(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

2016 Liz & Meredith_0656

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.)


Wheels Turned When We Announced

As we announced our pregnancy, we knew that a certain question would be on the minds of many. In fact, when we had the opportunity to announce to one person face-to-face, we could see a both the huge smile and the wheels furiously turning. The thought bubble above his head read: “Yay! But how did you do it? And am I even allowed to ask?”

I’ll start by saying that we had a wonderful conception process. So many of the medical professionals and administrators we worked with were incredibly understanding and supportive. (We are ready to make our fertility doctor an official member of our family.)

For those who hadn’t thought about how two women go about making a baby, we faced more of a lack of awareness versus any willful ignorance or opposition. Many people simply never thought about how same-sex-partnered women make families. We understand the curiosity and are happy to share parts of the story. Needless to say, a lot of intention went into the conception process (shocking, says Liz).

So, for those of you who have thought about it a lot and for those of you for whom this is completely new: Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of LGBTQ conception!

Putting yourself in our shoes, you can probably intuit our starting point:  lots of eggs, multiple wombs, and no sperm. What might come less intuitively, however, are the many options we found for going about this and the important choices along the way.

For heterosexual couples, the approach to conception can be fairly linear. Most couples first attempt to conceive naturally. If those attempts are unsuccessful, the immediate next step is typically intrauterine insemination (IUI), more typically known as artificial insemination. If this is unsuccessful, then in vitro fertilization (IVF) is in order. As with all things fertility-related, none of this is easy. It can be complex, emotional, iterative, and deeply frustrating; everyone has their own experience and their own story.  In most cases, however, the genetic material involved in each scenario is the same, and there’s an assumption that patients step through the process directionally, attempting one intervention before escalating to the next, more invasive option.

The approach for same-sex partnered women can be completely different. There is a not a linear escalation through increasingly invasive options. Instead, there are discrete choices which represent different processes and, in some cases, different combinations of genetic material. Think of it as four potential options:

  • At-home insemination: Insemination without the advice or support of a doctor.  Includes birth mother’s egg and donor sperm.  This is probably the closest you can get to unaided heterosexual conception.
  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI): A medical provider injects sperm directly into the uterus with a syringe. Includes birth mother’s egg and donor sperm.
  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): Combining of sperm with birth mother’s egg in a Petri dish. The resulting embryos are either transferred into the uterus or cryopreserved for future use. Includes birth mother’s egg and donor sperm.
  • Reciprocal IVF (sometimes called “Shared Maternity” or “Co-Maternity”): Retrieve the eggs from one partner, inseminate those eggs with donor sperm, and then place the resulting embryo into the birther mother. Includes one partner’s egg, donor sperm, and the birth mother’s womb.

[Note that there other fertility interventions beyond these – surrogacy, known donor, etc.; I describe this all as a patient and not as a medical professional, speaking from our personal experience rather than any professional knowledge.]

Unlike heterosexual conception, the order of these options is not in ascending level of intervention. Instead, each represents a different level of Liz’s and my involvement, and that’s the factor we cared about most in determining the right approach for us.

Liz and I chose to do reciprocal IVF, meaning that I am carrying Liz’s egg. We love that everyone is involved in a biological way and that the child will have a unique connection to both of us. While it’s certainly not right for everyone, it’s right for us.

That’s your brief introduction. Now you know ‘how we did that.’ To those who wondered what they could ask in person; as with any pregnancy, the answer is ‘not much.’ The decision and process is different for every couple and while Liz gave me the thumbs-up to write this blog, you aren’t going to see detailed information about the retrieval or transfer. So, when faced with the next LGBTQ pregnancy, I’d suggest doing what so many of our lovely friends and family did and waiting for the soon-to-be parents to share any details on their terms.

Moving forward from here, the next frontier of LGBTQ conception is expanding this dialogue with the broader set of stakeholders – particularly with those who determine what health benefits are supported and for whom (Liz and I aren’t infertile, but that is how the conversations had to start) and how parental leave is described (Daddy-to-Be isn’t exactly a good fit for Liz). But that’s a broader social justice issue for another day. In the interim, we’re just delighted to have this healthy little monkey (parts of both Liz and I) on the way!

With love,
Meredith, over halfway through pregnancy (!)

That First Trimester Feeling

Let’s start with the headline: I’m pregnant. 15 weeks. Due July 25th. Don’t know the sex yet but will find out. Going to stay in our current house. Don’t have a name yet. And yes, our dog, Reese, is very pleased.

That’s the explanation for my blogging hiatus. It’s been 10 weeks and 6 days since I’ve blogged. That is 10 weeks and 6 days of feeling crappy.

Since the positive pregnancy test, my entire lifestyle flipped on its head. I went from keeping a primarily dairy-free, gluten-free, organic, minimally-processed diet to developing the appetite of a toddler. Most of my meals involved chicken tenders. I started eating hard candy. I could not get enough cheese and bread. Being a rational adult, I did try to sneak some cooked kale into my Whole Foods macaroni and cheese, but I couldn’t dupe myself and picked it out. Similarly, my sleeping habits shifted. I typically get eight hours of sleep and then turn into a whirlwind of productivity during the day. Now, I found myself ready to clock up to ten hours a night and cherishing a mid-day nap. Moving my body in any way sounded miserable. Leaving the house was not on my list of things to do. My wife wondered if it was invasion of the body snatchers; I had been replaced by a lethargic look-alike.

My doctor, one of the few people who knew of my pregnancy, described it best: it’s like having a constant low-grade hang over (except there’s no fun night out and no miraculous revival when you finally get out of the woods).

All of this caught me off guard. While I have many close friends with babies, I never fully realized how tough first trimester could be. Instead, my images of pregnancy were vibrant, lively, and (as it turns out) disproportionately second trimester. My Facebook feed abounded with pictures of smiling pregnant women; they ran half-marathons, twisted into impressive yoga poses, and modeled for bump-focused photo shoots. They all had elated grins, silky hair, and more stylish clothes than I have ever worn. Even the pregnant ladies I met in person fit the mold: they ran seven miles a day, designed adorable bump-focused Halloween costumes, and munched on cucumbers when everyone else housed holiday sweets. In short, all the pregnant women I observed embodied the pregnancy glow.

I, on the other hand, was eating a mega-sized bag of gas station Doritos on my drive back from a doctor’s appointment, pants unbuttoned.

All this brought up two major emotions in me: self-blame and competition. First of all, why wasn’t I doing a better job at being pregnant? What was wrong with me? Why was my body acting so strangely – and why was I giving into it? Second, I was resolved not to underperform at this pregnancy thing. What did they all have that I didn’t have? What did I need to do to succeed at this?

In my life, I’ve become accustomed to the idea that thoughtful, diligent action drives results. Do the right work in high school and get into college. Do the right work in college and get a job. Do the right work in my job and craft the life I want.

But that’s the thing I’m learning about pregnancy: there is nothing to do. My body’s got it. Beyond taking some prenatals, cutting the booze, and moving a bit, I can’t do much to influence the development of this baby. S/he is going to grow however s/he grows, whether I eat kale or cookies, whether I run a full marathon or watch a Transparent marathon. To be clear, I’m not giving up my responsibility; I’m just letting go of my control patterns a bit more.

Second trimester has provided more relief and normalcy. I eat vegetables again. I have fewer waves of nausea. I even started doing prenatal yoga (like those ladies in the pictures). But I’m glad to have gone through the unexpected unpleasantness of first trimester. With this little one coming into the world, there will be only more and more things I can’t control, from my child’s feeding schedule to the job s/he chooses after school. In that sense, this lesson in letting go is probably the healthiest thing I could do first trimester (aside from buying the organic version of chicken tenders).

 

baby or burrito 2

Still in the uncertain place:  Is that a baby, or did I eat a burrito?

(Like this post?  Sign up for new posts on The Intentional delivered to your email at the upper right of this page.  I appreciate it!)

 

 

How do you bring gratitude to life?

When I was growing up, we always said grace before eating.  Faster or slower, with more intent or more appetite, we said:

“Lord, bless this food to our use and us to thy service,
And make us ever-mindful of the needs of others. Amen.”

Liz and I preserve the idea of grace, but make it our own.  Each night, when we sit down to dinner, we share gratitudes.  It’s a catalog of things we’re grateful for on that day – everything from the meal to getting a good night’s rest to the view out the window.  In addition to the rotating set of things we appreciate, Liz always ends with “And I’m grateful for the puppy” – at which point we look over to see Reese patiently sitting on the rug, mindful that he can’t enter the dining room while we’re eating.  Then we tuck into the meal and start up some everyday conversation about life.

reese
These nightly gratitudes are daily, private, and modest.  On the other hand, the upcoming holiday of Thanksgiving is annual, in community, and over-the-top.  Thanksgiving asks us to not only reflect on gratitude but to celebrate it.  We cook it, share it with others, Instagram it, and gorge ourselves on it.  Both are lovely ways to engage with gratitude.

When we sit down for an overabundance of food this year, our annual ritual of Thanksgiving and daily ritual of gratitudes will merge.  While pouring far too much gravy over my entire plate, I’ll share with everyone that I’m grateful for:

  • My wife Liz; our equal dedication to making our new marriage great
  • The health of our families and the medical practitioners who have supported us in pursuing well-being
  • A community that we’re increasing rooted in within the Bay Area
  • A home keeps in the heat and keeps out the rain
  • Space to write, time to cook, and motivation to work out
  • Jobs that we enjoy and find meaning in
  • Financial comfort and security
  • People who are willing to engage in open-minded, open-hearted dialogue; everyone who is standing up for love, inclusion, and charity, particularly in our challenges around diversity in this country and our call to take in refugees globally
  • All of you – the anonymous page counts that I see in my dashboard – and the moments when, in casual conversation, you reveal who you are
  • And, of course, the puppy dog

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday, what will you share?

And, beyond that, how do you bring gratitude into your life?  What are your annual rituals of gratitude?  What are your daily rituals of gratitude?

Thinking of you all on the eve of the holiday,
Meredith

Reflections on the Wedding

This weekend, I attended the fourth wedding since my own nuptials in August. With nearly three months of perspective and so many more weddings under my belt, I’m finally ready to reflect back on what I learned through the entire wedding process.
arch
Starting with the planning, I’m grateful that we invested in what we cared about. In the months leading up to the wedding, it horrified me to find out just how much work this whole affair can be. So, I’m glad we picked our battles. Since I cared a lot about the ceremony, we wrote every word of it ourselves (I’m sharing the text in my next post if you’re interested).  Since Liz cared about the music, she picked every song by hand. The flowers that we didn’t care about were perfectly serviceable and lovely accents to the event. I’m glad we reserved our energy and didn’t worry about what mattered less to us.

My first realization during wedding week was that we needed every moment available. In addition to our wedding day, we held an entire week’s worth of events:  drinks at our favorite dive bar, biking across the Golden Gate Bridge, wine tasting in Sonoma, breakfasting with our families, picnicking with everyone in the Presidio, and celebrating our rehearsal at the restaurant where we had our first date.  About 24 hours into our 100+ hour celebration, I saw how much I needed all the remaining time to connect with people and spend solid time with all of them (as well as Liz!). Call me an extrovert, but I couldn’t soak up enough.  I’m grateful we had the luxury of time with so many guests.

In arranging the last-minute details for the wedding, I was touched by how people made themselves ‘of service’ in a beautiful way. In addition to our families and our wedding parties (who all played wonderfully supportive roles), there were unexpected guests who jumped in to help. It was the uncles who carried all the snacks for the wine bus. It was the classmates who helped transport all the alcohol after the picnic. It was the friend who diligently held my drink while I danced. None of them had formal roles, and yet all were so enthusiastically helpful. We will pay this support forward at every wedding we attend.

prep
As the night progressed, I found the old adage to be true – something will go wrong, and you need to let it go. For us, the one thing that went wrong at our wedding was the coffee cups; they were paper cups instead of proper mugs. (Oh the horror!)  Did our guests notice?  No. Did we notice?  Yes. Did our guests care? No. Did we care?  Less than we would have thought, but more than we should have. Let it go and enjoy all that is right.

Looking at the wedding as a whole, my favorite moments were completely unscripted:  the drive to the venue with my parents and bridesmaid, peering out the window as guests arrived, my instinctual reaction when I first saw Liz, the champagne pop, the end of my father’s speech, the first song the DJ played, the last song the DJ played, and the plate of grilled cheese someone gave me. And perhaps more than anything else, I loved the quiet of Liz and I taking the dog for a walk in the full moon well after the wedding was over. I’m glad there was room to savor the little moments.

In my post immediately upon returning from honeymoon, I struggled to wrap my head around the whole event. However, since reflecting more, I’ve realized that every part of a wedding is a public affair. Not only do you celebrate your wedding in public, you process it in public. Typically, I work through life events independently, journaling on my experiences. This approach didn’t resonate for the wedding. It was only when I started to talk to people about the wedding – to hear about their experiences and share my own – that I started to see the meaning of the whole event more clearly. For all the relationship moments that are lived privately, a wedding is public. Meaning is created between people – between Liz and me, between us and our guests – and not in my head alone. Once I understood this, the debrief conversations with guests and my wife took on a new importance. Liz and I jumped into co-authoring a journal of our collective wedding week events to capture everything from a full perspective. We experienced it together, so we needed to process it together as well.

So, to conclude, thank you for digesting this with me and bringing yet another level to the public commitment Liz and I made in August. I’m grateful that you’re all bearing witness to the journey.

Onwards and upwards,
Meredith

P.S.  Congratulations to all the couples whose nuptials we’ve witnessed since our own:  Andrew and Christine, Justin and Pascal, Marla and Jamie, and Jenny and Fico! We’ve loved your lemonade stands, dessert bars, choreographed dances, drag queens, gazing circles, and Texan barbecue. It has been an honor to celebrate with you!

ceremony

How Uber is Healing the World, One Ride at a Time

Living in San Francisco, it’s not uncommon that I hitch an Uber when I need to get around the city.

Debates on Uber continue to make headlines: How should we regulate ride-sharing? Is riding with a stranger safe? Is Uber’s surge pricing unjust? How does ride-sharing impact congestion?

While these debates swirl in my head, I can answer for the goodness of Uber immediately and from my heart: Uber is healing the world, one ride at a time.

Here’s why: Take a typical morning commute. The other day, I felt ambitious, getting up before dawn to work out during pre-business hours. I called an UberX. As always, when I matched for a ride, the driver’s name and photo flashed on my screen. It was DeAndre,* a forty-something black man driving a Prius. His photo showed a wide smile and beautifully-coiffed dreadlocks.
uber call driver
My reaction to seeing a driver’s photo is immediate. Each time, I have a knee-jerk reaction to their most basic demographic details. And, to be completely honest, I have a different reaction to Stephanie, the white, blond twenty-something on my screen versus Jian, the fifty-something Chinese man coming to pick me up. This is where Uber starts to work its magic: my human biases, typically lurking beneath the surface, come to awareness with the flash of the app.
uber peak
While I am embarrassed by these initial reactions, the last few months of studying unconscious bias have helped put this in perspective: Neuroscience proves that acting with bias doesn’t make us bad people, it makes us human. Given the richness of experience, it is impossible for our brains to process all the information we receive. Instead, we process only a fraction of this information consciously while allowing our unconscious brain to sort through the rest with the help of pattern-recognition. These patterns come from our personal experience and broader societal context (both good and bad). This approach can be helpful; we are able to quickly distinguish a butterfly from a bee and act accordingly. Unfortunately, this approach can also be harmful.  When making decisions about human beings, for example, we automatically make assumptions about people, my collection of Uber drivers included. We apply implicit stereotypes according to others’ race, gender, weight, age, and innumerable other dimensions. We’re biased against those who look different from us, and even, in some cases, against those who look like us. Thus, when the face pops up on my app, it brings awarenes sot my crazy web of biases.

But here is the second thing about Uber: I am not limited to living within my biased assumptions about these people. Instead, as we zip across the city, I get to spend a perfectly-orchestrated five, ten, or twenty minutes getting to know the person beyond the assumptions. It is the perfect set-up: a complete stranger, a delimited amount of time, and a willingness to talk. It is my opportunity to connect across differences and prove to myself just how wrong my biases are. In the course of everyday life, it is an opportunity that you can find nearly nowhere else.

After calling an Uber the other day, I jumped in with a forty-something Middle Eastern man named Muhammad. If I had jumped in a taxi with him, I would have kept to myself, falling in line with the norm of silence and ticking through emails on my phone. I would have left the car the same that I entered it. Instead, I met him as a human being. I asked him opening questions that went deeper and deeper: “How long was he driving today? What does he do when he’s not driving? What’s important about that?” I found that Muhammad spends his days as a stay-at-home dad. He loves to play bongos on the beach while his daughter dances. In addition, he planned to take his kids out to their favorite Neapolitan pizza place for dinner that night. I left the car after looking at pictures of his kids and an enthusiastic mutual handshake.

I’m grateful to all my drivers for connecting across humanity, teaching me about their lives, and reprogramming my biases about what is possible. I’m grateful to the traditionally-dressed African man who gave me lessons on veganism. I’m grateful to the gay Palestinian who reminded me how brilliant the Bay Area can be. I’m grateful to overweight suburban dad who gave me a recipe for lean broccoli casserole.

I wish you all many delightful Uber-enabled interactions.  Post your best stories in the comments below.

Ride on, my friends,
Meredith

*Names changed out of respect to the lovely human beings I’ve met

For more on unconscious bias and bias in general, here are my top picks:
Privilege, Power and Difference by Allan Johnson
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives by Howard Ross

To test your own unconscious biases, take the Implicit Association Test on Harvard’s website

So That Happened

As many of you know, I spent the last three weeks getting married to Liz, celebrating with friends and family, and running off to Bora Bora on my honeymoon. I can think of few other periods in my life as dense with experience, emotion, and meaning as these. Typically, when life feels full like this, I depend upon writing. Through writing, I process emotions, document events, and envision the future. However, uncharacteristically, I feel blocked from writing about the past few weeks. I’ve opened and closed my journal a dozen times. I’ve beat myself up about not writing. I’ve avoided it entirely. And yet, when it’s hard to begin processing, I suppose you have to start somewhere:

ceremony

Wedding week kicked off with dinner at French Laundry, the obligatory City Hall visit, beers and tacos on the waterfront, wine tasting in Sonoma, sitting around the Inn fire pit, open mic toasts at the rehearsal, and thirty people who rarely ride bikes pedaling over the Golden Gate Bridge. There was the ceremony we wrote ourselves, Reese’s best behavior as he came up the aisle, the reflections of our officiants, the surprise first dance starring our fathers, and the encouragement to “Live Long and Prosper.” There was the mist in the Presidio, the clear view of the Golden Gate, the sanctity of the space, the smell of eucalyptus, and the mountains of petits fours. There were bottles of champagne sabered by knives (more or less successfully), family-style platters passed around the table, a chance to wear my mother’s veil, a second wedding dress, and abounding grilled cheese. There was biking the approach to Sausalito with my uncle, calculating last-minute vendor tips with my bridesmaid Eleanore, the dance with my dad, and the last picture of the night with my mom. There was the note Liz sent me our wedding morning, my gasp at first seeing her, and walking Reese together under the full moon after the whole reception finished. And all this was before the honeymoon. It was before bottles of champagne on arrival, tropical flowers from my wife surprising me in our room, and fresh coconuts opened by the gardener. It was before Liz tackled the trails on our ATV, we choreographed team jumps off our overwater bungalow, and I fell face-first off a stand-up paddleboard. In each of these experiences, there were dense emotions as well: the joy of seeing friends and family, the pressure of coordination, the annoyance of detail-orientation, the hope that all would go well, the confidence that this was so right, the overwhelming love of everyone in attendance, and the gratitude for everyone and for each other. Coming out of these few weeks, there’s a distinct happy/sad feeling, just like the happy/sad tears I cried at the toasts, on the dance floor, and when the wedding was all thankfully, impossibly, heart-breakingly over.

Why is it so hard to write about the wedding? First, it’s too big, too dense, and too meaningful. I find it impossible to select a vignette that’s representative of the whole or condense the entirety down into something comprehensive. Thus, instead of presenting a thoughtful deconstruction of a focused experience (as is often my approach on The Intentional), I can only come up with the incomplete litany of impressions above.

Second, it’s hard to reflect upon the wedding/honeymoon period because it’s not yet over; we’re still in the ‘liminal’ period. Liminality is a concept in anthropology and ritual studies; it describes the disorienting in-between-ness that happens after you leave one role (e.g., engaged person) and before you take on your new role (e.g., married person). You’re no longer this, but not yet that. Because we start back to work tomorrow, Liz and I have not yet re-emerged into the world as married folk. Life is still filled with wedding logistics, honeymoon-worthy candlelit dinners, and a distinct separation from everyday life. Perhaps, in addition to the sheer volume of experiences, I’m also struggling with reflecting upon this experience as I’m still in the midst of it.

Looking forward, I suspect it will take time to integrate the events of the last few weeks; as days and weeks pass, I’ll be better able to digest the great volume of experiences and benefit from the perspective of being back in the flow of life. Self-growth often takes conscious processing, and there are certainly more wedding posts to come. What form my continued reflection takes, there’s also a refreshing finality in closing this in-between period. It means that, on the most important level, the change is complete. I re-enter the world tomorrow fundamentally and delightfully different from who I’ve been: I’m now married to Liz.

With love to all those who read this, all those who celebrated with us, and, above all, my lovely wife,
Meredith Whipple Callahan

(More to come!)

first dance