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

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.)


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?

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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

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