The less sugar-coated version of desert

No, we’re not talking about those sweet treats that evoke feelings of comfort, happiness, and mayhaps a slight tinge of guilt. Instead, we’re dropping one “s” and focusing on the bizarre cultural phenomena of ascribing certain people’s situations to their supposed ethics.

Case in point:

Whether outwardly acknowledged or not, Americans (generally) hold two distinct viewpoints about people:

Wealthy people deserve to be rich.

Poor people deserve to be poor.

You may read those two sentences above and exclaim (perhaps just in your head) that you would never subscribe to those sentiments. Those are ludicrous and unfair!

I’m in complete agreement with you. Yet, I see that even those of us who like to believe that we’re above such projections often help perpetuate them through unconscious actions.

Before we dive into what those might be, let’s push pause for a moment and ask: how did we get here? Why do Americans believe so strongly in the correlation of someone’s socioeconomic status and the values/skills/traits that contributed to their lot?

A 2017 Pew Research study examined the question of what makes someone rich or poor and found that partisan affiliation was one of the most significant influences on viewpoint.

By about three-to-one (66% to 21%), Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say hard work, rather than a person’s advantages, has more to do with why someone is rich. By nearly as wide a margin, Democrats and Democratic leaners say the opposite: 60% say a person is rich because they had more advantages than others, while just 29% say it is because they have worked harder.

We Americans heart (as the kids say) the idea of the self-made person. You know, the one where someone (typically a man) pulls himself up by bootstraps and changes the world. But, guess what folks? These types of stories don’t speak for the hundreds of thousands who have been disenfranchised to even begin accessing certain resources to move beyond their current socioeconomic status. No access to loans to start a business; social supports for guidance; or even safe spaces to allow an idea to bear fruit.

Check this reporting out from Sam Pizzigati at Inequality.org:

“Just over 3 percent of the Forbes 400, the United for a Fair Economy researchers found, have left no good paper trail on their actual economic backgrounds. Of the over 60 percent remaining, all grew up in substantial privilege.

Those “born on first base” — in upper-class families, with inheritances up to $1 million — make up 22 percent of the 400. On “second base,” households wealthy enough to run a business big enough to generate inheritances over $1 million, the new UFE study found another 11.5 percent.”

If working hard equals being born in the right family, then congratulations! You’re ability to control the environment where sperm and egg came together forming you is commendable and well-deserving of wealth. But, I am going to hazard a guess that no one would admit to being successful at such an endeavor. Generally speaking, members of the upper and owning classes don’t work harder than members of the poor, working, and middle classes. They just got lucky.

How us do-gooders help to stop reinforcing this notion of desert

If we truly believe that much of our life is determined by luck — where we’re born, who we are born to, the societal expectations for our identities — then we need to be active in dismantling this “norm.”

#1: Eliminate the knee jerk reaction to include language around “people abusing the system” when talking about social supports.

I hear this far too often. This qualifer — “I know some people abuse the system and all…” Why is this commentary necessary? There are a lot of systems — social, financial — that people “abuse” every day. Sometimes those individuals make a lot of money. No, that’s not people utilizing the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) (in 2017, 42 million Americans were enrolled).

 #2: Talk about other forms of government “handouts” that exclusively benefit wealthy, owning class individuals.

If you were completing your own tax paperwork this year, did you celebrate the credits you were able to claim? Mortgage? Educational payments? How about contributions to your retirement?

Oh, did you think you weren’t one of “those people” receiving government handouts? And those three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Yacht taxes. Rental property write-offs. No more estate tax.

And think of all of the incentives local and state governments offer multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies.

#3: Reflect on how you evaluate philanthropy and charitable giving.

Making a donation to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization makes people feel good (and it used to make people feel even better because you could write it off on your taxes! Now, less incentive. But again, who does that credit really benefit?). But, what does a 501(c)(3) designation truly tell you about a nonprofit?

It tells you that someone(s) completed the appropriate paperwork and paid the fee to the Internal Revenue Service. Consider it akin to the SAT or ACT tests many high school students may choose to take to pursue higher education. Do those tests — or any standardized test — truly evaluate someone’s preparedness for learning or intelligent? No. The tests reveal how a student performed on that test on that date at a certain time. That’s it. Sure, if you have access to resources, you might have been able to receive more instruction on how to prepare; you may have developed better study habits because of the schools you’ve been able to attend. But, it doesn’t mean that you’re better than someone else who didn’t.

Community-based organizations are the same. Just because a group doesn’t have that shiny seal of approval from the IRS, or has less than 10% “overhead”, or whatever Guidestar review it should have, doesn’t mean that the organization and its people aren’t doing vital work.  Avoid fanning “the flames of injustice.”

We can get hung up on giving to nonprofits that have the best name recognition or the shiniest covers. But real work to eradicate hunger, upend poverty, and dismantle systemic racism doesn’t come in 120lb gloss paper. It comes with sweat and tears. It can’t be captured in an annual report and doesn’t make an appearance at the gala.

Desert. Do people deserve their lot? Do you work hard? Are you wealthy? Do you know individuals who have struggled financially? Are you aware of the wealth you may have, even if income seems a bit spotty?

 

 

 

 

Being the #1 charity won’t end systemic racism

On my drive home from the gym this morning, I spotted a proclamation from the roadside glowing marquee of a nonprofit organization:

“Ranked #1 charity in North Carolina” alongside the Guidestar logo

This organization provides vital services to people experiencing homelessness; who are facing food insecurity; who are under-or-unemployed; who lack access to mental or physical health services.

So, what’s the problem? Why should we not also celebrate the achievement of being recognized as the top charity across the Old North State?

As my friend Atrayus reminded us at the YNPN Triangle NC #NonprofitSTRONG Summit in 2016, on the whole, nonprofit organizations are not achieving their missions. Whether we work to end homelessness, increase access to the voting booth, or close the achievement gap, we’re working in systems that have been intentionally designed to lead to inequities. Therefore, until we address that we’re operating in a flawed framework, we will continue to fail, number one rankings or not.

Each time the conversation, especially in nonprofit circles, turns to tackling systemic issues, the typical positive, optimist outlooks morph into echo chambers of negativity.

“It’s too much.”

“It’s too hard.”

“No one will fund that type of work.”

“(Insert group impacted by nonprofit’s service) needs help now. They don’t have time to wait for us to construct a new infrastructure.”

Each of these pushbacks isn’t wrong, per say. A commitment to systemic change can be too much; it is neither easy work nor work considered sexy by typical funders. Yes, people/animals/communities/natural resources do need champions in the here and now.

When we hear of individuals in other fields — science, business, sports — overcoming seemingly impossible odds, we laud them with accolades. They are our new muses, our latest inspirations. These innovators have defied what we thought possible within our current systems of knowledge and understanding.

Why can’t the nonprofit sector do this too? Why do we let the trope of being undervalued and meek permeate into our assessment of our own capabilities to upend and re-imagine systems? We are committed, passionate individuals whose values extend beyond the individual and to the whole. But, if we refuse to shrug off the restraints we have placed on ourselves — not to mention the ones broader society wraps around our bodies, hearts, and minds — then we will never be able to fully live our values.

Systems are behemoths. They can exist without us even interacting with them. And we allow this cycle to continue, day in, day out. I believe this happens because we either aren’t able or aren’t willing to push pause, really take a close look our systems, and name them for what they are: racist. Therefore, systems plus racism equals…

Systemic racism. The folks at Race Forward have fabulous resources on what systemic racism is and how it shows up across a myriad of ways: employment, incarceration rates, education, health outcomes. Here’s one video focused specifically on how systemic racism is connected to wealth.

It doesn’t matter if we’re good people committed to racial equity. It doesn’t matter if we work at a nonprofit with a fabulous mission. We need to continue to do both of this AND actively disrupt systemic racism.

How do we start?

  1. Learn the definitions. What is race? What is racism? Is it the same as prejudice or discrimination? Community-based organizations like Dismantling Racism offers answers and more free resources.
  2. Explore how systemic racism shows up in your life, work, and community. Tap into an existing organization or network to get started.
  3. Learn more about systemic racism. Check out Podcasts like “Pod Save The People” . Read books like “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, “Stamped From The Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi or any on lists provided by Internet-favorites Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. Attend a training or workshop. Talk with friends who have to a training or workshop.

Baby steps, yes. Every day, we have to take at least one step. What is your step today? What will be your step tomorrow?

Plod forward. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. But it’s way to truly achieve what we all believe in.

Instead of charity rankings, we’ll be able to close our doors. Nonprofits shouldn’t have to exist. We fill holes, gaps, flaws in our systems.

Let’s go to work.

Stop Telling Women to Smile

The costs of emotional labor

Emotional labor: something we give daily, often without much consideration. And, it is also something we demand daily from others. Again, this expectation often stems without much thought or deep analysis as to why we expect others to give their emotional labor freely and what the ramifications and costs are for that individual.

Let’s back up for a moment: what is emotional labor? Here are a few examples and perspectives:

“In a work context, emotional labor refers to the expectation that a worker should manipulate either her actual feelings or the appearance of her feelings in order to satisfy the perceived requirements of her job. Emotional labor also covers the requirement that a worker should modulate her feelings in order to influence the positive experience of a client or a colleague.” – Rose Hackman, The Guardian

“Emotional labor includes the management of negative emotions and the cultivation/performance of positive emotions as determined by the nursing role (Bolton, 2001). In addition to the specialized, technical labor required of today’s nurses, they are required to effectively manage their own and others’ (e.g., patients, physicians, aides, coworkers) emotions, so patients and their families retain a sense that calm, confident, and effective care is being provided. As others have shown, however, the expectations surrounding the performance of such emotional labor—or the management of one’s observed emotional displays for pay (Hochschild, 1983)—are not equally distributed across all occupational sectors or incumbents (Fixsen & Ridge, 2012; Wingfield, 2010a). Beginning with Hochschild’s (1983) original study, for example, the performance of emotional labor has been framed as a gendered experience linked to sociocultural stereotypes of women as more emotionally competent and community-oriented (Ridgeway, 2008).” – “I Can Never Be Too Comfortable: Race, Gender, and Emotion at the Hospital Bedside”, Marci D. Cottingham,  Austin H. Johnson and Rebecca J. Erickson, National Institute of Health

““When they go low, we go high,” said Michelle Obama during that epic, make-you-want-to-cry speech on the first night of this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. For the next 15 minutes, Mrs. Obama moved a nation from the needle of fear and hate sharpened so dangerously by Donald Trump. FLOTUS spoke to the hearts of a country, dealt with the hate of an opponent, invoked a bloody history, and re-imagined “Make America Great Again” to “America is the greatest country on earth.” She lifted the DNC from confusion and controversy to optimism and committed engagement. Essentially, FLOTUS was doing the emotional labor so many Black women do in nation building, movement building and electoral politics. Black women’s emotional labor matters.” – Esther Armah, Ebony Magazine

Bottom line: there are expectations built within our culture that women, especially women of color, have to take on certain tasks and perform in certain ways. Why? Somewhere in our DNA, we were born with a skill set that makes us the best:

  • caregivers
  • event planners
  • notetakers
  • listeners
  • secretaries
  • assistants
  • customer service representatives
  • nurses
  • wait staff
  • flight attendants
  • doormats

Whatever we can do to make your experience the most pleasant, we will. Or, at least that’s the social value underpinning the concept of emotional labor. And that value does not require or even suggest that women should receive greater financial compensation for that work; equal access to power or decision-making; or even outward acknowledgement of their contributions.

Conversations around emotional labor are happening with greater frequency, which is great. Yet, how do we shift from deep discussions to real actions to address this social and economical inequity?

Reader! You can make an impact on this at your workplace, on boards you sit on, wherever you have the space to exercise privilege and power. And, you can most certainly take responsibility for shifting these norms within your own mind.

Don’t pigeonhole women to play key roles within a team/organization.

Y’all: I’m tired of the assumption that because of our “good handwriting”  or “innate skills” we will want to be the secretary/note-taker of the group. Those roles require the individual to divide their attention between participation and record-keeping, which means less opportunity to fully participate in the process. Women, especially women of color, have been shut out of these processes for eons. Step up and assume that role. Hold other men in the group accountable for doing the same.

Provide financial compensation for trainings, speaking engagements, and knowledge-sharing.

I work in the nonprofit sector, and I get it: we feel stretched when it comes to allocating funding for professional development and thought-leaders. Whether we’re planning a conference or hosting a forum, we request that experts donate their time and talent for our cause/purpose. Good for our bottom line = not equitable for said speaker.

We live in a world where we have access to vast amounts of information, and most of it comes without a price tag. At least, a visible one. But, we need to recognize that within that tweet (shout-out to MonĂ©t Noelle Marshall who educated me on this frequent type of informational co-option sans compensation) or workshop, someone is providing a service for you. They aren’t just “doing their job” but are actively participating in arming you with knowledge to make a difference, which will often result in a net positive for you/your organization. Pay them. If you don’t have the means to cut them a check, find other ways to compensate them in the exchange: a meal, in-kind marketing and promotion, etc. While those other options are fine, I would still argue that actual payment in cash is the ultimate goal. We can do a better job to allocate those funds within our budgets from the start. (Yes, we’re talking about being intentional.)

Let go of norms that people in certain jobs should act in a certain way.

There are certain jobs in our world that fall under the category of “performance”: dancers, musicians, actors, etc. The server at the restaurant is not one of those jobs. Neither is a receptionist. There are a myriad of examples where any gendered or non-gendered individual can hold a certain title, but we (consumers) expect different outputs depending on whether we perceive that person as female or not.

It behooves us to question our own emotions when we feel slighted in a service experience. Is our reaction based on our perception that the individual, because of their gender, should have acted in a certain way? What are the dangers of the assumption? Lost wages, lost jobs. The continuation of gendered norms that transfer to the next generation. The toll it takes on that individual (self-worth, self-acceptance).

As a white woman, I cannot and should not speak for women of color who are disproportionately burdened by emotional labor expectations. Here are voices speaking to this intersectional oppression and ways to dismantle such discriminatory norms:

A final takeaway from Adia Harvey Wingfield in a 2016 Atlantic piece on this fraught and frustrating topic:

“On the face of it, emotional labor can seem something normal and commonplace in an economy where service jobs are so ubiquitous. But as a lot of research shows, the pressure to produce and manufacture certain emotional states can be more draining for some employees than others. When thinking through various workplace inequalities, such as wage gaps and a lack of diversity in certain occupations, it’s just as critical to consider how important unseen labor is in shaping how work gets done, and who gets to do it.”

Featured image credit: Clyde Fitch Report: http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2016/02/black-women-misogynoir-communication/

Beyond the hype: a Real Life Resume

Every job-seeker’s best friend and worst enemy: the resume. We can thank Leonardo da Vinci for introducing the modern take of selling ourselves on paper.

(What would Leonardo da Vinci’s resume even look like? Thanks to the Internet, my question has been answered.)

As someone who went through the process semi-recently of updating and recasting my resume, I find the entire process laborious and limiting. Sure, you as my future employer want to quickly see how I performed in previous professional experiences. You want to understand the scope of my responsibilities, the actions I took, and how those actions brought growth and achieved goals for the organization.

But, if our workplaces are where we spend the majority of our waking time during a day, and if we’re going to foster authentic relationships with the people we work with, would you want to know things about me beyond my previous titles and functions? 

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Like my love for photos in cut-outs?!

While the interview process opens the door to explore what attributes and skills we would bring to the table (and those darn weaknesses too!), most of us won’t get that far in the process. The employment funnel is narrow. As our sectors continue to emphasize the role of inclusion, diversity, and equity as part of our hiring practices, why not then also re-imagine what we’re asking from applicants in the first place?

Last year, Unilever nixed resumes all together.  Instead, the company starts with LinkedIn profiles (arguably a similar platform to resumes) but then puts applicants through neuroscience-based games. The AI system matches outcomes to key positions available, which has resulted in a more diverse workforce and a shorting hiring window.

Other companies, in step with the digital age, have requested candidates to send them examples of their web presence (i.e. social media accounts) in lieu of resumes. Additionally, online applications offer open-ended questions, such as “What is the best job you’ve ever had?” to learn more about the person’s fit. Many of us can check a lot of the same boxes when we apply for a similar job. What makes us stand out from the pack?

I’d like to throw out the idea of a RLR (Real Life Resume) that could be in addition to a professional CV or as part of an application process. Or really, let’s burn recycle traditional resumes. How many do you have sitting around in old portfolios right now? Different versions saved on your computer? How many did you leave on your former employer’s computer?

doit

What would we include on our RLR? (Yep, we’re going full acronym now, folks). Well, that depends! As you think about what skills and strengths you’ve picked up in the course of being human, what would you want your next boss to know? What are the learnings that make you the right person for the job?

I’ve thought about this question at random times, like when I’m folding laundry or lose another earring (because if I had to name a real life weakness, it would be maintaining pairs of earrings. How do people do this? I have a drawer full of sad, lonely earrings). Here are some items I would put on my RLR:

  • I like to get things done quickly and efficiently. I refuse to leave one grocery bag behind in the car, no matter the number of bags, the weight of each bag, or that my arms are under threat of losing circulation.  Ethos = leave no one behind. 
  • As an only child growing up on a street filled with many retirees, I learned how to use my imagination, such as inventing other people to join me in a game of Clue and pretending I was the next Shannon Miller competing for Team USA in the Summer Olympics. Although the latter dream was shattered (literally as I went through the glass top table in our living room), I walked away with a more resilient, creative spirit. And some cool scars on my ankles. Creativity is critical for innovation, and having fun. 
  • Being tidy? That’s so passe. I’m a master of making piles. Piles of all sizes. Short piles. Tall piles. Piles of papers. Piles of clothes. A combo pile even! Why put something away that you may need later — tomorrow, six months from now? I have learned the art of piling from my mother; this family tradition may extend back generations. Documentation is a tad fuzzy on the topic, but take my word for it: my craft can transform an empty desk into a sight of wonder. Or, at least busyness. And aren’t optics undervalued in this day and age? Piles project productivity. 
  • At times, my mouth wants to work faster than my brain will allow it. The result? I provide humor and delight through my ability of selecting the wrong word to use.  Aaron has dubbed this skill “word scramble.” For instance, I’ve told Aaron that I look forward to going whaling in Alaska someday. I may have also used the word “undercarriage” during a board game with friends that may have inspired a future tattoo. Despite the initial shock of embarrassment, I am right there laughing along with you. If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?

Whether it’s the realization that my kitchen floors will never be crumb-free or my cats will never sleep past 5:00am ever again, I’ve learned how to let the small things go so I can refocus my energy on what matters. If that’s not a skill from real life to bring into the work place, I don’t know what is.

Other potential candidates to offer up during my next job hunt on what value add I can offer: freestyle rapping; competitive skeeball; making tofu tasty.

What I can’t offer: faking accents; a decent poker face; pretending that I enjoy stuffing envelopes.

What would you on your Real Life Resume? 

Knowing when to step aside

I’ve crawled into bed after 11:00pm the past two nights. As a conditioned morning person, I am feeling the grind this morning.

Speaking of feeling the grind: when it comes to leadership positions and the people who hold them, when is the right time for people to move on in order to bring in a fresh perspective and style to the work?

michael-scott-rather-be-feared-or-loved_orig

Transitions in leadership have enormous implications for an organization’s strategic direction and culture. But, our nonprofit sector seems more comfortable sticking our heads in the ground rather than preparing and planning for the inevitable and necessary.

That’s right: necessary. Our society values longevity and gives credence to those who stay in positions of power for years. But, at what cost? That isn’t to imply that such leaders always fail or bring harm to the organizations they serve. That certainly could be the case. It’s more about recognizing that our influence and decision-making will put the organization down a series of paths aligned with our values. Yet, think of all of the other roads available to the organization that could have an even bigger impact. But, we’re not able to see those options, not because we don’t want to, but because we operate from what we know. If we haven’t walked a particular walk, then we’re not going to be able to find that way.

A lot of people have asked me this year how it feels to no longer be on the YNPN Triangle NC Board of Directors. Did I miss it? Was I sad to no longer be a part of a tight-knit group of motivated, dedicated leaders?

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This was the North Carolina contingency in Atlanta for the 2017 National YNPN conference. What an easy group to love!

When put that way, of course. The organization brought incredible people to my life who have become some of my closest friends and trusted confidantes. But, when it came to my role, particularly after serving as Chair for three years, I knew that I had given all of myself on the playing field. While I had the institutional knowledge that can be a justifiable reason to encourage a leader to stay, I also had the baggage of my five years of experience dragging behind me.

As a leader, it is my responsibility to prepare the organization to continue moving forward without me in the picture. When people have asked me about my feelings related to leaving YNPN Triangle NC, I could confidently respond that I knew the chapter was going to flourish because of the committed people around the table.

One of the best lessons I learned as Chair: surround yourself with people who aren’t like you. Leaders need to be challenged in their ideas, assumptions, and visions. It is not only unfair but impossible for one person to have all of the skills we’ve identified as necessary to be a successful nonprofit leader. Nope. Not a real thing. Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector still operates in this mindset (a la the solo Executive Director model aka martyr aka magician).

I was struck the first time I heard “One Last Time” from Hamilton. George Washington, through what historians have discovered, recognized his limits as a leader and took action to transition the power of the Presidency. Such forethought was not the norm during that period (nor in present day, sadly).

One lyric in particular stood out to me:

If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone

Yes, let’s acknowledge there is some trace of ego laced in this idea of building something that will outlive us. Yet, I would argue that it’s more purpose than ego: who doesn’t want to be remembered? Who doesn’t want to leave some sort of positive mark on the world that is lasting? Isn’t that the reason many of us work in the public and social sectors: not necessarily for individual recognition but to have a hand in shaping better outcomes for all people and our broader world?

There’s no blueprint for knowing when it is time to step aside. I believe it comes from a combination of internal reflection (gut-checking) and being open to receiving feedback from others. It’s hard not to take it personally: you want me to go?! No no. It’s not about you. Let’s say that again: it’s not about you. These organizations are about the people the mission seeks to serve: you just have the privilege of being on other side.

Let’s make a commitment, especially as emerging leaders, to be willing to step aside and not grind our organizations/staff to the ground. Let’s commit to having open conversations about leadership transitions — preparing for them as we would any 990 or board report. Let’s commit to building a team around us full of people willing to challenge us, bring new ideas to the table, and share the responsibility of achieving collective goals.

We’re gonna teach ’em how to say goodbye.

 

 

Applying a ‘beginner’s mind’ to leadership

Do you consider yourself a goal-setter? Do you derive pleasure from crossing off items from your to-do list?

Gray brick wall with black painted soccer goal with "gol" written above

No matter the language, goals matter

Have you ever put an activity on your to-do list that you already did but wanted to release those oh-so-coveted endorphins as you drew a line through it?

Yeah, me too.

Here’s the good news for any of you who identify (even at times) as a Type-A person: we can still be mindful leaders. But, it’s not something that we can knock out of the park in one swing. It’s a process — at times, a painful one. It requires us to challenge our modus operandi and the behaviors deeply ingrained in our brains.

Fortunately, leaders like Robyn Ferhman are here to help. I had the opportunity to attend Robyn’s workshop last Saturday at Carolina Yoga Company entitled: “Attention to Intention: A Mindful Start to 2018.” You can see what was covered in this two-hour block of wonder and exploration here. Needless to say, I wasn’t ready to leave when time was up.

One of the key learnings that I took away from the workshop involved the concept of “beginner’s mind,” which is one of the core attitudes that make up a mindfulness practice. It is exactly like it sounds: approaching situations as if it were your first time ever experiencing it.

Imagine: how routine is brushing your teeth? How many of us spend that time up in our heads, running through memories or thinking about the events awaiting us tomorrow? What would happen if we approached brushing our teeth each morning and night like it was the first time? We would focus on making sure we addressed our gumlines; used circular motions to eliminate the plaque from those problem areas our dentist reminds us about every six months. How many fewer cavities would we have collectively? How much more in-tune would we feel with our bodies?

What does a “beginner’s mind” approach in leadership look like? Meetings are often a place where leaders are called upon to provide direction, make decisions, and build consensus. What if we approached the next meeting on our calendar as if it were our first ever meeting to run? What questions would we ask or anticipate others asking? How would we want to feel in the meeting? What baggage would we be able to leave outside of the door so we could fully participate, without judgment, in the space? How would a fresh perspective add value and contribute to your ideal workplace culture?

How about bringing a “beginner’s mind” to building relationships with others? Whether with our co-workers, fellow board members, or even our friends, we have a shared history, whether shallow or deep. This often results in us pre-judging outcomes or perhaps not investing our full attention into our time together. While our co-worker is sharing a new project idea, our mind drifts to: “How is this going to impact me and my time?”

A real hamster between two stuffed hampsters on a shelf

With a beginner’s mind, the impossible may appear a bit more real.

In my search for ways to incorporate a “beginner’s mind” into life, I stumbled upon this post from Amira Posner, a Mind-Body Fertility practitioner at Healing Infertility, featuring a well-known eating meditation credited to Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Take a raisin and put it in your hand. Pretend you have dropped off from another planet, and you have never seen a raisin. With an inquisitive, open, non-judgmental perspective, examine the raisin. Explore it. Smell it, feel it, taste it. Engage your senses, in the moment, in a non-judgmental way. With all your attention, be one with the raisin.

Note: if you’re not a fan of raisins (or happen to be participating in a Whole 30 program), another food item can be easily substituted.

Upon first reading, it can sound and feel a bit silly. But, I would pose the question: hasn’t the way we’ve been operating — passively, automatically, re-actively — silly? We have kept ourselves from being fully present and engaged in our world; a world in which we only have so much time to be present.

How could a “beginner’s mind” alter your relationships with other people, with your career, and with yourself?

Getting expectations out into the open

“What are your expectations for me?”

A fellow board member posed this question to me as we sat at the bar inside the new Harris Teeter [note: it’s not critical you know where this conversation occurred but I feel it would be a missed opportunity to not highlight THAT OUR GROCERY STORE HAS A BAR].

I appreciated this fellow leader’s straight-forward approach to a topic that we don’t spend enough time on within the nonprofit sector. In my opinion, we often confuse “expectations” with “deadlines” as if task completion was our key responsibility. Yes, we should get the projects done and programs executed that move our organizations closer to achieving our missions (and ideally best serving our constituents and the greater public good). But, establishing clear expectations between supervisors and employees; between colleagues; and even within ourselves requires honesty, transparency, and prioritization.

I have been accused of having “too high” of expectations for people I’ve worked with over the years (including unrealistic ones for myself). That’s true. My mother shares this similar challenge, and it can lead us both to feel disappointment and hurt. I don’t think the immediate answer is: “well, it’s time to temper those expectations!” A better initial step is to start having conversations with others around these expectations. Perhaps they are unfair or too lofty; but maybe they’re just right and the person on the other side simply needs to hear them.

In general, I have three consistent expectations for people. These expectations aren’t exclusive to those I work or volunteer with; they extend to my friends and family as well. In no particular order:

Be honest. I recognize the time to be sensitive with information, where answers may be dusted in sugar before delivery. But, don’t lie. Ever. It’s pure poison to a relationship and erodes the foundation of trust immediately. We’re imperfect beings, and we need to extend to each other the grace that mistakes happen, things get forgotten, and sometimes you just don’t FEEL like it. Far be it for me to judge what is happening inside your head space and heart. All I’m asking is not to be strung along with responses that “sound good” but are pure fluff.

Comedian Kevin Hart holding microphone with his right hand extended out as it to make a "stop" motion. Text: "Let's Just Be Honest Let's Just be Real."

Ask for help when you need it. Y’all: martyrdom was so 500 years ago. Let’s drop the charade that we can “do it all” and lean on each other when necessary. Full disclosure: I struggle with this expectation. Asking for assistance feels like an imposition, and I certainly don’t want to add more to someone else’s likely overfilling plate. But, here’s the thing: I’m making a whole slew of assumptions. And, I’m likely, as you are too, willing to be the helper when summoned. Break free from those self-imposed handcuffs and adopt a new four-letter word: help. This ties back to being honest: if you can’t do something, for whatever reason, using it as a moment to reach out to a trusted companion allows for something beautiful to happen. Is there something you need help with right now? Call me!**

Help

Do what you said you are going to do. Have you read Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements’? If not, I highly recommend picking up a copy at your nearest independent bookstore. One of the cornerstone agreements from Toltec culture is: Be impeccable with your word. What does this mean? Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. While this belief extends far beyond accomplishing specific goals or fulfilling responsibilities, it touches on how important it is for us to come through. Whether it is using our words or actions, people depend on us when we give them reason. If we need to let each other down, refer back to expectations one or two.

silverman

In certain spaces, the number and types of expectations may be more specific and may shift to adapt to the situations. But, for me, these three are the glue that binds our ability to connect and remain connected to each other. Be honest; ask for help; fulfill your commitments. Sprinkle it having fun, showing compassion and understanding; and remembering that we’re all in this together. This world is tough; it’s unjust and inequitable. But, it is full of people who want the world to look different: to be equitable and just; to be a place where we aren’t fighting for basic human rights because they’re woven into social and institutional fabrics.

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What do you expect from others? From yourself? Do you have expectations or do you let others create the expectations for you?

**unless it’s related to anything electrical or plumbing. You may want to call a professional. It’s not my wheelhouse. But, I’m happy to hang out until an expert arrives!