10 out of 30

Two weeks ago, to address some recurring pain in my knee, I made a 30-day yoga commitment: a minimum of 30 minutes of yoga a day for 30 days. I even have a big ol’ Austin Kleon 30 Day Challenge calendar hanging in my kitchen, with giant red-crayon X’s for each day I’ve completed.

10 days in, I noticed a few things.

The beginning is not the hard part. In fact, beginning big commitments is fun. There’s a bit of fanfare as you tell folks. A sense of self-validation that you’re doing something big and courageous. You spend time imagining the amazing results that will come at the end of 30 days.

This glow remains for a few days. Those first days are a living, breathing validation of all that excitement. They’re still fun.

Then, about a third of the way in, the excitement dies down.

You’re by yourself, alone with your commitment.

There’s no fanfare, no fans.

It’s just you, stuck in the middle. You’re tired and struggling for time and motivation. Maybe you’re noticing that you’ve not made as much progress as you originally imagined.

What a tempting moment to quit.

“Who will notice, really? Maybe I’ll just skip a day.”

I know that my motivation to start on Day 10 was zero. Same for days 11, 12, 13 and 14.

Here’s a dirty little secret about hard work, especially the kind that leads to real and lasting change: the middle bits (and lots of the bits) aren’t all that glamorous.

They’re hard not just because of the actual challenge of doing the hard thing we’ve decided to do. They’re also hard because the act of following through is itself sometimes a grind.

All of us, 3-4 months into this pandemic, find ourselves past the beginning stage of this new world and new life. We’re far from the shore we left, and we’ve got no clear end in sight. No doubt we have felt, or are about to feel, a dip.

Whether or not you’ve specifically made a 30-day commitment, you’re no doubt spending your days doing new things, trying on new approaches, working on new ways (slowly…but also surely) of becoming the person you’re meant to become: a healthier you, a stronger you, a more accepting you, a more confident you, a more grounded you, or maybe a you that’s more at piece with the fact that kid(s) + job(s) = a different calculus on what “productive” really means.

In case you find yourself stuck, I thought it might help to hear this reminder: just because the middle bits are hard doesn’t mean it’s time to give up.

In fact, the middle bits being hard are the best indication that you’re doing something worthwhile, something that will yield important results.

Keep showing up for yourself.

The results will come in time.

 

Privilege is

I’d written this blog post already, and then came across this TikTok from tWitch and Allison, which does a much better job at making my point on a visceral level.

If you didn’t click, here’s a paraphrase of what they’re counting down on their fingers. White Privilege is:

Never having been called a racial slur.

Never having been followed in a store unnecessarily.

Never having had people cross the street to avoid walking by you.

Never having had someone clench their purse in an elevator with you.

Never having had someone step off an elevator to avoid riding with you.

Never having been accused of not being able to afford something expensive.

Never having had fear in your heart when having been stopped by the police.

Never having been given a pass on a citation that you deserved.

Never having been stopped or detained by the police for no valid reason.

Never having been denied service solely because of the color of your skin.

Never having to teach your child how not to get killed by the police.

 

Here’s what I’d add to that list.

Privilege (white and otherwise) is also:

If you, or your kid, breaks something you love, you know you can get a new one.

If all your schools were always well-resourced, were not overcrowded, were filled with qualified teachers.

If you’ve ever had a private tutor of any sort.

Or private instrument lessons. Or private lessons of any kind.

If you expected, from the day you were born, that you would go to college.

If you’ve ever had an unpaid internship.

Or an informational interview with a powerful friend of your parents’ or their friends.

If you’ve never been truly afraid to walk down a dark street at night, or to your parked car in a garage, alone.

If you’ve rarely, if ever, been forced to be conscious on a daily basis of your race or another element of your identity—indeed, if you barely think about your race or other element of your identity if you don’t want to—because it almost never engenders an experience of outsider-ness or threat for you.

If you’ve never had to explain to someone else what it feels like to be a person like you—when “like you” is about a group you’re part of rather than “you” as an individual.

If, most of the time, especially in situations of consequence (classrooms, school and job interviews, sales meetings, industry conferences, fundraising pitches, board rooms), you are in groups made up of almost exclusively of people of the same race, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity as you.

If most of the people on TV shows, in ads, and in magazines look like you…

…and the same goes for the person who saves the day in nearly every movie.

If you don’t have a parent, uncle or aunt, grandparent or great-grandparent who was systematically persecuted, tortured or killed for some aspect of their identity.

And if you feel like you’ve had the choice of whether or not to pay attention, feel personally affected by, and act in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Bettie Jones, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Laquan MacDonald, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, and Dominique White.

 

What I appreciate at the end of the video of tWitch talking to Ellen is his saying that he and his wife, and he and his in-laws, are having much deeper conversations about race than they’ve ever had before.

And, as he rightly says, while it’s not enough, it’s a start.

Until white people fully see the privilege we have, until we can see what Peggy McIntosh called (in 1989!) our “invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks” then we are, honestly, in no position to contemplate the steps we need to take to be part of the solution.

 

 

 

Black Lives Matter

It’s hard to know what to say at a time like this, shrouded as I am in privilege and what Ta-Nehisi Coates aptly calls a “belief in being white.”

What we know is that the response to the murder of George Floyd is the boiling over of longstanding, simmering, justified rage at the systemic institutionalization of white supremacy in this country.

This means it is long past the time to talk about, acknowledge, and take steps to rectify all the ways that white people benefit from and therefore are complicit in this system.

Which is to say: if you are a person who believes yourself to be white, and if you’ve concluded that it’s enough simply not to be actively and overtly racist, I’d encourage you to take time to stop and reflect.

Most days, I find it breathtakingly, astonishingly easy to ignore my own privilege and advantage in this America that I live in. This means that I have more than my own fair share of work and reflection to do about my personal complicity in, and, by definition, daily endorsement of all of the ugly, undeniable truths that have been laid bare about this country.

That’s my work to do.

And lest I, or you, think that our moderate, progressive views are somehow an improvement on the active, fetid, ugly racism increasingly on display across so much of this country, I’ll offer up this passage from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I’ve had the privilege to lead discussions of this text with social entrepreneurs from the U.S., Kenya and India. The most shocking, nearly universal conclusion that every one of these groups of progressive, bold and brave activists has come to, collectively, is that we are all, nearly all the time, white moderates.

Whatever our progressive thoughts and liberal ideals, we cling to our comfort through our daily actions and routines, and, in so doing, live out more devotion to ‘order’ than to justice.

Self-education, fellowship, use of our privilege and power to dismantle the foundation of the corrupted system we find so normal…these are first green shoots of how we can all show up, each day, and demonstrate greater devotion to justice.

And if you’re hanging on to the notion that what’s going is anything less than the laying bare of a foundational failure to deliver justice in this country, I encourage you to listen to Dr. Cornel West’s take on America as a failed social experiment.

Cornel West on George Floyd's Death

The Work of a Clean Kitchen

Anyone can splash around and follow a recipe.

Good cooks have the presence of mind to keep mentally ahead, to anticipate and stay calm, and to react quickly and smoothly when things go awry.

If you and your team can move through the chaotic moments with this kind of mastery, you’ll get much more than good immediate results.

You’ll give your people the chance to know what it feels like to remain fluid and present in the heat of the moment, to do great feats and stick the landing all without breaking a sweat.

That builds a confidence for the next round that’s like lightning in a bottle.

Dog Days

I can’t resist: I’m training our 6-month old, exuberant, I-must-sniff-and-greet-everything-and-everyone puppy, Birdie, and can’t help but notice a few things.

Positive reinforcement works much better than negative reinforcement.

Catching her in the act of doing something wrong and correcting works much less well than creating a situation in which undesired behaviors are less likely to happen.

If she’s distracted, she cannot learn.

If she’s afraid or triggered in any way, she cannot learn.

Just because she did it right yesterday doesn’t mean she’ll do it right today.

Every new behavior has to be repeated, repeated, and repeated some more.

The distance between “I understand what this is and how to do this,” and “I will do this all the time” is huge. Getting her from one to the other requires extra-ordinary patience.

Things go wrong when my expectations get ahead of where we are, today.

Context matters tremendously. If I want her to demonstrate a new behavior, I have to ask her to do it in the simplest, safest context first. Only once she’s mastered the behavior in that environment can she succeed in a more challenging context.

When my expectations get ahead of where we are, we are both frustrated.

If she messes up, it’s on me.

Of course, I understand that human beings have frontal lobes, that we can practice meta cognition and that we don’t only learn by getting lots and lots and lots of little rewards for good behavior.

But we could set ourselves up for success with a bunch of lessons from Birdie.

To develop or teach a new skill, start small and in a safe environment, and allow plenty of time for practice before moving on to a more challenging environment.

Just because we got it right yesterday doesn’t mean we know how to do it today.

If we’re frustrated, it’s probably because our expectations got ahead of us.

Be patient with yourself or with the person you’re coaching.

Repeat so much that you’re a little bored, and then repeat some more.

Most of all, keep at it and treat yourself kindly. Remember that daily progress is almost undetectable, but that weekly, monthly and yearly progress (when we keep at it) will be remarkable.

Silver Linings

Birdie is a very good girl when she’s asleep.

Last Thursday and Friday, I learned, over the course of 24 hours, that schools in NY State are officially closed for the rest of the year, and that my three kids’ 7-week sleepaway summer camp (the highlight of their year) is cancelled.

Within the parameters of us being collectively lucky, safe, and relatively unaffected by this pandemic, this was a huge blow. We now have four more months of trying to keep the kids happy, healthy and cared for, while my wife and I manage our two jobs.

I have to admit, this unmoored me.

So I thought I’d make a list of the silver linings we’ve already experienced in these last two months, to remind myself of all the good things that are also going on.

Our team at 60 Decibels has pulled together, and is more connected than ever. And we’ve managed to pivot our business and launch major initiatives in 11 countries to listen to some of the most vulnerable customers, to understand the impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing, and find ways to support these customers.

My wife and I have gotten better at working together in the same house and not driving each other crazy (more specifically, me not driving her crazy).

And I think I understand a bit better all it takes to make the house run, which is allowing me to be more of an equal partner.

Each day, I see my kids when they wake up and when they go to bed.

Our family eats lunch and dinner together almost every night.

We all started playing ping pong again, and are having a blast.

Everyone has found a way to exercise more, walk more, and stay healthy.

My youngest daughter sewed her own teddy bear, named Juniper. She’s also learned how to make scrambled eggs and French toast for breakfast all by herself.

My middle daughter and I have, for the first time, started to go for runs together, something we never would have had time for before. These runs make me profoundly happy.

My two daughters learned to rollerblade. It’s their new favorite pastime, even though my older one is wearing my rollerblades, which are five sizes too big for her.

They’ve also gotten more independent and have had a slew of outdoor adventures.

And, overall, they’ve been amazing friends and companions to each other through a time when they can’t see the rest of their friends.

My teenage son and my wife have started going on long walks together, and having great talks.

Last weekend, he and I put together a shed behind the house, and, somehow, we had a blast.

We adopted a rescue dog. Her name is Birdie. It’s been a little more than a year since our 16-year old dachshunds, Stella and Blanche, passed away. Birdie has been with us for 10 days. She’s endlessly energetic, gentle and loving, needs a ton of exercise and chews and nips much too much. And we love her already.

Writing this list has helped me remind myself of all the good things that have happened in the last two months. It’s helping me remember that, despite everything, the future is bright and we will all—with a little luck and a healthy dollop of good fortune—get through this.

 

Unclenching

It was a yoga teacher who first pointed out to me that, even in a strenuous pose, there was no need to furrow my brow and clench my jaw. This is because, as it turns out, neither my jaw nor my forehead is connected to my thighs, hips, back, or hamstrings.

Of course this applies, like all things, beyond the yoga mat. Take running, which has returned as a major part of my life thanks to social distancing. I’ve logged my two longest runs ever in the last two weeks (just under 9 miles) since…what else is there to do?!

Mostly, I enjoy it, but I’m also having to unlearn the always-struggle, always-push mindset that I employed when I last ran regularly, in my teens and 20s.

I’m trying to remember to relax my face while I run. I’ve noticed that my forehead, the space between my eyebrows and my jaw are perpetually clenched when I run. This helps with absolutely nothing.

Clenching is a natural reaction to stress, but it doesn’t make sense. It provides no protection or safety. It wards off nothing.

Needless to say, stress is everywhere these days. We can trick ourselves into believing that clenching, both physical (in our jaw and forehead) and psychological (in our minds as we scroll through screen after screen of frustrating, worrying news) equates to “doing something.” We can pretend that worrying about what’s going on helps in some way.

The fact is, adding strain and suffering to something that is already strenuous is completely optional. There’s enough that’s hard already, why should we be adding more?

Here’s how to practice unclenching.

Find a spot in your body where you hold tension. For me, this is the left side of my jaw, which I often clench when awake and asleep.

Consciously unclench it. Breathe. Breathe again.

Now pay attention to other things that are clenched.

Let them relax too. Breathe. Breathe again.

Repeat as necessary.

Adjusting Your Value Wheel

Each business has a value wheel – the collection of things you do that create value for your customers.

In each situation, and for each customer, you present these in a different way. One customer cares more about the speed of delivery, another about how flexible you are, a third loves that you have an office in Cairo right next to where their main supplier is.

While your value wheel has a few core elements—the handful of things (values, behaviors, promises you keep) that make you you—each customer’s next-level reasons for hiring you will differ.

Your job, when selling your wares, is to know which of these value wheel elements to present when and to whom, and to be facile enough in representing and rejiggering them to communicate just the right offering to each different (potential) customer.

If this all wasn’t easy to see a month ago, it certainly is now. A month ago, a big chunk of how we used to create value was taken off the table. Our new task is to see if the pieces we are left holding are enough that we can continue to do (a new version of) what we do, even in today’s new, unprecedented context.

For many industries and business models, the short-term answer is a simple ‘no’:

Airlines can’t be airlines if people don’t want to travel.

Most restaurants can’t be restaurants without seated customers

But there is also potential, even with a lot of change:

Schools, it turns out, could probably teach kids effectively without kids coming together (though most are failing to do this well).

Most services businesses, whose lifeblood used to involve face time (not FaceTime) with clients and going to giant conferences, are discovering that a lot of that was expected behavior that was mostly unnecessary.

For those of us lucky enough to still be holding enough pieces to stay afloat, the questions to ask are:

How do we clearly see the collection of pieces we’re left holding?

Might there be a way that THIS collection of pieces is, in fact, enough to do meaningful work?

If we imagined that this new normal were here to stay, what would we do differently? What bigger bets would we make?

(and finally)

What new things have we learned about ourselves, our capabilities and our customers that we want to preserve, even when things get back to “normal?”

To help take this forward, here’s a downloadable value wheel that you can print out and fill out with your team (virtually, of course).

Value Wheel

Far Away from Here

“Have you heard? That new virus is spreading like crazy in Wuhan, China. That seems just awful.”

“Oh gosh, now there are tons of cases in Italy and Iran. I heard it came from a bat. How terrifying. Thank goodness there are only a few cases here.”

“It’s exploded in New Rochelle, just outside New York city, and cases are increasing across Europe. Close the borders.”

“New York is the epicenter of coronavirus in the U.S. Those damn, godless New Yorkers, all pressed up against each other. Good thing we’re safe out here in Texas. Or Wyoming. Or Nevada. Or in Lagos or Delhi or Mexico City for that matter.”

Obviously, we all know the terrifying punchline: “there” became “here” for all of us in a matter of weeks. Just as quickly, our carefully cultivated story of separateness has been debunked.

As we live through this, we have the opportunity to acknowledge a few revealed truths.

Our selfishness

First, unavoidably, we are all selfish in some important ways. Or, at least, I am.

I know that I started paying attention to, and worrying about, this coronavirus early. I vividly remember the daily, sickening terror I was feeling in mid-February, unable to shake recurring thoughts about the risk to my three children from a MERS-like killer. Then one day I tuned into The Daily podcast and learned that children were very likely to be safe from this virus. I exhaled, the worst of my fears momentarily put to rest.

Fast forward two more weeks and it became real again: I began actively worrying about my parents, and then about my friends, my community, and me.

The truth is, most of us only really wake up when something threatens people whose names we know: our family, our friends, our community.

Does this remind you of anything?

Second, the parallels to global warming are so glaring, it feels heavy-handed to point them out.

Something out there is slowly, inexorably putting us all at great risk. The science is clear about these risks and about the steps we could take to mitigate them. Most of us understand the problem but we ignore it. A few powerful people deny it. Those that don’t do the polite, educated thing, giving lip-service to how important this thing is while making virtually no sacrifices to fight it.

The mirror we can all see

What have we learned in the last few months? That most (but not all) societies are geared—politically, economically and socially—to underprepare, underreact, and stay complacent for far too long. Then, when it’s nearly too late, when it becomes real to us, we will panic, overcorrect, and bemoan the missed opportunity of having started sooner.

A few societies, though, learned important lessons from near misses. They retooled and reprioritized, capitalizing on shifts in attitudes to make significant shifts in resources. They made sure that the next time they’d be in a position to act and act quickly.

The questions we must ask ourselves

Will we all take the lessons we are living and apply them to the next gigantic, looming crisis on the horizon? Or will we, in our desperate desire to return to normalcy, rush headfirst into collective amnesia?

I think the answer to these questions will boil down to our willingness to look own selfishness squarely in the face, to study it without flinching.

If we could see how most of us (importantly, not front-line heroes) have responded to this crisis—how, when left unchecked, we fall prey to a massive, collective failures of imagination and empathy, effectively ignoring far-away-seeming hardships and far-off-seeming risks—might we gain the perspective to start acting differently?

Might this experience engrain in us our fundamental connection with each other?

Might it push us to set different priorities, be willing to give up a bit more, and act sooner and with much more urgency the next time around?

We’ve all been warned.

We all are living through this.

What will we do with this knowledge when we come out the other side?

 

Crisis Speed

There was a moment, not long after we incorporated 60 Decibels, when I was sitting in the office with my head of operations. We had to decide which of a number of office spaces we had seen was right for us, and what lease to sign.  We discussed it for about five minutes, agreed what we wanted to do…and then we both just stopped for a beat.

Both of us paused because it felt like we needed to check with someone else, to get an additional approval, to run it up the flagpole.

But in a startup, blessedly, there is no flagpole.

Both of us got a bit giddy as we realized it was just up to us. When the surrounding silence made this abundantly clear, we confirmed our decision and moved on. That was the first of a thousand small decisions we made quickly.

She and I had both spent our careers in bigger organizations. We’d learned about things going slowly. It had been, slowly and surely, pounded in to us.

Of course things change in moments of crisis–like what we’re living through right now. When a crisis hits, we all move faster, because what’s happening externally is so big and so universally understood that no one will punish us for choosing to act.

The question that presents itself is: why only in a crisis?

One of the many things we are all learning is that we can up our game when we have to: we can make important decisions and own the consequences.

The people whose job it is to make sure everything is just right have other things to worry about right now. Or they’ve consciously changed their standard, tilting far in favor of action and away from methodically checking off all the boxes.

This has happened because we all understand the cost of inaction in a crisis.

What we shouldn’t forget, not just today but also in a calmer tomorrow, is that the cost of inaction is always high.

Many of us have learned that we can’t get blamed for doing nothing. But the much more important lesson is that inaction and passing the buck are nearly always the most expensive thing–not just because of the things we don’t get done, but because of the culture we build and the lessons we teach our best people:

That’s it’s not really up to them to decide.

That they’re not really on the hook.

That we don’t, when you boil it all down, trust them to act in our best interest.

What could be more damaging to the cultures we aim to build?