Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Are You Too Nice?

I’m feeling really good about the event I organized last Sunday. We had over 60 people at An Afternoon of Mussar, almost half of whom had never explored Mussar before. 60 is quite extraordinary for a first time event. We ended the day in a giant circle with our arms around each other doing a very simple chant.
When I shared this with David Dotson, who is running a leadership workshop I will be attending in a few weeks, he asked me a simple question: “so what is that feeling inspiring you to do.” Hmmmm. I don’t really know. I know that in 4.5 years I want to have an event at Levi’s stadium. But how do I take the great feeling from this event to move me to the next? I’m not sure. It is certainly helping me get through the mundane tasks of doing the expense reports and follow ups. I’d like to think that being a part of something great can inspire something else great. For now, I need to be content that it is helping me do something small.
Speaking of small, I was touched by the story of Ralph Body, who was fired from his job as a doorman in a luxury apartment building on Long Island for being too nice. He would bend over backwards to do favors for tenants, like feeding cats, holding packages, and watering plants. He was told in no uncertain terms, that he was fired for doing more than was expected of him. The owner of the building wanted someone to open and close the door, and nothing more.
I have experienced similar things both large and small. I almost got fired from a summer job in K-mart because I kept going to help another department who was behind because my department was fully stocked. The manager kept asking me not to do that, and I was close to getting the act because I would not obey. Time and again in the corporate world, I have seen people get in trouble for being disobedient. Whether or not it was helping the customer never came into the conversation. While what happened to Mr. Body is inexcusable, it is a reminder that doing the right thing may have no bearing on your career. It is easy to kid ourselves that we are being noticed for our good deeds when in fact others may be taking advantage of us, or just plain oblivious. In Mr. Body’s case, they noticed and were hostile to helping. What soulless jerks.
How does this tie in with the first topic? I know what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be a part of a culture that demands stupid obedience, which is why I work for myself. But what do I want to do myself? I have a vision, and a set of things to do. How can I connect the dots, so that what I am doing feels inspired? Maybe that bar is too high. Sometimes you just have to grind it out, to get the things done that you aren’t that into because they just have to get done.
What do you think? Where does inspiration fit in day to day?
And are you too nice?
Let me know – I answer all emails personally.

When Was the Last Time You Smiled Deeply?

when was the last time you smiled deeplyThis morning when I was leaving the synagogue after Torah study, I passed a bunch of tween boys arriving for a friends Bar Mitzvah. They were dressed in their jackets and/or ties, and they were excited. It was so cool to see this ethnically diverse group of kids just pumped up for their friend. “This is the big day,” one exclaimed. It made me smile, deeply smile. In fact, my smile was so deep it got me to wondering – why don’t I do this more often?
I’ve been reading the Power of Now by Tolle (and listening on CD in my car). He has introduced me to this concept of The Watcher – that part of ourself that sits behind the thinking and emotions. Tolle argues that most of the time, we travel through life the prisoner of our thoughts, which tend to focus on the pains/triumphs of the past, or on the promise/fears of the future. As a result, we miss the NOW. He argues that if we can separate ourselves from the thinking mind, and truly experience the NOW, we will have a richer and more meaningful experience. I think this is what happened to me this morning. I popped into the NOW, and experienced the richness and joy of that moment.
The kind of deep smile I experienced is sadly rare for me. Today I felt it very deeply, a happiness and wonder down to the core of my being. I have lots of little smiles, and there is a lot of good in my life. I think I, like many of us, become inured to the good, and it becomes ordinary. Being inured to the good is another way of saying that I become unconscious. I think there really is something to this NOW business. I’ll need to remember to be open to it.
It probably isn’t a coincidence that my glimpse of the NOW came after a few hours of meditation and Torah study in community. A time of inner quiet and contemplation, yet very connecting to others.
When was the last time you smiled deeply? Please share your below or by email. I answer promptly.

Are You Paid Fairly?

This morning I read an encouraging and thought provoking article in the San Jose Mercury news about two local companies working to address the pay gap between male and female employees in Silicon Valley. Women only earn $.84 for every dollar a man earns, which equates to $214 a month. Reddit will no longer negotiate with new hires. Men tend to negotiate better than women, which is one source of inequality. Salesforce.com is doing a study of their pay scales, and will give women raises to wipe out the pay inequality. What I particularly like is the ACTION. It is easy to talk and wring hands, and the article nitpicks a bit about the weaknesses about the approaches. However, the key is that neither approach is particularly hard, and will go a long way to making it right.
It got me to thinking – what is fair pay? “Are you paid fairly?” is not an easy question to answer
  • A friend of mine wants to start a dance company, but won’t because she wants to pay her dancers. Right now there is a culture of people dancing for free. She doesn’t think this is right, and doesn’t want to perpetuate that culture.
  • I work pretty much full time these days on my book, and planning an event. I don’t get paid very much for doing so. I am adamant that I won’t work for free, yet I don’t hesitate to invest this time, or to volunteer many hours at my synagogue. Many stay at home moms I know work almost full time jobs as volunteers.
  • Don’t get me started on college athletes, who bring in billions of dollars to their schools and the NCAA and are not paid for it. Yes, they get a free education, but if they are hurt they lose the scholarship. Given the amount of $$ the schools are making, free tuition does not seem sufficient any more.
Don King, the shady boxing promoter, once said that you don’t get paid what you are worth, you get paid what you negotiate for. This bit of reality was his justification for taking advantage of many young boxers who didn’t know any better, or have any leverage to negotiate a better deal. Nothing about the corporate world is set up to be fair. In fact, few things in life are fair.
At the same time, it is hard for me to think it is good for business to systematically underpay a significant portion of the workforce. Doesn’t a company want to foster a shared sense of mission?
What do you think? Let me know. I answer all emails and comments promptly.
PS Special kudos to the HR person who went to the CEO asking if they could find a way to address the inequality issue at Salesforce, and kudos to Mark Benioff for pushing it forward. And kudos to Ellen Pao, acting CEO at Reddit for leading change on multiple fronts.

White Collar Workers More Dishonest On Survivor

Survivor Worlds ApartAre White Collar Workers Inherently Dishonest?

The new season of Survivor says Yes

This season a new gimmick – there are three tribes – white collar, blue collar, and no-collar. I’ve done all three, although mostly white and no-collar. I can relate to the business process types who make the rules, and the artsy types who break the rules. I was fascinated at how the tribes functioned differently. Right off the bat, 2 people from each tribe were given a choice between getting a big bag of food for the tribe, or a small bag of food and a personal advantage. Blue and no collar took the big bag, but the white collar took the small bag of food to get the personal advantage. In other words, the white collar workers were more dishonest.
It turned out to be a disaster to make the selfish decision. Everyone back at camp white collar knew they were lying, which hurt team unity going into the challenges against the other groups. One of the two ended up being the first person voted off, in large part because she was such an obvious lier.
Fascinating turn, to offer a choice like that to the contestants right away. The pairs from all three groups talked about it, but it wasn’t particularly close for the other two. We all have these choice points every day, where we can do what is best for ourselves or for the group. For example:
  • Do I let another driver merge ahead of me, or do I pull up so they can’t get in? Small personal advantage vs slightly better traffic flow for everyone else.
  • Do I smile at the person I’m walking past, or do I remain wrapped up in my own thoughts?
  • Do I take the time to write a Yelp review for the local business that gave exemplary service, to do I get on Facebook?
Few of these tests will have the type of dramatic consequences we saw on Survivor. However, they are part of our spiritual curriculum. There are always small consequences to our inner world, and if we don’t pass a test we will get it again and again until we pass it. I feel grateful that Mussar has taught me how to recognize these tests, and given me a means to get better spiritual grades.
Are you a Survivor fan? Let me know what you thought of this weeks episode.
PS – you can listen to an exit interview with So, voted off this week here.

Sales Training and Spiritual Transformation

On Wednesday night, I saw my Mussar* teacher, Alan Morinis, give a talk. He was amazing as always. He said something that really hit me – Learning is not transformational. Experience is transformational. His latest book explores the 48 ways of internalizing Jewish Values. What strikes me is that one way is book learning, and the other 47 are behaviors, like serving a master, carrying the burden of another, and Joy. Alan argues that we need to book learning to know what our predecessors discovered, but it not until we put it into practice that it really counts.
I am reminded of feedback I used to get after giving a sales training. I would share the benefits and features of the products, objection handling etc. Sales people would say that is ok, but it doesn’t really tell me how to act and what to say when I’m in front of the decision maker. Training needs to incorporate the real life, and should provide models on how to act.
By analogy, it doesn’t help to have the ten commandments memorized when we’ve made a terrible mistake. “How am I supposed to tell the truth when I’ve messed up so badly?” We need to know how to act! Mussar teaches us that often we are untruthful because of fear, and the antidote to fear if Faith. It can be Faith in something greater, or faith in ourselves that we will be able to handle and manage whatever situation comes up. Often, the fear magnified the mistake into something far bigger than it really is.
That act of coming clean, the experience of coming clean, is transformational. However it comes out, we will be changed. Similarly, a training that only gives book knowledge leaves the hard work, of making it happen, to the student.
What is the best training you have every experienced? Is it even fair to put a training in the same essay as spiritual transformation?