Today a friend apologized to me for not seeing a Skype text I’d sent him last week (no problem). This got me thinking about the incoming communication tools that I have, all the ways people can reach me.
Work email address (Outlook)
Personal email address (Gmail)
Blog email address (Gmail)
Blog comments (WordPress)
Spam/shopping email address (Yahoo)
WhatsApp (including a few groups)
Twitter (DMs, RTs and mentions)
Skype calls + texts [oh, and I’m testing Viber]
Facebook (and I don’t use the messenger app)
Work phone + voicemail
Cellphone + voicemail
Home phone + voicemail
[Local cell phone while traveling abroad]
Fifteen different communications tools, and I’m not that active on any of the social media platforms. Nor does this make any reference to my going out and seeking news, updates and information (blog RSS feed, Twitter feed, Facebook feed, LinkedIn Feed, etc.).
This feels like an insane list. I guess Facebook and Google want to consolidate everything for me so I’m not jumping between platforms, but I don’t trust either enough to have that feel like a good solution.
Is this just the way it is, or am I missing something?
I’m curious: how many ways can you be reached?
(p.s. Eric Schmidt wrote a piece for Time about email, which includes the maxim “Clean out your inbox constantly.” I totally disagree. Where do we draw the line in terms of our incoming communications streams, and when are we supposed to do real thinking and work if we’re triaging 15 (20? 30?) feeds all day long?).
I recently had a powerful conversation with a friend about humility and arrogance. We talked about the danger and allure of arrogance, how blinding it is and how much it keeps us from seeing each other’s humanity.
“Sometimes,” my friend shared, in a moment of deep candor and vulnerability, “even when I’m actively not being arrogant, I wonder if I’m being arrogant.”
I think we all know what she means – how easy it is to value our own strengths, how easy it is to take credit for our own successes, how easy it is to create separation, to be blind to the gifts of others, to forget that who we are and what we have is thanks to others.
Here’s how I was reminded of the wisdom of her words.
Before getting to Mr. Osako, a bit of background. I am the grandson of refugees, Holocaust survivors who escaped the Nazis in 1940 thanks to Chiune Sugihara, a Japanase vice consul in Kovno, Lithuania.
In 1940, Mr. Sugihara, defying his superiors, issued transit visas to more than 6,000 Jews fleeing the Holocaust in Lithuania. These visas allowed these Jews, including my grandparents, to escape Lithuania and go by train to Vladivostok, Russia, and then to Japan by boat, saving them from the concentration camps.
The story of Mr. Sugihara is part of my family history. My grandfather told this story to us countless times when we were kids, and long ago I read the 1979 book The Fugu Planby Marvin Tokayer and Mary Swartz, that documents this history.
Mr. Sugihara didn’t act alone. Someone needed to escort these thousands of Jewish refugees on the boat trips from Russia to Japan and ensure them safe passage. And that brings us back to Tatsuo Osako. He was not a diplomat, he was an employee of the Japan National Tourism Organization. Yet he spent nine months from 1940 to 1941 serving as this escort on boats going back and forth between Russia and Japan, a civilian playing a diplomat’s role because there was no diplomat to do the job.
Sadly, I’ve never met Mr. Osako, my newly-discovered hero who died in 2003. But, thanks that article, I not only learned about Mr. Osako, I learned, while barreling towards Grand Central Station, that the author of the book about Mr. Osako, Akira Kitade, was going to be in Grand Central Station as part of an exposition that day by the Japanese Tourism Organization. Turning my day upside-down, I made my way to Vanderbilt Hall and found my way to Mr. Kitade, a quiet man in his early 70s in a black shirt and a trim tweed jacket. Many years after the War, Mr. Kitade worked for Mr. Osako at the Japanese Tourism Organization, and though Mr. Osako never spoke about his part in helping these 6,000 Jews escape, Mr. Kitade eventually learned about Mr. Osako’s story and decided to write a book about it.
Making my way past the velvet ropes to the back of Vanderbilt Hall, I found Mr. Kitade and introduced myself. I shared my story and he shared his. Our conversation was kind, open, and also tentative thanks to language barriers. I bought a copy of his book, still only in Japanese, and we talked about his hope that Stephen Spielberg will someday make a movie about Mr. Sugihara, the “Japanese Schindler.”
I also met Chikako Ichihara, the woman in charge of the Japan Tourist Board exhibition. Though she was swirling in the rush of last-minute preparations for this expo that she’s spent a year developing, she stopped and made a few minutes to talk. I found myself overcome with emotion, as was she, as I related my family history and shared my gratitude for her choice to include the history of Mr. Sugihara and Mr. Osako in the expo. She shared some details I didn’t know about the Japanese government’s policies and about the heroics of so many everyday people who chose to take a stand and do something they knew was right. As we closed our conversation, she shared that her father had come from the same village as Mr. Sugihara, the man who wrote the visas that saved thousands of lives.
What a morning. What a reminder, impossible to ignore, that so many people I’ve never met are part of who I am, that there are so many ghosts of everyday heroes who have paved the path for me.
We all have these stories in our lives, known or unknown to us. They too often are lost in the blur of the everyday, allowing us to create a too-narrow narrative about who we are and what it took for us to arrive at today, at this place, at this life.
We are who we think we are, and we are also so much more thanks to the incalculable efforts of so many heroes, past and present, to whom we owe our gratitude.
I’ve just taken the plunge and signed up for Citibike, New York’s bike-sharing program. The bikes are suddenly ubiquitous in lower Manhattan, and yesterday a colleague of mine burst into work with a huge smile, raving about cutting his commute from 30 to 10 minutes. That pushed me over the edge.
To get started, I decided it was worth the $10 (for a 24-hour pass) for a one-time experimental ride before signing up for the year ($100). Even at $10 for the day it’s not much more than my round-trip on the NYC subway ($5), and I wasn’t sure how long my ride would take or how hot and sweaty I’d be upon arriving to work. After completing that first ride, I’m sold.
Even with the extra hassle of a manual first ride – which required manually putting in my credit card rather than the little key fob that they send you, getting confused about how to enter the confirmation code on the bike, and not knowing the best route to take – I still got from Grand Central to Acumen’s offices on 15th Street and 9th Avenue in the exact same amount of time as my regular subway-plus-walk commute, so I figure on a typical day I’ll save at least five minutes and get a bit of exercise to boot. Also, although I never think about the cost of the subway, I’d stand to save $25 / week if I ride every day, or more than $1,000 per year. Even accounting for variable weather, days when I’m too dressed up to ride, etc. it seems like a hugely winning proposition in exchange for clipping a helmet to my bag each morning on the way to work.
I’m a big fan of public transportation and of city services / public spaces that work, and Citibike seems like a winner on all counts – even for someone like me who doesn’t live in New York City.
Angela Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long term goals.”
She also has found grit to be the single best determinant of long-term success. The single one. And, she tells us, we know very little about it – little about how to instill it in our kids or in ourselves.
But perhaps the definition itself, in its simple economy, gives us some insight about the way forward.
Passion: meaning that you have to care.
Perseverance: meaning that you have to push through, that this won’t be easy, that there are going to be many hard days (weeks, months), many times when things aren’t looking good. This is going to test you.
Long-term: as in years, in most cases.
Goals: you need to have an objective, somewhere you’re trying to go, a point on the horizon or, at least, a north star.
It strikes me that we get tripped up on the “passion” bit. Enough people have found a way to be part of something that they care passionately about. Yet even if the big Mission with a capital “M” is motivating, the day-to-day also needs to hang together for years on end.
And what if you’re not actively working towards something that moves you? What if you don’t even know what moves you? Here is where people get and overwhelmed by the notion of “finding their passion.”
Two suggestions. First, that mindset may be starting at the wrong end of the sentence. If we’re working on grit then we can start with “perseverance,” “long-term” and “goals” and devote ourselves fully to doing great work and getting our ego out of the way. Second, I don’t think we need to start with “Passion” with a capital “P.” We can be passionate about small things (figuring out pivot tables once and for all) or about pieces of our work (coaching others) even in situations where the whole is leaving us flat.
The shift comes when we realize two things: that we do have the ability to decide where to apply our energies (agency); and that through applying ourselves we grow in amazing ways over long periods of time (mastery).
I find that – whether as a husband, a professional, a father, a squash player, a blogger, a speaker, a boss, whatever – I’m always aiming to improve, and the only thing that works is focusing on one thing at a time in each area of my life (as in, in squash I’ve been working on my drop shot for about a year now). Each thing I’m passionate about changing is part of a longer term goal, and through the process of focus and dedicated work, that change happens – slowly, one thing at a time. Each change takes months or sometimes years. But, mostly, I progress. And knowing that’s possible changes everything.
Angela’s 6-minute TED talk on grit just might change your whole perspective. It certainly pulled a lot of threads together for me.
A good friend told me a beautiful story recently. She was at a 7-11 and got to the register only to be told that the guy in front of her had paid for her food and her coffee. Apparently the guy who paid was a regular, a trucker, and he did this from time to time.
It made my friend’s morning, and she immediately offered to pay for the next person on line, to keep paying it forward.
The cashier asked her not to do it.
Better, the cashier said, to do it somewhere else on another day. Because she, the cashier, had already gotten to experience the joy of being part of an act of kindness. She had had the chance to deliver the message of the gift given to my friend. Her day was already a fabulous, exceptional day.
Instead, let someone else (another cashier or waiter or just about anyone) somewhere else experience that same joy on another day.
Look down a list of donors and you’ll never be able to figure out the intention behind a donation: who gave expecting something in return – who is keeping a running balance sheet in his head of credits and debits – and who simply gave a gift?
Part of what led me to start my generosity experiment was exhaustion. It was exhausting to have an unspoken scorecard attached to every element of my life. I knew intuitively that I was the one who suffered when I silently kept tabs of every step and every action that I (and others) did and did not take, but I didn’t know how to stop the music. My calculations were automatic and unintentional.
And then it struck me: what better place to start letting go than with giving itself, with actual money, and all the attachment I (we) have to it?
I’ve discovered a few things along the way.
First, it is possible to change this sort of thing. Five years later, I truly am able (not every time, but often) to give unconditionally – not just money but time and attention and complements. Unconditional giving brings me so much more joy, and because the character of these acts is so different they create something categorically different in my life and in the world. My prior “balanced giving scorecard” was mathematically appealing yet fundamentally flawed. It presupposed scarcity of the gifts I had to give, and in so doing it shackled me, the giver, never letting me fully know what abundance feels like.
Second, giving abundantly doesn’t happen every time or at every moment. Old habits die hard, and life is a dance not a set playbook. But having a wider repertoire is liberating.
Third, I think I’ve become a better receiver, meaning I’ve become better at accepting gifts openly and with gratitude, and I’m more comfortable allowing gifts to be gifts. I also have much more appreciation for the truly gracious around me, those who deeply honor the givers around them and who recognize that true giving is not tit-for-tat, it is gifts flowing openly and freely in all directions.
Mostly, I’d like to keep cracking the door open for myself and for others, so that we can all stop giving halfway. There are few things more limiting than a conditional gift, and few things more liberating than even one small act of radical generosity. That means there are no strings attached
Earlier this year I found myself wondering: what should I do for Generosity Day this year? Meaning “I” or “me.”
In many ways, I asked the wrong question. Of course I have an important role to play, but what I’ve discovered in the past few weeks is the beauty of something you give away: it doesn’t belong to me any more. Generosity Day is out there in the world, it has touched peoples’ lives, and in this day and age that means that Generosity Day lives and is real and spreads because of all of you.
This year in particular a crack team of volunteers showed up and took things to a whole new level. Their work and dedication has absolutely blown me away. And each volunteer had a real story, a personal story, of what happened to them on Generosity Day last year or the year before, and each story was beautiful and profound. That’s a Genii you can’t put back in a bottle.
There are too many people to thank individually, and too many people who would be left out from any list I could write. The good news is, you all know who you are. I thank each and every one of you for showing me what generosity can be, for fueling my optimism, for sharing your own fears and failures so I could share mine, and for deepening my own exploration of generosity which I know just beginning.
Think about that moment when your Board members (hopefully) introduce you and your nonprofit to new potential donors. What’s your caricature of that conversation between your Board member and your next big donor?
My vote: “(whisper) Pssst. C’mere. There’s something I want to tell you. I want to let you in on a secret.”
A secret. Not an obligation or an “I’m sorry I’m going to ask you to take a meeting.” It should feel like sharing a stock tip, the fast track on a deal, something special that this person is lucky to learn about.
Now wind the tape back, back to way before that conversation, before you asked your Board member to make some new introductions. What kind of relationship do your Board members need to have with your organization, with its mission, with its work on the front lines? How deep must that connection go? How strong must their conviction be?
When Board members don’t feel comfortable reaching out, what we must ask is not “why aren’t they doing more?” but rather “why aren’t our Board members more connected to our work? Why don’t they feel like it’s so special that they know something that other people don’t?”
What can we do to address that?
Our goal, a few months down the road, is to see new green shoots sprouting in the field. We can jump up and down about buying and planting more seed, but the real work is tilling and preparing the soil.