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.

The Spiritual Side of Going to the Bathroom

spiritual side of going to the bathroom

Don’t float your ears

I had an interesting experience recently with one of my study partners. We were reading a 15th century Rabbinic text about the Mussar soul trait Enthusiasm, and the author wrote the following:

“One must be especially zealous not to delay evacuation, both defecation and urination, even one moment”

This sentence was amidst the discussion about rushing to do good, and working to remain positive even in the face of difficult situations. HMMM
Like many such teachings, at first it seems a bit out there. But then I remembered that when I get very focused on my work, I delay using the bathroom, sometimes until it is quite urgent. Later, my daughter told me about a Tumbler post saying “To all my followers, stop holding your pee for so long.” Then I remember countless times when I was in corporate of people saying “I was so busy I haven’t had time to use the bathroom all day.” More than once a woman I knew would run out of the room when it was time for a bio break.
What is so important that we can’t take a two minute break for personal relief? We have a duty to take care of ourselves. It is also counterproductive to wait. I admit it, more than once I’ve been on a phone call when I really have to use the loo. It is distracting. It is hard to be my best self when I really have to take a leak. When  we don’t take time to take care of our basic needs, how much harder it will be to get to the gym, eat right, sleep, and all of these other more time consuming and less convenient ways of self care.
What do you think? Is there a spiritual side to going to the bathroom? Should we rush to use the bathroom as soon as we have to go? I can’t see myself going there (no pun intended.) But, I will try to be more mindful about my bodily needs, and take care of them in a timely way.
If you are interested, you can read the original text from Orchot Tzaddikim, The Fifteenth Gate: The Gate of Zeal here. It is on the bottom of the second page.

Do Looks Matter For Success?

Busting Your Corporate Idol - the new cover

Busting Your Corporate Idol – the new cover

Do Looks Matter for Success? When it comes to my book, I think they do.

I’m excited because for the first time, my book has hit the top ten on Amazon in the Work-Life Balance category. What has changed? The cover and the keywords.
I’m putting my money on the cover as making the big difference. At a writers workshop last year, Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, did an exercise where he showed that people were having a negative emotional reaction to my old cover. Everyone loves my author picture, so I decided to create a cover with that picture. And BOOM – I’ve sold many more books in March than I did for much of last year.
It’s just one more indication that looks matter – a lot. Jack Canfield did something called muscle testing. He had someone hold their arm out, and he pushed down on it with them resisting. Then he showed them the cover, and it became easier to push down the arm. Why? When the subconscious is disturbed, our muscles get weaker. The theory is that people saw the cover, and just didn’t feel right in some way, which made it less likely for them to buy.
This is another flavor of unconscious bias, the phenomenon where we are biased against something and we don’t realize it. Unconscious bias has been shown in attitudes towards women and minorities. For example, when auditions for symphony orchestras are conducted where the musician is behind a screen, more women are hired, showing that there was an unconscious bias against female musicians.
So what are we to do to counteract our own unconscious bias? Mussar teaches us to look for the Soul Trait that is out of balance, and then to find an action to move back towards balance. Currently, I am practicing Honor, and I suspect that could help. Honor is about how we treat other people. Some of the traditional practices for cultivating Honor include:
  • Greeting everyone you meet before they greet you.
  • Holding doors for others
  • Smiling at everyone you pass
These small steps each make an imprint on the Soul. When it comes to unconscious bias, the key is to focus on consistently executing the practice with everyone. In a diverse environment, I will be honoring people from many backgrounds. I’ll be on the lookout for any hesitation on my part with particular people that could indicate some unconscious bias. With the heightened awareness, I can act to override the hesitation, which will actually begin to eliminate the bias from the subconscious.
Whether or not you believe in unconscious bias, give one of these practices a try for a week. You’ll may be surprised at how it will make you feel.
What do you think? Do you believe in unconscious bias?
See the latest ranking of Busting Your Corporate Idol on Amazon.