Five Years Ago…

Five years ago, I started this blog. I launched it in May 2014 while I was visiting the Kloster Arenberg, a convent outside of Frankfurt, Germany. I was then—and continue to be—a junkie for solitary, spiritual retreats. At the time, nothing sounded better than a quiet weekend amongst nuns. Between walks in the woods, visits to the stations of the cross, and trips to the sauna, I managed to write my first post—all 518 words of it.

In that first entry, “The Courage to Begin,” I expressed anxiety that my writing would not be good enough, and that posts shared on the web would be hauntingly permanent. But more than either of those fears, I feared the judgment of others. I wrote, “There’s vulnerability in expressing myself authentically… What if you think I’m silly, stupid, or too much of a hippie? What if you think I’m too pragmatic, too intellectual, or not intuitive enough?” While I was theoretically bought in on authenticity, I dreaded its ramifications both online and in real life.

Yet, over the last five years and seventy-five posts, I continued to put myself out there. With each post, I learned more about myself. With each post, I came to care less about the opinions of others. Just as important, with each post, I came to understand more about what mattered to me. As I moved away from worrying about approval, I focused more and more on my mission: to give a clearer view to life and how to live it meaningfully. Now, I have the courage not only to publish my work online, but also to share the collective wisdom of The Intentional in my second book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, which publishes later this week.

intentional-life-ebook_frontThe element of The Intentional Life that I’m most proud of is its authenticity. While the topic of the book is living intentionally, the content could not be more personal. It includes reflections on major life events (e.g., engagement, marriage, childbirth) and mundane, everyday life (e.g., parenting, cooking, working). It shows my weaknesses, fears, and failings. And, if it has been successful, it gives a better view into what it looks like to live intentionally and calls you to reflect more on your own life.

So happy birthday, The Intentional. I am meaningfully different than I was five years ago when we started this journey. Thank you for providing an incredible platform for my on-going development – and the inspiration for my next big turn as an author.

Meredith
The Intentional Life is live this week!
Order the paperback here.
Order the Kindle version here.
And, if you prefer to hear my voice while you’re out and about, wait for the audiobook release shortly!

 

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

Courage? What Courage?

This past weekend I was in a coaching workshop focused on creating a greater capacity to process your emotions. There was plenty of sharing and plenty of crying. And in the midst of that, there was also a lovely gentleness. When one person would get vulnerable, another person would thank them for their courage.

Courage. The Oxford English Dictionary defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

Definitionally, courage is all about me facing my fears. It is about looking them in the face, moving through them, and emerging out the other side. When I feel myself facing my fears, I demonstrate courage. (See my post on fears here.)

But what happens, like I observed so many times this past weekend, when someone else calls me courageous? When I was called courageous this weekend, it didn’t resonate. I felt mislabeled and, frankly, a little phony. I had simply shared my feelings and shown vulnerability about who I am. For whatever reason, those didn’t seem to be big challenges at the time. And they certainly didn’t seem to deserve the grand label of “courageous.”

So what’s going on here?

I think that when we label someone courageous we’re making not making a statement about them so much as we’re making a statement about ourselves. What we see as courage tells us more about our own fears than it tells us about the character of the person we’re talking about. In short, what we label as courageous often indicates what we fear most.

For example, if I am not afraid of spiders, then shooing a creepy-crawly out of the house feels quite trivial. For someone who hates spiders, however, I’ve done a courageous thing. My courage is really just a reflection of their fear.

What do you see as courageous? And what does that tell you about your own fear landscape?

With fierce love (and periodic courage),
Meredith