others.

So what does ‘like a BOSS’ look like?

  • It’s being honest with someone even when it’s uncomfortable
  • It’s finding a way to get things done regardless of the obstacles
  • It’s dreaming big and taking massive action to make those dreams happen
  • It’s shrugging of negative comments from those who don’t get it while loving them just the same
  • It’s not being afraid to fail because I know I can get right back up again
  • It’s believing in others long enough for them to see the giant within

It’s helping regular people do great things.

I don’t listen to Katy Perry but 2015 will hear me roar.

autocorrecting myself

Did you know the average person spends 4 years of his life looking down at a cell phone?

Every time I watch the video below where I got this quote, something rises up in me emotionally.  Its weird to have such a visceral reaction to a commentary on our obsession with devices – but I know the reason is that I am often in many of the traps he describes.

Take a moment and watch it:

Some of the great lines:

Do I not have the patience to have ‘Cnvrstn’ without ‘Abrvtn’ / This is the era of media overstimulation

The news is a hundred and forty characters

And this is the one that really hit home for me:

No longer do I want to spoil a precious moment by recording it with a phone / I’m just gonna keep them

I don’t wanna take a picture of my meals anymore / I’m just gonna eat them

The part about precious moments is often me – scrambling to get my phone out and actually missing the moment.

What a shame.

But like he says, all of this is a choice. And each day I am making a point to choose a little better.

For one thing, I don’t get the neck ache I used to have after my commute anymore because I don’t spend the whole ride looking down at my phone.

breakfast with a little champion

breakfast-little-chapion

Mornings in my house are the ultimate display of multi-tasking chaos.  I think this is probably the case in most houses with multiple little kids that all have different reactions to the morning and whether or not they are happy to be awake.  This morning was a little different, not just because it was a Saturday morning,.

But because I took a moment to pause.

My three-year old son woke up complaining that I had left him in the bed by himself and was clinging to my leg as I ran my endless to-do list of the day in my head.  My internal monologue was simple: “I need to give him the tablet so he can get absorbed in his shows and I can get back to my long list.”

Sad, but true.

As I was finishing my rushed breakfast on the couch, he brought the tablet back in the living room, flipped to Netflix and selected his new favorite show: Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures. (Wasn’t that a video game when I was a kid?).

Internal monologue: “Great, that will keep him busy – now I can go back to my list.”

But my son was having none of that.

“I want you to sit with me when I watch my show.”

Plan B. “Do you want some breakfast?”

“Yes”

So I fixed him some cereal with the intention of leaving him with his grandmother at the kitchen table and going back to my ‘very important list’.

But then I paused and remembered an experience my pastor had with his mother that he credits for playing a big role in developing his self esteem: whenever his mother served him anything to eat, she would sit down with him (even if she was not eating) and spend time with him while he ate, giving him her full attention, until he was done.

I’m glad I made the right choice today and instead of Plan B, went to Plan C.  I tossed my mental list out of my head and focused on this little marvel of a three-year old while he explained to me that a T-Rex does not eat other dinosaurs, even though he clearly asserted that it is a carnivore and ‘eats meat’.

I learned that a falcon can sweep down into the water and get a fish.  That a Pteranodon is also a carnivore and it flies into the air so it can eat other Pteranodons.

I asked him if he knew what a herbivore was and with complete confidence he smiled and said: “Yes, it eats PLANTS’.

We made faces, giggled, talked about what kind of things would be fun to do on a rainy day – I don’t want to get wet and he thinks all you need is a coat and you can do anything on a rainy day – including playing in puddles.

All the time, he was shoving spoons of cereal into his mouth and grinning widely with pleasure each time he tasted it as if it was the best gourmet food in the world.  He savored every fruit loop and acknowledged the brief moment with complete absorption.

I’m sure his internal monologue was: “This is the life!”

Our little breakfast moment was not more than 20 minutes and of inconsequential impact to whether or not I get things done today.  But to him, it was an imprint that will last a lifetime – a moment that reconfirmed to him that …

I am not just here.

I am present.

The two are very different.

what unwritten rules are hindering you?

mountains-with-clouds

I recently decided to step down from a leadership role that I have held for several years outside of work. Its a decision that I mulled over for the better part of a year until it was clear that I needed to make the change.

I took so long to come to this conclusion because I had not identified a successor for the leadership role and felt it was irresponsible of me to step down without finding one. I have been reflecting on the mental and emotional process I went through and realized that one of the key issues I was struggling with was an unwritten rule that I was following without examining whether it was still valid in my situation.

My unwritten rule needed challenging.

The unwritten rule in this case was: you cannot voluntarily step down from a position of leadership if you have not identified and trained a successor.

I have always viewed doing so as ‘dropping the ball’ and doing a dishonor to the organization I was serving.

What I realized after extensive reflection was that this rule would have been true for me three years ago, but it was not relevant in this particular situation. Three years ago, I began working on duplicating myself in leadership by mentoring other members of the organization because I realized that I would eventually have to move on. Unfortunately, each time I indentified a successor and began working with them, circumstances arose that required them to move onto another role, or limit their involvement with the organization.

In parallel with these obstacles internally in the organization, I had some major events in my life that significantly limited my capacity to lead the organization. So for the past 18 months, I have led the organization on ‘auto-pilot’ with significantly less passion than I had a few years ago.

The turning point in how I was viewing the situation was when I realized that serving on auto-pilot is just as detrimental to the organization as stepping down without identifying a successor. In addition, holding onto the role might be hindering somebody else from stepping up and taking over the leadership when the ‘vacuum’ is created on my departure.

So, holding on to the ‘letter’ of my unwritten rule was actually violating the ‘spirit’ of the rule.

Your unwritten rules are an implementation of your internal values.

I would challenge you to periodically examine some of the major rules in your life that drive your decision-making and determine whether they need to be revisited. Often, these unwritten rules exist because of your deeply held internal values, but when your values change – or expand to include other perspectives, you don’t take the time to re-examine decisions you made based on those values.

A common consequence of this problem is holding onto commitments that should be challenged for their validity in your current context, and as you pick up new commitments without altering or dropping the old ones, you become increasingly overwhelmed. Your capacity to contribute has not changed, but the nature of your contributions needs to change.

You are the ultimate arbiter of your to-do list.

Be on the lookout for situations in which you constantly use one or both of the following phrases:

  • “I have to …”
  • “I can’t …”

There are very few things that are absolutely mandatory in your life. Things like breathing, eating, sleeping – are mandatory.

Everything else is a choice.

In my experience, I tend to confuse commitments with mandatory requirements. I commit to things based on my values, and that strong attachment to the commitment that makes it feel compulsory is a consequence of how deeply held the value is that the commitment is based on.

Something as simple as putting gas in your car is a choice you can make because it is a more convenient way to travel than your other choices.

On the other end of the scale, something as critically important as providing for your children is still something that you choose to do because you value being a good parent.  If it was mandatory, then all children would be provided for adequately because nobody would have the choice to ‘underprovide’ or abandon their children.  But sadly, this is a reality of the world we live in.

In both cases, the simple and the critically important, there is still choice involved.  You don’t have to do either one of those things.

There is a freedom that comes with this realization because you can then revisit all of the commitments you currently have and challenge yourself about why you are choosing to do each of the things on the list – instead of feeling like there is nothing that is negotiable because all the things seem important.

If you are feeling overwhelmed (or underwhelmed), test each of your major commitments with a critical eye and you might surprise yourself with what you find.

I am in no way suggesting that you should drop any particular commitments in your life – if you are a parent, please keep providing for your kids – just that you take the time to reflect and challenge yourself about what unwritten rules might be hindering you.

It might be time to bend, break or simply ignore some of your rules so that you can better align your actions with your values.

experimenting with sketchnotes

I have always enjoyed taking notes.  The act of writing things down not only helps my memory but it crystallizes information and ideas for me and helps me to make connections I would not otherwise see.  I naturally gravitate to note taking that takes advantage of the visual space on the paper and I am often drawing lines to connect thoughts and drawing boxes around things to highlight them.

So, inspired by the amazing work done by one of my blogging ‘heroes’, Sacha Chua, I have decided to start learning how to do sketchnotes as my new form of note taking.  I am fascinated by the possibilities of this combination of documentation and art – and I think I can become quite good at it.

My main elements of my motivation for doing this are:

  • I think it will be a lot of fun
  • I think it is a much more accessible way to communicate a lot of information, or a complex idea succinctly therefore it will make it easier for me to share ideas with others concisely
  • I often feel like Hedley Lamarr in the clip below from ‘Blazing Saddles’

So here is the debut of my first sketchnote (not a general purpose one as its for a class I am taking on Database Concepts):

Week2_RelationalModelWithFoundationInNormalization-01

 

 

 

 

handwriting, sketching now available in Evernote for Android

I’m very excited about this new addition to the Evernote app for Android.  Adding handwriting to the app means that now its possible to add sketches right alongside typed notes.  This will go very well with the way ideas flow for me because I often find it easier to work freeform on a piece of paper and then end up taking a picture of that piece of paper and adding the image to Evernote.

I see many possibilities for adding this to my workflow.

See for yourself in the video: