A week to smooth some edges

Once not so long ago, when I was working hard in a yoga class, I heard the teacher suggest, “If you are a Type A, if you’re always striving and pushing, try working a little less hard.  And if you know that you tend to slack off, push yourself today.”

We are (mostly) who we are.  We do things a certain way.  We have certain habits, and these tend to be hard to change (and, most of these habits have gotten us where we are today.)

But what’s important to remember is that while a few people may have been born great leaders, most great leaders are made through a constant practice of self-reflection and evolution.

What better example than President Obama?  Recently, Michelle Cottle wrote a piece in The New Republic titled “The Cool Presidency: An Inquiry into Obama’s hipness,” which concludes:

…the dirty little secret of our new president’s cool is that no element of it came with ease. Obama achieved his laid-back, too-cool-to-care persona by being a committed grind: He spent years working through his insecurities, learning to control his emotions, and sanding down the rough edges of his personality…

So what if you start smoothing some of your own rough edges: pick something you’re interested in doing differently, and spent just one week acting differently?

Do you always have something smart and constructive to say in meetings?  Spend a week saying absolutely nothing, just listening, and see who else starts to speak up (and how you feel staying quiet).

Do you “need” to go online every 15 minutes to check your email, your Twitter feed and the latest news headline?  Spend a week with your Internet connection turned off except for two hours a day, and see what happens.

Always getting everything right before launching the next new idea?  Take something half-baked and move it forward quickly.  Are you the last person on your team to arrive in the office every morning?  Arrive first for a week.  Eat lunch alone?  Invite a friend.  Always eat with the same people?  Invite someone new.  Blog posts always long?  Shoot for less than 200 words this week.  Always short?  Develop an idea.

A lot of these habits are the stories we tell ourselves.  We justify our unexamined habits by saying “this is who I am.  It worked to get me here.”

Big changes are hard.  A one week experiment in acting differently is risk-free.  So spend a week smoothing off some edges, and see how it feels.

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The psychology of real

Today I was talking about the economy with someone who I respect a lot.  She said that we still don’t know how much of what’s going on in the economy is real and how much is psychology.

I respectfully disagreed.  What strikes me most about this economic crisis is that what’s psychology is real.  There’s no distinction any more.  Sentiments drive markets as much or more than what’s “real.”  And 6 months worth of sentiments might create real, irreversible hardships.

Her broader point, my rebuttal notwithstanding, is that people have short memories, and if psychology does drive markets then things have the potential to get better very quickly.  A new President who has a successful first 100 days could set a good tone, and by the second quarter we could see the first glimpse of things no longer getting worse.

My worry is that enough real hardship will come from the psychology of fear we’ve lived through since October that a shift in mindset won’t be enough to avoid a protracted economic downturn.

Either way, it feels like we’re navigating between 2-3 years of things being bad and a Lost Decade a la Japan in the 90s.

So here’s the question if you’re in the nonprofit sector: is your current business plan, at a minimum, premised on things being bad for 24-36 months?  And what if things are bad for a lot longer than that?  Are you ready?  And if not, what can you do to make yourself ready?

And if yours is the kind of nonprofit organization where the best and the brightest don’t spend much (or any) time thinking about the revenues side of the equation, don’t you think now is the perfect time to change that?

Kiva’s Kenyan customers on Obama

In case you needed more proof about how small the world has become, here’s a video from a Kiva Fellow who decided to ask some Kiva customers what they thought about Barack Obama.

Hat tip to the Kiva chronicles blog for the video.

Obama: poetry on an historic day

A friend with a sharp eye saw this handwritten sign in a window in the midst of last night’s election coverage:

rosa sat so
martin could walk so
barack could run so
our children could fly

And this morning Maya Angelou read part of her poem “Still I Rise” on CBS:

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou