Tag: medium

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.

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.

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.

frozen in time – a piece of me that I am badly missing today

snowy-day

When somebody passes away, its like their image is frozen in time. They are no longer a physical presence in your life but you don’t lose that familiarity with their spirit. So you have experiences like hearing something that makes you think about them and you catch yourself before you dial their number to talk to them about it. Or you have holiday dinner and its just not the same because there is a gaping void in the room.

Or you miss the fact that they were always the first to comment on the cute pictures of your kids you posted. That they always seemed to call you just when you needed them.

Then sometimes you feel guilty about the aspects of their wonderful existence that you took for granted.

Or you chuckle about the many ways in which they annoyed you.

Even the annoyances were part of that shared experience you had with them – and it is no longer there.

I wish I could say that the memories of my sister who passed away two years ago are what make me strong and keep me going. But that is only true some of the time. There are other times when I am just angry about the unfairness of it all.

Until two years ago, I did not have any concept of life without Phina. I do not remember the day she came home from the hospital with my mother – as far as I can remember, she was always a steady presence in my life.

Now things are a little destabilized. I still have goals, but they are just a little less optimistic and grand than they used to be.

I still freak out when I hear somebody I care about has an ailment that even closely resembles the one that took her from us.

I still miss her – and I’m glad I do.

I know that the right thing to say is that ‘life goes on’ – and it does.

But just for today which would have been her birthday …

… I feel frozen in time.

letting my model be the guide

Yesterday, one of my friends sent out a group text wishing me and several of his friends Happy Fathers Day. In the same message he asked us each to share some words of wisdom about being a father so that everyone on the text could benefit.

Here is a sample of the replies he received:

“As a father to a son I strive to be the example. As he follows, he learns to walk the right path”

“walk the talk, talk the walk” the walk is more powerful than words”

“More is caught than taught.”

“Our children will learn more from what we do than what we say.”

“The more time you spend with your kids the more influence you’ll have on them”

“Your presence as a father is magical to your kids” (my contribution)

There was an unexpected consistency about the responses. I was expecting there to be a wide range of tidbits of wisdom, but instead, as the original sender of the text summarized:

The recurring theme is show and prove

I thought about this virtual conversation this morning when I caught myself doing the opposite of “show and prove”. One of my daughters was trying to tell her sister something at the dinner table but we could hardly make out what she was saying because her mouth was so full.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full” I admonished … through my equally full mouth.

I was basically saying “Do as I say, not as I do…”

During the week leading up to Fathers Day, I often reflect on my role as a parent and how it is evolving over time.  I also think about ways in which I can become a better father to my kids and guide them as effectively as I can.  The themes I get from this introspection are often things that apply to how I behave as a leader even outside of being a parent.

Show and prove is one of those themes that resonates with me on many levels – especially with how it ties back to the theme I set for my family this year:

Be the change you want to see.

In order to effectively lead others, I need to combine sharing vision and motivating others with modelling actions.  Becoming more consistent with this blog is one of those actions that is important for me to master because I find myself talking more and more to others about creating a cadence with which they ‘ship’ – but then find myself in the situation I was in this morning with my daughter when I am not following through on my own instruction.

Its all a process though, and I can already tell that I am getting better. (Both with the parenting and the blogging).