Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How Do You Balance Self-Care With Compassion?

I’m still working my way through the September crunch. Do you get this in your life too? With the summer over, and school starting for the kids, there are schedule disruptions as we try to piece together the kids schedules. when I was in corporate, summer ended and everyone realized they had to make the Q3 numbers all at once. I know traffic here has exploded too as everyone comes back online. Yesterday, I felt overwhelmed. Today, I’m looking to find the good in all this stuff.
Ok, I admit it – being overwhelmed by scheduling extra-curricular activities for my kids seems very much a first world problem, and not a particularly big one at that. In a time when the world is in a refugee crisis, #blacklivesmatter, and Muslim teen Ahmed Mohamed is arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, should this trivial stuff even register? It should, and I’ll get to why in a moment.
First I want to comment on what happened with Ahmed. He is an inventive 14 year old 9th grader, who brought a clock to school, assembled with circuit boards and chunks of metal, to his Texas High School. The school panicked, thought it was a bomb, called the police, and escorted him out of the building in handcuffs. Shamefully, even after they learned it was not a bomb, he was suspended, and admonished for bringing something dangerous to school. This was abysmal treatment of a young creative mind, and fortunately he was not physically harmed. This negative situation opened the door to something amazing: people noticed, and acted.
First, there was outrage on social media as ordinary people spoke out. Soon, Ahmed was invited to
  • the White House to meet the President
  • Google’s science fair
  • Facebook, Twitter, and Box by their CEOs
Suddenly, Ahmed has amazing opportunities because people took action when something bad happened. Each person said to him or herself, “What can I do to make this better?” Collectively, they did a lot.
The Syrian refugee crisis is another opportunity to do good. Here again, some people are stepping up, donating money or opening their homes to help people in need.  I have come to believe that the bigger the crisis, the larger the opportunity to do good. If you would like to donate to help Syrian refugees, Google is matching individual donations. Click here if you’d like to donate.
But what about the garden variety day-to-day crisis, like the September crunch? It is tempting to focus our giving and kindness on “those truly in need.” Yet each of us has needs as well. They may seem trivial compared to the life or death situations faced by millions around the world, but they are the problems we are confronted with. Until we take care of ourselves, we cannot properly care for others.
The same formulation can apply to the trivial: What good can I see in this situation, and what action can I take to make a difference? Today I’m remembering how fortunate to live in an area with such choices for kids growing up. And, it is an opportunity to think about what is truly important to me. Where can I cut back for a few weeks until the schedule settles into a routine? Where can I add some exercise or stress relieving activities? How can I incorporate them into my life on an ongoing basis? If I am getting stressed, is it just me, or do the kids feel it too, and if so, perhaps they have too much on their plates.
And the action I’m taking? The Dr. Who marathon of course!
Tell me what you think. Do you feel the September crunch? How do you balance self-care with compassion?

Can You Stay Calm When Your Buttons Are Pushed?

Can you stay calm when your buttons are pushed?

Can you stay calm when your buttons are pushed?

I’m writing this week from the Frankfurt Airport, on my way home from a long weekend in Basel Switzerland with my wife. I really needed this weekend away, as I’ve been pretty wiped out by the push to finish the book, and the follow on sinus infection.

Just before I left, my Mussar practice shifted to Equanimity, which is also known as “Calmness of the Soul.” My initial thought was – perfect, some rest and relaxation, just what I need to restore my Equanimity. As is often the case with Mussar, the truth is a bit more complicated.

Most people can relax and become/maintain calm when everything is perfect. When we’re rested and our needs are taken care of, it is very easy to keep your cool. Retreating to a quiet place for a weekend to meditate doesn’t really help in the day to day. For example, many times when I was in the working world, I’d return from a vacation refreshed and renewed, which lasted for about 90 minutes. By the second or third email/phone call of substance, my stress was pegged again. While vacation is important for rest and renewal, it is not the same thing as building “Calmness of the Soul.”

This week, I’ve been looking at stress points as opportunities to practice Equanimity. This awareness in itself has been transformative. For example, one morning I woke up early and decided to meditate. There was a loud noise from the other room that was trying to bother me. I say trying because I said to myself, ” This is a test. Can you continue the meditation with that constant irritant?” It took an extra level of concentration, but I was able to do it. I think the secret was that I primed myself to look for opportunities to stay calm when normally I would become irritated.

I’m curious to see how things develop for over the remainder of the month. Often I start strong, but get tired trying to maintain Equanimity.

What has your experience been? Can You Stay Calm When Your Buttons Are Pushed?

Is It Easier For You to Identify Your Leadership Strengths or Weaknesses?

is it easier for you to identify your leadership strengths or weaknesses?I’ve come across an interesting dilemma. My Mussar studies this month focus on leadership. Rabbi Avi Fertig teaches that Leadership is not a single soul trait, but the result of multiple soul traits working together. He suggests a reflective exercise to examine three examples I demonstrated good leadership, and three where I did not. For each case, I am to identify two soul traits. By examining the whole, I can then select  two soul traits where I am strong wrt leadership, and two where I am weak. It is very easy for me to look and see where I have made mistakes, and to point to the soul trait imbalances that contributed. It is much harder for me to focus on the strengths. Why is that? Is this just me, or is it hard for you to recognize your strengths as well?

 

True self-reflection is never easy of course. We can identify surface issues, but getting to the deeper root cause is harder. For example, what soul traits of mine helped me be an effective leader for An Afternoon of Mussar a few months ago? On the surface, I might say Order, because I called meetings regularly, had agendas, and the day was well organized. However, I relied on others to teach me how to write agendas and plan the details. Underneath Order, I was practicing Responsibility, in that I was taking accountability for the outcome; and Compassion, in that I made time to check in on the welfare of the people on the team. Order then, was merely an outcome from my work in these other areas.
Ok, that felt good. For some reason it has been hard for me to do what I just wrote about in the above paragraph. Although it seems simple, I’ve been blocked for days from doing that analysis. What was so hard for me about looking at my good qualities? I’ve done this enough to know that something is there. Once in my class, I asked everyone to do a quick self-evaluation. One of the students freaked out and got anxious. I didn’t push it further at the time, but it stuck with me. A strong reaction is a red flag that there is some soul work to be done.
What has your experience been? Is it easier for you to identify your leadership strengths or weaknesses?
If you want to learn more about Mussar, visit my other website Americanmussar.com

How You Can Prevent Another Charleston Massacre

This week, a white man killed a bunch of black people because he said they were rapists and taking over the country. Wow. I think that certain people are being pushed over the edge because we have a black President. Obamacare is working, his popularity is going up, and those of the racist bent are beside themselves. What are we to do?
As a Jew and practitioner of Mussar, it is insufficient to simply avoid doing bad things – we are called upon to proactively do good things, including standing up for the powerless, and standing against injustice.
When Rabbi Sidney Akselrod, the first Rabbi at my synagogue,  arrived for his first week of work in 1965, he told the board “I’m sorry, I have to go to Selma.” He jumped on a plane, and marched with Dr. King. Few of us would do that, which is why R. Akselrod is so highly revered as a great person. While I’m not jumping on a plane, I will dedicate this letter to speaking out in  hopes that together we can change the climate that fosters hatred and intolerance.
The statement that “blacks are taking over the country” does not come in a vacuum. Rudi Giuliani’s recent comments that President Obama is not “one of us” is a softer way of saying the same thing. In addition, I was puzzled about Donald Trumps’s fixation on where President Obama was born. He seemed to go on and on about the birth certificate. Why? Now, with Trump’s diatribe that Mexico is sending rapists and drug dealers to the US, I understand. Trump is a racist. Giuliani is a racist too.
Do you know any racists? Not the white supremacist kind, but the gentler kind who make disparaging comments. When I was kid in summer camp, the instructor was scolding the class, and out of the blue he said “and this includes you too, Greg.” I was astounded – what had I done wrong? It must have been something. Some gentle racist out there needs you to remind them that what they are saying is not ok.
When it comes to racism, it is not enough to not do anything wrong; we need to look for opportunities to do something right. You will have a chance to do something to prevent another Charleston Massacre. For example, you could:
•    Demand that the confederate flag come down in S. Carolina. If you think it is a matter of heritage not racism, you are rationalizing. Sign a petition.
•    Don’t click or share any stories about Trump – less attention and they’ll s top covering him in the media
•    Speak up if you hear something intolerant.
The Talmud teaches that words are more powerful than knives, because they can kill at a distance. While we can’t control many things, we can control what we say, and what we don’t say.
It’s clear to me that electing a black President does not mean that we are beyond racism, merely that there are not enough racists to prevent a black man from becoming President. When the people of South Carolina and other states choose to stop displaying the Stars and Bars, then we’ll know that hearts are truly changing.
How do you think we can use words to end racism? Of course words along won’t do the job. Some people are beyond changing, and all we can do is to keep them from having power. But words are a good place to start.

Why You Should Read Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook Post

Sheryl Sandberg's Facebook post

Resilience by Alan Levine via Flickr CC

Amid the excitement of my daughter finishing her first year of high school, and a pending visit to Syracuse to visit my parents, it has been an interesting week. I’ve been in a good writing groove, patching some holes in the early middle of the book. And in Mussar, I’ve been practicing Loving Kindness, which led me to read Sherryl Sandberg’s Facebook post about the grieving process for her husband, who died of a freak accident at the age of 46.

 

It is heavy and moving. If you have ever experienced grief, you’ll know what she is talking about. If you haven’t, you’ll learn that grief is not what we see in the movies. Grief is an adult woman who is held by her mother every night as she cries herself to sleep.

 

Sandberg taught me a lot about Loving Kindness. Loving Kindness is doing something for someone else, with no thought of a reward, even if they don’t deserve it. Loving Kindness goes beyond being nice. It is one of the three elements that the world is built on, and thus acts of Loving Kindness also have an element of sustaining other people.

 

Sandberg’s openness of her pain is a gift to the world. She teaches us what to say and what not to say to someone in grief, and she offers community to those who are suffering grief around the world. She also shares how she has opened a space to talk about it with her uncomfortable colleagues. We are given an opportunity to practice Loving Kindness by reading her words, and sharing her pain in silent fellowship.

 

This may seem scary or unappetizing. Life is stressful, and who needs to take on someone else’s grief? We all do. Last night I was meditating on Loving Kindness, and I had an image of a brick with a smiley face on it. Then there was a second brick, then another and another, and before long a huge wall was built that stretched up to the heavens and in all directions. The world is built on Loving Kindness.

 

Someday we will be the one in grief. Someday we will encounter someone who has lost the person they love the most in the world. I guarantee you, when that day comes, you’ll be happy that you read the post because it will teach you how to act.

 

Now, we can saver that Today Is Not That Day. We can celebrate and be thankful for all that we have. If you haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post, read it now, and then do an act of Loving Kindness.

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.

Google Lost Its CFO to Poor Work Life Balance

Back from a wonderful four day weekend in Hawaii, the annual maintenance trip my wife and I take to Kona to look after our condo. We hadn’t been in over a year, and wanted to see the new tile that replaced the awful carpet. The tile looked great, and other than some missing vertical blinds, the place was in really nice shape! We shopped for art, and did a few things here and there. Oh yah, we snorkeled a lot, including a romp with dolphins. What is interesting is that because we didn’t need to work much on the condo, we had an opportunity to work on our marriage.
We have a really good marriage, yet we have very little time to just be together and talk. We covered all kinds of ground, about things big and small. We discussed whether we wanted to sell the condo too, which was a foil to discuss what is really important to us. Do we want to recover the time it takes to manage the rentals every week, and save money, or would we prefer to have this special getaway? If we didn’t have the condo, I doubt we would have as many weekends away together.
Patrick Pichette Google CFO The topic is timely: This week Patrick Pachette, CFO of Google announced that he would be retiring to spend more time with his wife. He shared that after 25 years of non-stop work that took away from his family life, it was time to stop and really live. Pachette was candid that while he loved his job, it was being an Insecure Overachiever that drove him to work so much.
I so very much applaud his decision to step back and enjoy the time with his wife. (His kids have already left home.) But it didn’t need to be this way. He could have enjoyed his job and success for so many years without sacrificing so much on the home front. He felt that Google needed him to be on all the time. Yet now Google has lost a fantastic CFO. Maybe if he was off some of the time over the last 25 years, he would be spending another ten years as CFO. For a company like Google that doesn’t give short term guidance to Wall Street so they can plan on a long time horizon, it seems like they fell short when it came to their people.
I think Google lost its CFO to poor work life balance. What do you think?
If you’d like to learn more about insecure overachievers, here is a post I wrote a few years ago.

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.

Why Getting an Agent is Like Losing the Superbowl

164-pack13-021514-tmI now have an agent to represent my forthcoming book about Mussar, the 1000-year-old Jewish Spiritual practice of personal ethics. As I write, he is pitching it to publishers. Should I celebrate now?
On the one hand, it is an important milestone. I was unable to find an agent for my first book, and having an agent makes it possible that a traditional publisher will purchase the rights to the book. On the flip side, having an agent in and of itself doesn’t mean anything. What counts is having a publisher. So perhaps I should save the celebration until a publisher makes an offer. Then again, having a publisher is but a step in the book publishing process. Perhaps I should wait until the book is published? Or perhaps I should wait until the first sale, or appearing on the best seller lists, Fresh Air…
It is so easy to get caught up in what hasn’t happened yet. If only we have a promotion,  a managerial position, a raise, a new house… The list of things that we don’t have is infinite, and if we need something to happen in order to celebrate, we are missing out. As an alternative, we can cultivate Gratitude as a means to appreciate what we have right now. In that spirit, it is super cool to have an agent. I am grateful to have such a seasoned professional see something in my work. What happens next is out of my hands.
I fear that Seattle fans were celebrating a little too early in the Superbowl. Amazed that the vitriol that is going towards Pete Carol, the Seattle head coach for the last call. Second guessing is one thing, but calling for his job? Really? Even if he made the wrong call, do we really want to make it so that no one can make a mistake without getting fired? He has an amazing track record of success, and the fans would do well to cultivate Gratitude for making it to the Superbowl. The hard part is finding a way for being Grateful about losing in such a painful fashion. Maybe the loss has humanized Seattle fans, and prevented them from becoming arrogant jerks. I admit it – I don’t like Seattle. Now however, I can relate to the Seattle fan. I still feel the pain from the loss Syracuse basketball suffered at the hands of Keith Smart in the the 1987 basketball championship.
The Gratitude practice I suggest is hard, and we can’t start the day we suffer a loss. We need to start practicing Gratitude now. A gratitude journal is a great way to start. Every night, write down three things that you are grateful for. Be sure to include being grateful for the bad and the ordinary.  Then, when life takes a turn for the worse, we’ll have a healthy practice to help us get through.

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?

Report Says Women Should Speak Less to Get Ahead at Work

Marissa Meyer: Powerful Woman

Marissa Meyer: Powerful Woman via Flickr CC

Did you see the blockbuster article in the NY Times by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant discussing why women don’t speak out at work? Women who present ideas in meetings are often ignored, or are talked over by men, who run with their idea. When I told my daughter about the story she sat up straight and said “That happens to me!” She is 14, a freshman in high school.

In addition, they quote research from Dr. Victoria Briscol at Yale, which found that

“Male executives who spoke more often than their peers were rewarded with 10 percent higher ratings of competence. When female executives spoke more than their peers, both men and women punished them with 14 percent lower ratings.”

While anecdotally I believe the talking over women story, I find the research shocking. Surely this is not happening on a conscious level. I went and read the original research paper, and there was an interesting nugget that did not make the times article: Women in positions of authority who spoke less were perceived as more powerful than women who spoke more, and men in positions of authority who spoke more were perceived as more powerful than men who spoke less. In fact, the women who spoke less has similar scores to the men who spoke more, and vice versa. They speculate that men and women may want to have different strategies for how they use their power at work. (See page 14.)

What does this mean for someone looking to find the proper Humility balance? As a reminder, Humility balance is defined as “Not more than my place, not less than my space.” When talking more is counter productive is is better to stay Silent? On the flip side, maybe remaining quiet is perpetuating an unjust social hierarchy, and it is better to trail-blaze, in the hopes that over time both men and women will become more comfortable with women asserting their power.

I don’t know the right answer, other than to reaffirm that this research shows that women are right to be concerned that speaking out can be held against them. Now that we know, we have an opportunity to check our reactions to people in power.

What do you think? Do you buy it?

It is important that we spread the word about unconscious bias. Please share this post!

Lessons From Overworked Teens

Overworked teens

Overworked teens

Last night in a mini-Torah study, we discussed the story of the binding of Isaac. As you may recall, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At the very last minute, when the knife is in the air, God sends an Angel to tell Abraham that he passed the test, and he doesn’t need to actually harm the boy. We argued whether despite appearances, Abraham was being a good parent by following God’s commands.

So what does this have to do with overworked teens today? For me, this is a story of power relationships. Abraham felt powerless to refuse God’s commands, just as Isaac felt powerless to try to prevent his impending death. Today’s teens are unbelievably over-scheduled, which is why teen anxiety and depression are at record high levels. They are kids, and it doesn’t occur to them that they can say no to activities, especially when the activities are fun. On top of that, they are told they need to be in the hardest classes, and “stand out” to get into the top schools. And without the top schools, they will be at a significant disadvantage in the working world. The data do not support these myths. Sadly, many of these messages come directly or indirectly from parents and teachers.
My views on teen overwork are radical. I see it as a social justice issue. These kids are put in a position where their health is at risk for a perceived gain that isn’t real. As parents and citizens, we have a duty to protect our kids from our own anxiety about the future. And one way to do this is to model good behavior when it comes to the number of hours we work. The kids are aping the behavior they see in the overworked adults all around them. While they can’t choose, we can.
The next time you hear someone recognized for outstanding work because they “sacrificed family time” for a work project, think back to the story of Isaac. Is the sacrifice really needed to meet the objective, or is it a test of loyalty?
To help cut back your own hours, try the list of 5 things with an accountability partner.
Be sure to include a rock solid stop time. It will motivate you to do the important things, and not to let them slide because you can always sacrifice the home time to get everything done.

Ray Rice: Defective NFL Product?

Janay Palmer & Ray Rice

Now wife, Janay Palmer and Raven’s suspended footlball player, Ray Rice

I’m on my home from the latest workshop by my coach Steve Harrison. Had a chance to meet Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Wow, what an amazing experience.

It was an interesting experience learning how better to serve people through writing and coaching against the backdrop of the Ray Rice story. My understanding is that abusive people were themselves abused. It is my hope that this incident can help Mr. Rice break the cycle of abuse, both for himself and for others.

I watched the video. It was very disturbing. If you haven’t seen it, I think you should watch it Ray Rice Knocked Out Fiancee – FULL VIDEO. It will change your understanding of domestic violence forever. It won’t be theoretical, and it won’t be Hollywood. It is brutal. Watching the video could help you change someone’s life some day. You might hear a whisper, or notice something in someone you know, and instead of brushing it off, you’ll remember that image of Jinay getting knocked unconscious.

As for why the NFL and the Ravens gave Rice a slap on the wrist before the video came to light? I am befuddled by the handwringing. The NFL is a business. Ray Rice is the product. The domestic violence wasn’t seen as a human issue, it was a business issue.  Rice was a product with some characteristics that would make some customers mad.

I’ve been in those discussions. The product isn’t working quite right. Should we ship?

“No product is ever done.”

“There is a work around.”

“We need the revenue now, and will pick up the pieces later.”

Right or wrong does not come into play when it comes to these product shipment decisions. They are business decisions. In the case of the NFL, the products are people. We need to remember to put people first, always.

As I write this post on the plane, I watched an inspirational speech from James Brown, football host on CBS. Brown explained that domestic violence is not a football issue, and is not a woman’s issue. He pointed out that 3 women die every day from domestic violence, and called on men to step up and take responsibility. “You need to either get help [for yourself] or give help [to end domestic violence.]

Bravo James Brown. Real men do not hurt women, and we’ll take your challenge to become part of the solution.

Why You Want to be Joan Rivers in your Office

Joan Rivers by David Shankbone NYC 2010 via Flickr CC

Joan Rivers by David Shankbone NYC 2010 via Flickr CC

Today a guest post from Achim Nowak, President & Founder of INFLUENS.

I read his weekly energy boost religiously, and this week’s post was so good that I asked permission to republish it here as a guest post. Thank you Achim! You can subscribe to Achim Nowak’s weekly energy boost here

Raw and fearless

In the onslaught of tributes to comedienne Joan Rivers, these are the adjectives I hear most often.

Raw and fearless.

To people who didn’t like her, Joan Rivers was crass, loud, unabashedly insensitive. Too much.

I liked Joan Rivers. A lot.

One thing was abundantly clear as I watched the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work: Rivers was first and foremost an entertainer. She lived to be on-stage. She abhorred not being on-stage.

We are not all entertainers. We are all, however, on stage. All the time.

I get frustrated with the professional who doesn’t embrace that.

The one who doesn’t care enough to” show up.”

Dick Axelrod, author and organizational consultant, delineates two types of meeting participants: Meeting investors and meeting bystanders.

Joan Rivers was an investor.

Raw and fearless was her currency.

Rivers showed up. Big time.

Raw and fearless has, in most business environments, been replaced by polite and fearful.

Even folks who yearn to invest act like a bystander.

Polite and fearful will not get you there.

It simply doesn’t work when you’re on-stage.

I don’t encourage insensitivity. And yeah, raw and fearlessmay be “too much” where you work.

Pick your own currency. Choose how you invest.

What would be “more” without being “too much?”

Bold and inquisitive?

Curious and provocative?

Courageous and surprising?

Probing and opinionated?

Fearless and committed?

Choose to be an investor. Pick your currency. Two adjectives.

Know that polite and fearful will not get you there.

Two adjectives is all it takes.

When you show up at your meetings this week, embody your currency.

You likely won’t sound like Joan Rivers.

But you will instantly BE an investor. You will energize those around you. And you will energize yourself.

Now, that’s not too shabby, is it?

Thank you again Achim for allowing me to reprint your energy boost on The Idolbuster.

You can subscribe to Achim Nowak’s weekly energy boost here