Observe More, Do Less

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As a committed parent, I want to optimize every situation for my baby’s development.  In addition to the feeding, diapering, snuggling, and bathing, I’m always at the ready with an age-appropriate toy 0r the Baby Einstein Pandora station.  I read Wonder Weeks, Google every incremental action, and know the developmental milestones like the back of her tiny baby hand.  But the other day, I was reminded of why I try to give Elliott space instead of trying to drive her development. This day in particular I was waiting for her to turn from back to front.  She had mastered the front-to-back roll, but not yet the opposite.

Instead of entertaining her, showing her how to move, or even cheering her on, I got quiet.  I watched the micro-movements that were not in her repertoire a couple of days earlier.  She moved in a circle on her back to get a toy.  She pushed off with her feet to scoot along on her back.  She explored a blanket by putting it on her face instead of lying atop it.  Eventually, after a long while, Elliott turned a full circle, 360 degrees, on her back.  Looking at the babe, I realized that this wouldn’t have happened if I had followed my instinct to reposition her as soon as she moved off her baby blanket or even changed her diaper as soon as I noticed it was wet.  Instead, I let go of my parental agenda and followed her lead.  She was exploring.  She was happy.  She had a wet diaper and was laying directly on the rug, but she was doing all sorts of unexpected and “untaught” things.

While I was focused on the great big milestone of The Roll, Elliott was accomplishing a whole host of subtle new moves – when I gave her space to do so.  But by asking her to be with me instead of me being with her, I was missing all the ways she was developing herself – and perhaps even getting in her way.

In parenting, I have been particularly inspired by the thinking of Magda Gerber and her parenting philosophy known as RIE (“Resources for Infant Educarers”)*.  One key point of Magda’s philosophy is to “observe more, do less” and, correspondingly, to “do less, enjoy  more.”

I can go days feeding, changing, and playing with Elliott to belatedly realize that I’ve spent very little time just observing her.  When I do that, I realize that she is up to far more interesting, complex, and developmentally-appropriate ‘play’ than I could ever design for her. It’s not easy to settle and be present; Lee Fernandez, a RIE instructor we’ve worked with, suggested that even just ten minutes a day of truly being present to your baby is an accomplishment.

Of course, the following day, when Liz and I sat quietly with her, Elliott rolled from her back to her front.  And when she finally rolled over, she did it for a purpose.  She turned over not because I was showing her how to do it or cheering her enthusiastically, but because she was exploring her world.  She did it not to satisfy some developmental milestone, but instead because it was the best way to reach her ball.  Elliott had no sense of it being better to move this way or that way; indeed, she seemed to be less likely to do what we might hope when we’re getting in the way with our interference and expectations.

Now, when I’m shaking a toy in front of her face or moving a toy to within her reach, I have to ask:  “Am I doing this for her or for me?”  Often, I am trying to control the situation for me or shaking the toy to entertain myself.  Instead, I need to breathe, take a step back, and see what she’s up creating.  Ironically, that’s the way that she ends up taking the developmental leaps that I am expecting anyway.

Meredith

*Liz downloaded the book Your Self-Confident Baby for our European babymoon roadtrip. She asked her sister, Kate (with a graduate degree in Early Childhood Education), advice on whether it was a good pick. Kate’s response was that it seemed like something I would like. That was my first introduction to RIE and she was right.

 

 

 

Reading Between the Likes

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When I started maternity leave, I removed the Facebook app from my phone. I thought that more free time, combined with the allures of Facebook, would mean I spent endless hours of meandering the interwebs without a purpose. Instead of supporting my aspiration of being intentional, I would fritter away my time with nothing to show for it.

A month later, after being a relative shut-in for many long breastfeeding days and nights, I realized that I missed my connection with people. However faint, impersonal, or manufactured, there’s nonetheless a closeness that Facebook fosters. Even if I’m one of three-hundred people liking your birth announcement, I am still celebrating the birth of your first child. Even if we haven’t spoken for twenty years, I still like the Atlantic article you posted and appreciate knowing how you’re thinking about things. I found that by cutting out Facebook, I cut out a useful connection to the people in my life. And so, for my benefit during both the 2AM breastfeeding sessions and the afternoon naps breaks, I reinstalled Facebook.

This was back in September, when we also found ourselves in the run-up to the presidential election. In addition to providing a form of connection, Facebook became a core news source. Versus other presidential elections, I was more engaged. Like many other Americans, I may have existed in a bit of an echo chamber, hearing only the news posted by like-minded friends. That said, I did make myself keep clicking on the hyper-conservative articles from a handful of friends. Things got tough, but I tried to keep my eyes open.

And what now? In our post-election world, not just politics, but everything seems be falling apart. It’s not just the most recent articles on Trump tweets, Cabinet appointments, and international threats. Now, I can barely open Facebook without observing even more heartbreaking new: searing images of children under siege in Aleppo, exposes on puppy mills, or graphic videos of crocodiles slaughtered for fashion. It’s not the fake news out there that I’m referring to; it’s the painfully real reports of life in our world.

My instinct is to recoil. There are many reasons why I have wanted to quit Facebook, including my pre-maternity inklings: there are better uses of time! I should prioritize in-person connections! I want to live intentionally! But this seems like a better reason than them all to shut down Facebook: it is just too painful.

In the midst of this Facebook crisis, I am reminded of some very wise advice: it is the things that we cannot be that drive us. When you are not able to be with some aspect of life, you spend your time avoiding it. And, what’s more, when others need your help, you are unable to ‘be with’ that thing on their behalf. Get sick at the sight of blood? You are unlikely to become a doctor and heal others. Hate to read about Trump? You probably won’t intervene on behalf of democracy. Recoil at the sight of evil? You are unlikely to help to bring more light. I find myself increasingly recoiling from the hate and the pain in the world. But if I do not bear witness, who will? If I cannot look on Facebook, how much less likely am I to look — and help — in real life?

Simply bearing witness on Facebook — via reads, likes, or comments — is not sufficient action. But, on another level, my empathy expands with each disruption. It makes me more human to face the evil, to grapple with its reality, and to figure out my place in relation to it. So I am trying to look straight into the pain. I am trying to feel every bit of it. As a result, I am overwhelmingly saddened and often completely frightened. But with some perseverance, I will grow bigger, braver, and better able to fight.

Meredith

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Mall Madness

one-dollarOver the holidays, I joined the extended family in a trip to the Jordan Creek Mall outside of Des Moines.  The excursion was primarily designed to let the kids let off some steam, to eat some famous local burgers, and to stretch our legs.  What I didn’t expect were many bigger reflections on consumerism.

A bit of background:  My mall-going days were concentrated in my youth and, to this day, retain a haze of teenage uncertainty and discomfort.  Pop culture told me that as teenage girl, I was supposed to count ‘shopping’ as a past time.  Shop ‘Til You Drop was a beloved after-school game show for my brother and me.  The Mall Madness board game was a particular favorite amongst my peers.  And for the entire decade of the 1990s, the mall was simply the cool place to hang out.  For me, however, anytime I went to the mall (or shopping more broadly), I felt like I was self-consciously playing a role.  Wasn’t I having fun buying earrings at Claire’s?  Didn’t I love trying on clothes all day and finding the perfect thing?  Wasn’t it great to arrive without any particular plan, but to treat yourself to something you didn’t know you wanted?  I know that many people enjoy shopping, but it was never fun for me – and it took me until my twenties to figure that out.

last-chanceAs I’ve grown up, I’ve designed a very different relationship with shopping.  Versus the in-person shopping of my youth, Liz and I live an Amazon-enabled life.  We assess and agree upon our need before buying each item.  We research the best item in each category, whether through a quick spot-check of Amazon reviews or more extensive online diligence.  And, we are quick to return items that don’t satisfy our needs, packing them up and shipping them back.  In short, there’s no such thing as an impulse purchase; it’s all overarchingly intentional.

The result of our narrow online shopping habits is that we exposed to the breadth of American consumerism.  My visit to the mall this holiday season took me out of my Amazon bubble and brought the broader landscape back into focus.  A few observations from my mall wanderings:

First, I was struck by the sheer volume of items for sale: iPhone cases, laser-cut cat images, Christmas ornaments, clothes, clothes, clothes!  So many things!  Who would buy all these things?  Where did they come from?  Who made them?  And where would they all go after they were used and loved?  The volume of merchandise for sale made me think about their lives before these shelves – the raw materials, the producers, their working conditions – and their existence after these shelves – the joy or utility these items might bring, the landfills and recycling centers where they might end up.  Receiving my single, intentionally-purchased item in a box on my doorstep focuses me on this sole item and my use alone; walking through the mall reminded me of the broader life cycle of this vast array of goods.

almost-everythingFurther, in the intra-holiday period, I was struck by the dominance of the deal.  Nearly every store had a sale:  65% off!  Buy one, get one!  Everything $1!  I could viscerally feel their allure; I too wanted to stock up on $3 Bath and Body Works soaps and $1 turtlenecks.  Thus, while I typically buy things with intention, my mall trip reminded me of how frequently we buy things by impulse.  It’s crazy how even when we’re trying hard to be thoughtful, it’s difficult to say no to an experience designed to maximize spending, regardless of need.

To be clear, living in the online shopping bubble does not make me immune from the negative sides of consumerism.  For every pair of jeans I buy online, there’s still an immense amount of textile waste generated.  And I’m certainly guilty of generating a pile of cardboard boxes nearly every week.  But my mall trip prompt me to reflect on the aspects of consumerism often hidden to us online shoppers – and to recommit to how I want to buy items:  In the face of all these things to buy, I want to purchase only quality items with responsible sourcing and a long usable life.  In the face of impulse buys, I want to be even more thoughtful about purchasing only the vital few items we need.

It’s good to look around once in a while.

Wishing you a wonderful New Year,
Meredith

Related media
Here’s a bonus clip re: the mall for all the “How I Met Your Mother Fans” out there.  It’s a fairly accurate representation of mall-going in the 90s.  Who doesn’t love Robin Sparkles?

And the trailer for a documentary entitled ‘Minimalism’ that channels how I’m thinking about consumerism.  Thanks to Alyson Madrigan for the tip.

entire-store

How To Be An Ally

Since Trump’s election, there’s been lots of action — and I am hopeful, even more reflection — on what it means to be an ally: being present to bullying, wearing a safety pin, signing petitions, joining protests, posting on Facebook.

I experienced what it means to have an ally when I came out to my friends and family. A handful of people reacted negatively or with skepticism. Many people offered their support. And one person stepped up as an ally, redefining what that term meant to me.

I remember sitting in my friend’s one-bedroom apartment. When I told him of my first same-sex relationship (with my now-wife), he was surprised but immediately accepting. He listened intently. He asked questions to understand me better. He shared his love and support.

I heard that support from so many people: “This doesn’t change a thing for me.” “I support you completely.” “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

But this friend didn’t stop there. He saw that, being straight and well-connected, he could uniquely advocate for me with some of the people who struggled with my news the most. He realized that I still had a rough road ahead of me, and he wasn’t going to let me walk it alone. He asked for actions he could take on my behalf and offered up a dozen other that he brainstormed. Should he talk to this person? Could he send a note to that person? What else could he do? Nothing was out of the question, and his dedication to supporting me was clear.

That day, he taught me how to be an ally rather than just a supporter.

The most resonant metaphor of allyship is that of a WWE-style wrestling match. A supporter will sit on the sidelines and cheer. They’ll talk you up to their friends. They’ll put money on you even if the odds aren’t in your favor. They’ll bring a sign with your name on it. They’re wonderful cheerleaders.

An ally, on the other hand, gets out of the sidelines and stands in your corner, ready to fight. There, they not only rub your shoulders and provide you water. In addition, they fight on your behalf. They tag you out so you can get a break. They take the punches that weren’t intended for them. They put themselves on the line for you.

The best allies deploy their outsider status, showing that the fights of others are not theirs alone. When cisgender people fight for trans rights, when whites fight for Black Lives Matter, and when men push back on inappropriate behavior towards women they act as allies. They show that the fight is important and that the underlying values are universal. They fight for the other by putting themselves on the line.

While all signs of support — from Facebook posts to safety pins — are useful, true allyship demands more of us. Because this type of fighting takes work. With a limited supply of energy, we can’t fight for everyone else, particularly when we may be fighting on own battles. But ask yourself: Who do you support? How do you support them? Do you cheer from the sidelines or tag into the bout?

This is relevant regardless of where you stand with regards to the recent political events. You can fight for those who feel the system is stacked against them and voted for Trump. You can fight for those facing decades of systematic oppression who voted against Trump. Either way, take a look at your privilege, size up your energy, and find the fight you want to join. Ask the others how you can best fight for them. And then throw all your love into being a true ally and fighting on their behalf.

-Meredith, inspired by the man who fought for me to step up in the wake of election

Consumption Junction

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Since Elliott’s birth, our friends and family have been deferential about how busy we must be.  On some level, they’re right: at points, there has barely been time to shower, eat, or walk the dog.  But, busy doesn’t feel like the right word to describe these early weeks.  Busy implies that there is a long list of things to accomplish and not quite enough time in which to fit them.  Indeed, if we were just living in a state of ‘busy-ness,’ we could perhaps adjust by increasing our capacity or speeding things up.

After years in the workforce, so much of me thrives on busy-ness:  its sense of buzzy productivity, the little check marks in boxes, and the haze of meaning that comes from simply getting stuff done.  In many ways, I *wish* I could change all the diapers, pump all the milk, and share all my love by just working hard to get them done.  Mothering for today?  Check, check, check.

On the contrary, with Elliott, there is nothing to check off the list; we feed, diaper, rock, and play with her over and over again.  Yes, I have other non-baby items to accomplish, but I long ago realized that days and weeks could go by with nothing getting checked off – and yet, I was constantly occupied.  The to-do list of discrete, successive items has been replaced by endless, iterative tasks.

Further, through it all, I haven’t felt a lack of time or a sense of hurry that being ‘busy’ implies; everything is done when it needs to be done, on Elliott’s clock.  I can’t change ten diapers by noon to hit my quota and declare myself done for the day.  There is plenty to do, but it’s impossible to rush it.  Similarly, it’s impossible to run out of time to do what needs to be done.

In sum, it’s less that I feel busy and more that I feel completely consumed.  The reality of life with baby is that every moment is spent care-giving in the present.  I am challenged to slow down and invest every act with big love.  I am challenged to attend to whatever Elliott needs right now, without anticipation or distraction.  I am challenged to be less busy and more present.

As she draws me more into mamahood, Elliott brings me more into the moment and more into myself.

Realistically, I still find myself trying to accomplish things according to my old habits; instead of nursing with full presence at 2AM, I sometimes multi-task, teaching myself baby sign language or editing my new book (support the crowdpublishing project here!).  But, I’m increasingly finding big meaning in the letting myself be consumed by these everyday acts of childcare.  And, I love it.

Meredith

Whoa, Baby!

Two months ago, on August 2nd, Elliott Claire was born. To quote the midwife, I looked “a bit surprised” that labor ended in a baby. It’s true; between all the childbirth classes, doula meetings, and birth plans, I was far more focused on the labor than I was cognizant that a small person would soon join our lives. So, when Elliott came into the world at 7:51AM that morning, I found myself logistically prepared (the nursery organized, the freezer full) but emotionally caught off guard (you mean we’re parents from today until forever?).

Coming home from the hospital was not what I expected. Misled by all the postpartum photos on Facebook, I thought life with baby would be a bit sleep-deprived, but not terribly different. I would go for strolls with her in a BabyBjorn, run errands while she slept in her car seat, and take her along to lunches with friends. What I didn’t realize was that so many of those photos of babies on the move are taken at three, six, or even eighteen months. They are rarely newborns — and their mothers are not immediately postpartum.

So, instead of running around baby in tow, I mostly sat on the couch nursing (or valiantly trying to nurse). In addition to being physically tied to Elliott, I was physically fragile; though I had no particular complications, I was surprised by how difficult even a normal childbirth can be on a woman’s body. I was dependent on others to not only take care of the house and cook, but to even hand me my water/magazine/iPhone/snack that was just out of reach (the ‘last mile’ problem of new mother logistics). Looking back on that time, I am grateful that Liz was home and completely devoted. I am grateful that Elliott was such a good and patient baby. I am grateful for all the friends and family that cooked and cleaned and babysat and loved. And I am grateful that the Olympics were on continuously.

The early days in my position on the couch. Perhaps the only day I blow-dried my hair for a month.

Two months later, we’re emerging from the haze. We’re all healed up. Elliott has started to grow out of her earliest newborn clothes and sleep for longer periods at night. We’ve figured out how the stroller works. And Elliott and I get out nearly every day (and, of course, share those moments on Facebook).

Life more recently: baby’s first drive-in!

I’ve always felt an overwhelming, unconditional love for this little one; now, in addition to loving her, I’m starting to like life with her in it.

Meredith

(Baby) Bump in the Road

I find much of my meaning in reflecting upon everyday life and understanding what lies beneath. So, when faced with the prospect of up to a month of time off before my due date, I made all sorts of plans. In the ninth month of my pregnancy, I would wake up bright-eyed every day, do prenatal yoga, journal about experiences, and spend my time writing. I knew that creative tasks like writing would be hard with a baby, but wouldn’t they fit perfectly into that prenatal window?

Three weeks later, no such plans have come to fruition (speaking of coming to fruition, neither has the baby fully ‘ripened’ yet). It’s not that I’ve been tired or felt low energy; surprisingly, this has been one of the most energetic periods of my life. But instead of being a time of reflection and creativity, this is a season of productivity and execution. I haven’t written a lick (save this blog post), but between Liz and I, we’ve managed four construction projects and a roof replacement, painted the nursery, bought a new car, run innumerable errands, and dealt with all those items that end up labeled ‘eventually’ on our to-do list. I changed my name with the last few annoying providers. I ordered frames for our wedding pictures. I got our knives professionally sharpened. I arranged for an arborist to trim our trees. The carpet cleaner comes today.

Some call it nesting, but it doesn’t feel that way. Looking at my lists, a minority of the tasks are birth or baby related. Further, few of them are new adds to the to-do list; they are all long-standing tasks which we knew had to get done at some point. More than anything, now feels like a great period of ‘getting shit done’ — a time to tackle what hasn’t been done in the last eighteen years of adulthood and certainly won’t get done for the next eighteen years of parenthood.

Given my earlier expectations of this being a time of reflection and creation, my struggle is finding the meaning and purpose in it. I know what’s meaningful to me about writing, but what’s the meaning of name changes and knife sharpening? I have a suspicion that this is all an early invitation to reconceive meaning in the context of pregnancy and parenthood — an invitation simply to find value in the doing-ness instead of obsessing about the being-ness beneath.

Meredith

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A moment of peace in the productivity. Photo credit: Kimberly Fabbri Photography.

Leading With Meaning

There are many responsibilities we ask our leaders to take on:  setting the vision, making decisions, managing stakeholder relationships, and igniting our own motivation.  Often underappreciated, however, is the role leaders can and should play in interpreting and understanding the world, particularly when faced with change.  Is that 3% increase in revenues good or bad?  Are we threatened or energized by our rival’s new product launch?  Should we feel concerned that digital is changing the landscape of our industry or confident that we’re out ahead of the challenge?

Accurately interpreting changes and challenges to our organizations is more important now than it’s ever been.  Since the 1990s, we have recognized that the world is increasingly “VUCA.”  VUCA is a military acronym which describes our current situation as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.  It reminds us that not only is the world changing, it is changing quickly, unexpectedly, and along many dimensions.  This increasing rate of change demands that leaders interpret – and reinterpret – the company’s situation far more frequently than was previously the case.  Particularly in changing situations, effective leaders pair the ability to continuously create and deepen meaning with the ability to push towards right action.  As a result, we see both the situation and ourselves more clearly and are more likely to take appropriate, committed action towards our collective goals.

How is meaning created
There are four broad steps in the process of meaning-making within leadership.  We begin with the facts of the situation, layer on an interpretation of those facts, understand the implications for us individually and collectively, and then emerge to take action based on this deeper understanding.

Alternative approach - With the realm of meaning

A framework for meaning-making in leadership


Situation 
When faced with change, we first ask:  “What’s happening?”  The answer may seem straight-forward:  margins expanded two points, we are about to start a cost-cutting exercise, or the headcount reduction will affect 5% of the workforce.  Of all aspects of meaning-making, the situation is most closely grounded in facts.  That said, the situation often only reflects a selection of relevant facts, rather than everything which is true in the organization.

Interpretation  Moving down the U to interpretation, we start to question “What does it mean?”  This generally begins with a broad assessment of the overall ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of the situation.  Should we be happy or upset about this change?  Great leaders give a more nuanced interpretation of the situation, including the valence of the emotion (e.g., ‘very good’, ‘somewhat bad’) and the details behind it.  While we often consider our interpretations to be objectively true in the world, leaders know that interpretation is malleable.  Revenues up 3% can be exceptional and beyond expectations, deeply disappointing and requiring serious action, or innumerable other options given the context and ambitions of an organization.  Effective leaders guide followers through this interpretation, helping them to understand the right way to think about the new information.

Implication  A clear view of the situation and interpretation brings us to the question of implications.  The fundamental question of implication is “Who are we?”  This piece of the U is often tied up in deep questions of identity.  Followers ask:  “If our performance is not good enough, what does that say about us?  And what does that say about me?”  This is where an individual’s stake in the situation enters the conversation as followers consider both “Who are we collectively?” and “Who am I in this situation?”  Frequent answers come in the form of “We’re the type of company that. . .” or “I’m the type of person who. . .”  These questions draw on the cornerstones of individual and corporate identity for their answers:  What do we value?  What are our beliefs?  And what are our fears?  Leaders know that elegantly taking the conversation to this level has the potential to connect listeners with the purpose, mission, vision, and values which fire right action and increase individual commitment to the collective.

Action  Finally, we emerge to ask “What’s next?”  Note that the action here can result in either a state of being (“here’s how we want to be in the midst of this”) or an act of doing (“here’s what I want you do to next”).  Either way, it’s a call to action for the followers.  A good leader will ensure that this action builds off everything that comes before – the situation, its interpretation, and its implications.  Beyond this, a great leader will also relate this particular set of actions to a continuous thread, articulating how the answer to ‘what’s next’ ties to ‘what we were doing before’ and ‘where we’re headed.’  The situation – and any change required in reaction to it – is seen in the broader narrative of the organization.

 

How this is different 
In a quickly changing world, we have become accustomed to move quickly between the situation and our resultant action.  When faced with a situation, our instinct is often to fix it or change it.  We skip from “What’s going on?” to “What’s next?,” focusing on movement at the expense of meaning.  Unfortunately, confining ourselves to the realm of movement is increasingly limiting.  Moving from the situation directly to action misses the opportunity – and necessity – to create resonance with stakeholders.  It ignores the emotional and existential questions that emerge within an organization, preferring to keep things at the level of ‘all business.’  While this may seem ‘cleaner’ in some ways, it demonstrates either an ignorance of or willful ignoring of truth.  Followers will – and indeed they must – find interpretations and implications for events, whether guided by leaders or found independently.  Leaders who are willing to go there with their followers, instead of leaving them to take this journey alone, build commitment and resonance in the organization.  By moving thoughtfully into the realm of meaning, they choose grounded action instead of immediate reaction.

Old approach - The realm of movement

Our conditioned way of moving forward from situations – all within the realm of movement

How to apply this approach
As with all frameworks, there are some things this approach helps us see and some things it obscures.  It is not right to apply this framework in all situations; indeed, it is not always appropriate or necessary.  Instead, what is important is that leaders are ‘at choice’ with their approach.  Is the situation complex, uncertain, or particularly important?  Does it call for a connection to meaning?  Straight-forward or routine situations are not helped – and indeed may be hindered – by this level of processing.  But the more ambiguous the situation or the more sizable the impact, the more important it is to lead one’s colleagues through this process of adjusting their understanding of the world.  The goal is that we, as leaders, choose our communication style in each case.

Doing this well takes great capability in a leader.  It is hard and sometimes uncomfortable work.  First, it requires immense self-knowledge and maturity on the part of the leader to walk through the U process independently.  She must understand the breadth of interpretations and the depth of implications before communicating these to others.  As such, this work cannot be done by communications specialists or speechwriters; to be authentic and effective, the leader must walk the path herself.  Second, meaning-making requires a capacity to communicate this same journey to others and to hold the space for the organization to follow through the realms of meaning and out the other side.

When practiced iteratively in response to various situations, effective meaning-making co-creates the story of an organization in response to the challenges it faces along the way.  The leader weaves the story of not only what we’re doing and where we’re going, but also the story of who we are and why this work is important.  By reinterpreting and renegotiating our identity as protagonists in the organization’s story, the followers also see more clearly their role in the hero’s journey and their contribution to the success of the organization’s mission.

Meredith

Questions for reflection

  • When do you take time to create meaning?  When are you inclined to move straight to action?
  • Where are you uncertain about your own situation?  Where are you in need of deeper connection to meaning?
  • Where might your followers or teammates benefit from clearer interpretation and understanding the personal implications of a situation?

Hacking Your ‘To Do’ List

I’ve often considered this question:  with so many competing priorities, how do we embed change into our everyday?

In 2013, I experimented with creating an accountability checklist.  It included space for everything from hours slept to minutes meditated.  It included a reminder to send notes to everyone who had a birthday that day, a place to mark down how many outstanding messages were in my Gmail and Outlook, and a check box to indicate I flossed.  Not every ambition was achievable every day – and, equally importantly, not every one of them was resonant every day.  As the months passed, I realized that while my list included many worthy goals, I was layering on accountability for more and more to dos, rather than accounting for how I wanted to be.

The question had become more complex:  It is not only a questions of how do we embed change into our everyday, but how do we embed change when it reflects the nebulous ‘ways we want to be’ instead of the more tangible ‘things we want to do’?

My solution – and one that has naturally stuck for a couple of years now – is to make a ‘to be’ list when I make my daily ‘to do’ list.  If you’re anything like me, writing a to do list comes naturally; my brain cannot account for everything that needs to get done, so I write it all down.  This became a natural departure point for the ways I wanted to be.  Here is my approach (repeated daily):

First, I list all my calendar items for the day.  These are my fixed commitments.  From meetings to appointments to social events, they’re unlikely to move.  This provides me with an idea of how much additional time remains.

Second, I list all my to dos.  What are the other things I need to accomplish today?  Sometimes this is a long list of mini-tasks, sometimes it is bigger blocks of thinking work that need space.  My calendar helps determine what’s possible.  For example, if I lack a stretch longer than thirty minutes, I won’t be able to make progress against my bigger tasks in that amount of time.  Thus, I will either break big tasks down into reasonable pieces or won’t put them on today’s list at all.  This helps me narrow my focus to what’s realistically do-able today.

So far, this sounds like a fairly normal approach.

The difference comes in the last step.  Finally, I add my to be list to the same piece of paper.  This connects my overarching personal development goals to the realities of today.  I consider where am I headed, who I’m becoming, and what skills I’m trying to build to get me there.  With this big ambition in mind, I look at my emerging list.  The intersection of my long-term aspirations and everyday realities gives me a handful of ideas of how I want to show up on that day in particular.  For example:

If I have a lot of calls, I might add:  “Listen intently and be fully present”.
If I see a block of time in the evening with less to do, I might add:  “Make time to connect with Liz tonight”.
If I have lots of thinking work to do and afraid that I’ll become too ‘caught up in my head’, I might add:  “Be connected with my body”.
If I see a one-on-one meeting with someone on my team, I might add:  “Show compassion and love”.

Happily, the bullet points I put on my ‘to be’ list rarely add more things to do; instead, they inform how I act while going about my day.

The power of the To Be List comes from setting micro-intentions about how to be and embedded them in the reality of your day-to-day.

How would tomorrow look different if you considered both what to do and how to be?
Meredith

to be 2

What’s Behind Your Beliefs?

I recently re-read Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset.  She argues that one orientation – an individual’s relationship to growth – underlies nearly all aspects of life.  If someone adopts a growth mindset, he believes his abilities (and those of others) can develop through dedication and hard work.  If someone adopts a fixed mindset, he believes his abilities are unchangeable; one is born with abilities, and those determine his success.  Dweck’s argument states that nearly all metrics for success – everything from productivity to quality of relationships – are positively correlated with a growth mindset.

Happily, this work brought mindsets into the public consciousness in a bigger way.  However, Dweck’s focus on the growth/fixed mindset alone limits what mindsets can help us see.  Ultimately, there are a handful of foundational mindsets that drive our orientation to the world.  It may be surprising, but all our many differences in religion, politics, and philosophy are built upon only a handful of foundational beliefs.

What are mindsets?
You can think of mindsets as the mega-beliefs underlying human existence.  People have many small beliefs that like “putting the forks handle-side-up in the dishwasher is good” or “Boy Scouts have a strong moral compass.”  But the mindsets I’m talking about are bigger than those.  They are fundamental orientations to the world upon which many of our functional, everyday beliefs are built.  These mindsets are the topics of heated philosophical debates, the common understandings of political parties, and the cornerstones of many of the world’s religions.

What are the foundational mindsets?
I see thirteen foundational mindsets, split into two categories:  mindsets about ‘how the world works’ and mindsets about ‘how you engage’ with that world.  This list is not exhaustive, but they tend to be the most salient mindsets in our experience.  For each of the thirteen dimensions there are two opposing beliefs that sit on either end of a spectrum.

foundational mindsets

As these dimensions are fundamental, all sorts of beliefs build off them.  For example, your mindset around availability (e.g., your sense of whether the world is lacking or abundant) can inform your sense of self-worth (e.g., feeling like you are enough or not), your financial decisions (e.g., saving more or spending more), and your opinions on tax policy (e.g., redistributing income versus not).  Each mindset impacts your relationship with self, your relationship with others, and your relationship with the world.

How do I understand (and maybe even shift) my own mindsets?
Read through the foundational mindsets above a second time and assess yourself. Ask:

  • For each pair, under which mindset do I most commonly operate?
  • Was this a conscious choice, or did I adopt it without consideration?
  • Where did this mindset come from?  Are there patterns of mindsets that come from my family, my religion, my culture, or my country?  What in my experience leads me to operate under this mindset?
  • What actions do I take based on these foundational mindsets?

[Note:  Our mindsets are often so ingrained that we see them as universals.  For the purposes of this exercise, it may be useful to adopt a relative orientation around the dimensions, allowing yourself to at least consider the possibility of the opposite mindset.]

After assessing the way that foundational beliefs show up in your life, it’s most interesting to ask the question: What is the most productive mindset for me to hold?  Dweck argues throughout her book that we can choose our mindset, suggesting that people can develop the capacity to choose a growth mindset, even if their habits and conditioning.incline them to hear the “fixed mindset voice.”  You are similarly able to choose your mindset along any of these dimensions.  In short, you can intentionally build the set of foundational mindsets that best enable you to live the life to which you aspire.  

Please post your thoughts and comments – as well as other mindsets you see.  I’d love to hear what you learned in going through this exercise yourself.

Best,
Meredith
(Primarily operating in a world where truth is relative, people are good, life is magical, things happen for a reason and usually work out, some people are better than others, and there is plenty to go around.  In this world, I know that I can grow and change, choose my path, generally be in control, and let things come easily.  I seek the best, even if I suspect that some things won’t work.)