communicating in crisis (part 4)

“Me want to go on the playground!”

“Lucy, it’s closed right now because of the virus. Remember? This is also why your school is closed.”

“OK, me go on the slide one more time.”

“Well the slide is on the playground – see the yellow tape? The whole playground is closed because of the virus – we don’t want to get anyone else sick and we don’t want to get sick, so we are trying to just play with our own toys at home.”

“But me WANT TO GO to playground!”

When COVID-19 hit, I was out on paternity leave so my “team” was my family. The more I reflected on how Andi and I were communicating with each other and with Lucy, the more applicable this framework is to communicating as a leader at work.

  • Keep it simple
  • Don’t exaggerate or lie
  • Set a cadence for communicating and reinforce your message often – even when a question isn’t being asked
  • Use active listening (and your compassion practice) to understand and empathize with frustrations and concerns
  • Stay humble and vulnerable. It’s ok to not have all the answers, it’s not ok to not show up to the conversation

With toddlers, you are dealing with a limited vocabulary and a more limited attention span. When our brains are dealing with stress (*hint* this happens during a crisis), our ability to regulate emotions, process information and remember things are all impacted. (Lot’s of great science on this from a variety of published journals!) I’m not saying you become a toddler under stress… but I’m saying that your ability to emotionally and rationally process new information and signals dramatically changes.

Reflect on how many outbursts you have had since the pandemic started. How many more fights than normal with your significant other? Would you say you are more or less patient than before the pandemic hit?

None of this is to make us feel even worse about how we are dealing with whatever crisis is happening in our lives right now, but to highlight that in crisis, your brain changes. It also changes the brains of your team, your friends, and your family. Which is why you need to show up to each conversation with intention.

If you are scared that you will say the wrong thing and further trigger an emotional response from those around you – that is a fair fear! Just note that your silence on a topic is a form of communication. An example (real life) narrative that emerged during the first two months of COVID-19’s layoffs. Most leaders choose to either project confidence, “our business model is durable and we won’t be impacted” or decided to silent on the impact until the day they had to do layoffs or furloughs. Most employees rightly guessed something was coming creating distrust in that leader when the narrative changed.

Let’s go back to our strategies and re-apply them to the first two weeks of COVID-19 and safer at home orders:

  • Keep it simple. You are leader and in that first two weeks, you don’t know how much your business will be impacted. Keeping it simple means you educate yourself about the potential impacts and share what you do know. “We know that our business will be impacted by COVID-19, by safer at home orders, and by decreased spending.”
  • Don’t exaggerate or lie. In the first few weeks of a crisis, you still don’t know what is going to happen. Our tendency (and some feel responsibility) is to portray confidence in face of adversity. My favorite leaders are those that inspire hope, but do not exaggerate or lie. “What we don’t know right how is how long we will be impacted or by how much. We are hoping for a fast recovery so we can get back to serving our customers.”
  • Set a cadence for communicating and reinforce your message often – even when a question isn’t being asked. Every time we go to the park, Lucy still asks if she can play. At first I would get frustrated at her, I mean we have talked about this hundreds of times! Then, we realized that we weren’t communicating regularly and holistically about how her life is impacted which was leading to frustration on her side not just about the park, but about not being able to go to “Mimi’s house”, go to school or see her friends.  Set a calendar reminder for an open Q&A, stand-up or weekly communication – don’t wait until your team asks the question again, proactively message about what has changed!
  • Use active listening (and your compassion practice) to understand and empathize with frustrations and concerns. Everyone’s impact during crisis is different. Some people might be trying to work full-time jobs with children at home and others might have spouses or friends who lost their jobs. It is your job as a leader to educate understand as many of these experiences as you can to adapt your on-going communications, approach and policies.
  • Stay humble and vulnerable. It’s ok to not have all the answers, it’s not ok to not show up to the conversation. It can be hard to admit that your course of action under stress was the wrong course. Stay humble and vulnerable. In crisis, the single biggest way you can continue to build trust with your team is to share your fears and admit you were wrong.

This is the fourth post in a four part series about leading in crisis. Read part one here, part two here, and part three here.

 

 

finding true north in crisis (part 3)

At this point in our leading in crisis dialogue, we have started with you and invested in a compassion practice. Fundamentally, both practices are about you. About shifting your mindset, your approach, and your compassion towards yourself and others. That work is the foundation for you to lead your team. It’s also important to note that your work on this foundation will never be “complete” but an evolving journey of doing better over time.

That actually is a good point to stop. As a leader, you never have the opportunity to approach a crisis sequentially, and you definitely never have the time to start with you. How do you know how, where & when to move forward while doing the foundational work on yourself? A few simple assessment questions help:

  1. Does this crisis change our vision long term?
  2. Does this crisis change our goals short term?
  3. Who on the team is impacted by this crisis directly?
  4. Who is impacted on the team by this crisis indirectly?
  5. Are our customers impacted directly or indirectly?

To use a sailing analogy (from a period of time I obviously never lived), this would be using the north star to sail home and a severe storm hits. During the storm, you are getting new information – is the boat damaged in any way? Did we lose any members of the crew? Were our supplies impacted? That new information will inform new smaller goals for your team during the crisis: do you need to repair the boat? Throw out a life preserver? These new pieces of information will also inform whether you need to change your north star overall. After the storm passes, are we still heading home? Is that even possible given the impacts to our crew, boat and supplies?

You may have been able to tell that I have never been on a 19th century sailing voyage, but this applies to modern day events like the pandemic. Take Airbnb as an example, they were hit by COVID-19 and got a lot of new information about shutdowns that affect travel (flights and cities). That new information lead them to a dynamic shift in short term goals direction based on the impact by enabling easy refunds for all travelers through the summer. Then, more new information came in about how those refunds would impact their hosts bottom line leading them to shift Airbnb experiences online and set-up a fund for their superhosts. As they made those incremental changes, they realized the longer term impact COVID-19 would have on their business leading to drastic restructuring and layoffs, as well as new campaigns to travel local.

In both examples, finding true north during a crisis was a process of understanding new information, quickly picking a direction, executing, listening/understanding new information, adjusting and executing. In a crisis, no one (your team or your customers) expects you to have all the answers, but they do expect you to have answers and responses to the most obvious ones.

The three traps that leaders fall into are

  1. Silence and lack of action – when a deluge of new information hits in a crisis leaders will get paralyzed by making the wrong choice
  2. Consensus decision making – it is impossible to please everyone, pick the best option based on the information you have
  3. Overpromising – if you are unsure about anything, don’t communicate with certainty about that thing

To summarize, as a leader in crisis, you will be balancing working on yourself and leading from the front.  Quickly utilizing new information to make the right short term decisions without overpromising or committing on the unknowns.

Easy right?

This is the third post in a four part series about leading in crisis. Read part one here and part two here

compassion in crisis (part 2)

What has been unique for most of us about the living in a pandemic is how pervasive its affects have been. For many, there has been an economic component – layoffs, furloughs, pay-cuts. For those still employed, a radically different work environment emerged – at home, over video, and without childcare. For the extroverts, a distinct lack of friends and family to share a meal or a drink. For the introverts, being cooped up with the same people means a lack of the “in between” moments to recharge. For all, the loneliness that comes from lack of connection and extended isolation.

Every aspect of our lives have had to be adapted over the last three months. Vacations canceled. Plans put on hold for a “to be determined” later date due to economic uncertainty.  Decisions about going back to work weighed against heightened exposure. Physical separation from people you love. Increased conflict from diverging viewpoints on the right way forward compounded with increased stress.

Once you have done the work to start with you and broken your cycle of helplessness, you can start to extend your leadership to those around you. The best way to start this is by investing in an empathy/compassion practice. 

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama

I’ll ask you to pause here – do you consider yourself to be a compassionate and empathetic person? Compassion is the ability to feel concern for another and have a desire to help. If you reflect on what the words mean, most of us would say yes to that statement. 

Second question: how far does that compassion or empathy extend? It is easy to have compassion for those you are close too, how about your coworkers? How about strangers? How about those living on the other side of the world?

In moments of stress (*hint* this is right now, in a global pandemic), we tend to re-center on ourselves. What do I want, what am I going through right now, what is my opinion on whether bars should be open or masks required. When our problems and points of view become more “important” it is because we are centering on ourselves vs others and our sense of compassion and empathy deteriorates.

An empathy/compassion practice is taking the time to imagine a loved one suffering – something terrible has happened to them. With that person and their suffering fixed in your mind, imagine the pain they are going through. Think about what that pain would mean for how they engage with their family, their friends, and at their work. After you have done this for loved ones, expand your circle. If you find it difficult to understand the pain of someone, educate yourself that suffering and pain.

My last day of paternity leave was the day that Lyft laid off 17% of it’s workforce. I spent most of my first 48 hours back at work investing in my empathy/compassion practice. This enabled me to be vulnerable about what I was going through – and extend that compassion I had learned to give myself to those around me. Here is the email I sent to my team; the output of that practice:

Yesterday was my first day back from paternity leave and a really hard day as we said goodbye to so many amazing members of the Lyft family.

Everyone keeps saying “unprecedented” to describe what is happening in the world right now. Talking to my daughter Lucy about how we are feeling, three simple words seem to sum up “unprecedented” for me. Confused, scared and sad.

Confused on how to do normal things like shop or work with young children at home. Confused on how to talk to my daughter about the fact that she can’t go to the playground or school for an undetermined period of time. Confused about how to feel being the one not let go when so many friends and family are losing their jobs.

Scared for my sister who lost both of her jobs. Scared that my wife or daughters will get sick. Scared for the economy to not recover.

Sad that our family hasn’t gotten to meet our new daughter Winnie. Sad whenever I try to smile behind a mask picking up groceries and realize that the other person can’t see it. Sad for my friends who have lost loved ones.

I don’t have answers to any of those feelings or the best way to respond for each of you to yesterday’s events. That being said, I want to share what I’m doing in this new normal (and what I’d encourage each of you to do too).

Check-in often. Ask your friends and loved ones how they are doing and listen to the response. My wife and I are using a 1-10 scale because to be honest some days there are no good woods to describe a “1” day.

Ask how you can help. This can be someone to just listen, it could be a card, a job connection or LinkedIn recommendation.

Be kind to yourself. When you hit the “1” mentality remind yourself of 5 specific things you are thankful for to reground in what is important. If you haven’t taken advantage of our mental health benefits, highly recommend it even if you don’t think you need help.

I love all of you and am excited to be back even during this time. Please let me how I can support you over the next few months!

This is the second post in a series of four posts about leading with empathy. Here’s the first post in the series.

leading yourself in crisis (part 1)

I have started writing what is now this blog post at least a half a dozen times over the past few months. My 2020 – like most of yours – has been marked by a number of changes, crises, and new experiences that have shifted how I see and show up in the world around me. In this mini-series, I want to share about a few of these experiences and how I am leading through them. 

In the 30 day span between mid-February and mid-March, our lives were turned upside down. Our second daughter, Winnie, was born on February 13th. The night of March 2nd, a tornado ripped through our neighborhood. That whole next week, we were without power and dealing with the aftermath of the tornado, including a shattered front window and other small damage to the exterior of our home. In that period, the COVID-19 cases were on the rise throughout the US leading to lockdowns in California and New York. After my parents left Nashville on March 15th, Andi and I made a decision to go into self-quarantine to limit exposure for ourselves, Lucy, and especially Winnie since she didn’t have all her shots. The next week on March 23rd, Tennessee issued their own “Safer at Home” order further reinforcing our decision.

I was on paternity leave during this time, so was able to deal with the all the changes without the added stress of work. But even then, I was overwhelmed. This led me to trying to escape – primarily through hours on Instagram – which only further caused me to be overwhelmed. It was this tremendous feeling of everything continuing to pile on – without any space to process what had already happened. 

Leading through change requires you to find a way to break this cycle. For Andi and I, breaking the cycle looked like incorporating specific routines in our monotonous quarantine days. A few examples include one hour of alone time per person per day, daily work-outs on the Peloton, and twice daily emotional check-ins. Leading others through change requires leading yourself through change first.

Start with you. Identify where you are and what you need. Using distractions to avoid introspection impacts your mental health and creates an internal crisis on top of the external one you are already experiencing. Distractions can be generative (for us, post tornado, this was supporting organizations that were rebuilding the community) or destructive (spending 4-6 hours on social media). No distraction is inherently bad by itself, like the lid on a pot of water – it being in place only starts to cause problems when external forces (heat) change the internal make-up of the water causing the pot to boil over. Removing distractions forces you to deal with your internal reaction to external forces.

For me, the transition from new baby and lack of sleep to the tornado to days without power to COVID-19 and isolation was a pot of boiling water on which I put a lid. The boiling over then manifested in anger, frustration and shortness with my family. Taking the lid off – removing distractions and introducing some new, specific routines – helped to break that cycle and admit to myself that I was “not ok” and come up with new ways of to move past my feelings of helplessness. A few of my strategies:

  • Identify the things you aren’t confronting and the things you are using to distract yourself from them
  • Reflect on what a healthy response would be to those things. Mentally take yourself out of your shoes – if your best friend was sharing these experiences with you, what advice would you give them?
  • Write out a list of things in your control and things our of your control
  • Come up with a game plan: 3-5 specific, different actions you are going to take to refocus your energy on the things in your control
  • If you get stuck in the cycle again (and it will happen), hit “pause” and go to the top of this list!

This is the first post in a series of four posts about leading in crisis. Stay tuned for the second post soon!

a guide for talking to family

…and an important exercise in understanding how our personal values and beliefs shape our decisions and interactions.

Over the holidays, we are often surrounded by family – people whose values and beliefs may have shaped our lives at some point, but whose beliefs now differ from our own. Maybe they are unwavering in their beliefs – or maybe you are. Either way, the disconnect – the tension – becomes palpable when you hear points of view that you would classify as ignorant and narrow-minded.

Both sides could benefit from listening to the other perspective, but one of the reasons this tension builds around family is you! Most of us hold the things we value and believe strongly, but have never taken the time to discover why we hold those beliefs and what values we have that shape them.

Start with a simple exercise of reflection — creating a practice of understanding yourself in those moments of frustration and passion. Ask yourself:

  • When am I frustrated with the people I love?
  • What topics – when they come up in conversation – make me angry / upset?
  • What topics do I try to change friends/families minds about?

In that moment – holding the frustration and asking yourself “why” will help you better understand, define, and then communicate what you value and believe.

Some personal examples:

I am frustrated when people engage with others in a way that I interpret as selfish, whether through direct action or inaction. An example could be not chipping in on shared tasks over the holidays (i.e. dishes or cooking) or expecting to be served. Why does this bother me? It’s not fair is what first comes to mind. Why is it not fair? A few people end up doing a huge portion of the “collective” responsibilities. Why does that matter to me? Everyone should think enough about others to consider how their actions (or lack thereof) impact those around them.

With some introspection, I come to a core personal belief of empathy. I believe everyone should seek to understand the feelings and needs of their fellow humans – especially those they love! From that belief, I can start to articulate how I want to operate through that belief (my values). From empathy, I come to a core personal value of being generous with my time, money, and energy. 

This belief – and core value – can help define my actions. I can decide from that generosity to do more dishes and to serve others. I can also choose to be thankful for those that are serving. Knowing how I respond to this behavior, I can be more clear upfront about what I care about and work to set expectations and structures that support this belief (vs. just expecting everyone to see the world in the way that I do!). Finally, perhaps with the most difficulty, my personal belief of empathy should carry to trying to understand and have grace for those individuals that I interpret of not doing their “fair share” of tasks.

Another example of this process, is a topic – 2nd Amendment Rights – that I find myself getting angry about. Why do I get so angry about this subject? There is an incredible amount of misinformation, misinterpretation, and ignorance on the amendment itself. It was directed to protect a “well regulated militia” to preserve states autonomy amidst a Constitution that gave far reaching power over the military to the federal government, and was not intended as a far-reaching personal protection for gun control. Why does this misinformation and ignorance bother me? I believe that the impact of inaction on any form of reasonable gun control has a clear correlation to the number of gun related homicides in the U.S.: at a rate 4-15x larger than the rest of the developed worldI didn’t feel this strongly 5 years ago, why do I today? Becoming a husband and parent has made me more conscious of my family’s safety and the data shows that school shootings in particular have been increasing over the past ten years. I find myself worrying about Lucy going to school, because of what has happened at schools all across our country. School no longer feels like a “safe place”. One interesting story that helped me grasp the level of “un-safeness” in America because of our lax gun laws happened when we traveled to Morocco – a country most people in the U.S. would consider as unsafe. We were picked up by a taxi driver who had recently moved his family from Michigan to Marrakesh, Morocco, citing the amount of gun violence in America, and the (lack of) safety for his children as the reason for the move. The U.S. Department of State currently rates Morocco as a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” for travel, yet this man we met, felt safer in Morocco than America. I can’t say I disagree.

Introspection leads me to a core personal belief of the value of every human life as more important than an individual’s right to own anything, and a belief that there should be some control over decisions that have the potential to impact others in an extremely negative way. This belief connects to belief of empathy (and frustration with selfish behavior). Understanding my own perspective on the topic can help me guide conversation back to the values that shape my reasoning – the value of life and reflection on regulation of objects that have extreme negative impacts. It also helps (again) to shape my actions; I can (and do) donate to groups like Moms Demand Action, and vote for candidates that support these beliefs.

The exercise in understanding oneself helps you engage in better, less frustrating dialogue with those around you. It also move you to a space of consciousness for your triggers and choose how you respond to those triggers – making a happier and more successful holiday season 🙂

 

my simple(ish) plant guide

It’s no secret that @luckyandi loves plants. Personally, I have been fascinated with growing things since I was a kid. Our 650 square foot SF apartment was filled with plants and in Nashville, I built a greenhouse to further fuel our addiction. Andi gets a ton of plant questions from friends, which inevitability becomes a “E… how do you _____”. So here is my simple(ish) plant guide.

Getting new plants: 

  • Pick a spot (yes before you buy the plant!) A common mistake is putting a high light plant in a dark room or low light plant on the windowsill. Most plants will come with a tag indicating light needs, and the south & west of your house tend to get the most light, so plan according!
  • Best (and cheapest) spots to find plant deals: Home Depot or Lowes, Kroger, Facebook marketplace and keep on the hunt – plants DO go on sale or even free online – when the season changes or someone moves. Take a close look at the plant before you buy – looking under the leaves might reveal some pests like spider mites and plants with small new leaves tend to thrive when you bring them home.
  • If you can’t help but kill plants, here are the easiest plants IMHO: snake, ZZ, pothos, spider, or aglaonemas (this last one is our oldest running plant “pre-E” that Andi bought when she moved to SF nine years ago – it has taken a lot of neglect and still thrives!)
  • Pick a pot (again, yard sales, Goodwill or Home Depot) that is 1 inch larger than the nursery pot and ideally has a drainage hole at the bottom as this will help prevent overwatering and root rot. For smaller pots, I think Amazon has some of the best deals.
  • Once you bring home your new plant baby, immediately spray off the leaves in the shower or with a hose to knock off any potential pests, massage the roots until they break apart from the root ball and re-pot with fresh potting soil. If the weather is nice (70+ degrees) leave outside and isolated from other plants for the first few days in case some pests traveled on the plant.

Plant Care

  • Consistency is key. Plants get used to certain amounts of light, water, and food and hate being moved from room to room or infrequent watering habits. Figure out your plant schedule (i.e. I’m going to water every X days) and stick too it.
  • Water – most plant parents think watering solves all their problems. Looking droopy? Water. Yellow leaves? Water. From personal experience, overwatering is the top killer of houseplants. Most plant experts recommend sticking your finger 2-3 inches deep in the soil to see if the soil is moist and needs more water. First, that is disgusting and second, there are much better options:
    • Buy a moisture meter – it will tell how dry the soil is and only water when the soil is <4-5 on the meter (seriously, this is the best tool in my arsenal)
    • Use clay plant stakes + old wine bottles – these work great if you don’t have a ton of plants and go out of town a lot! The plant will pull water through the stake as it needs so all you have to do is refill the bottle when empty
    • Buy a mister – plants thrive in high humidity (why plants love the greenhouse!)
  • Light – if you have avoided the high light / low light issue, congrats! (I wrote that congrats! sarcastically, but take it as an affirmation if you would prefer). Make sure your plants are getting enough light by dusting or hosing down the leaves on a quarterly basis – this knocks the built up layer of dust off the leaves and keeps the light in. Plants will grow toward the light – if you hate the irregular growth that will cause, rotate them in place 90-180 degrees to even out the growth.
  • Food – most potting soils are pre-loaded with nutrients to help your plants grow! Re-potting plants (in a larger pot if root bound) with fresh soil every 1-2 years helps to keep your plants growing. I also use some Miracle-Gro Plant Food every 2 weeks in spring/summer to help accelerate growth as well. Most plants go dormant in the winter, so typical recommendation is stop feeding your plants as soon as you flip on the heat in your house in the winter.
  • Pruning – this topic merits it’s own full post, but I used to be really scared to cut back any plants for fear of them dying. From personal experience, most plants love selective pruning as it simulates new growth – and what you prune can be occasionally be propagated into new mini plants! Do your research – and only prune in spring/summer – but pruning should be a tool in your plant care arsenal. Invest in a pair of pruning shears and wipe with clorox wipes in-between use to not spread diseases from plant to plant.

Help! My plant is dying:

  • Watch the signs – look closely at the “dying” plant. An inspection of the underside of the leaves could reveal a pest issue. Yellowing leaves are sometimes a sign of irregular watering or needing to re-pot the plant. Once you identify the symptoms, google “plant issue + name of plant” – there are a ton of online resources to help identify what your problem might be!
  • Irregular watering patterns – buy a moisture meter! I use this $6 one and it’s great. This will help you get to the right level of watering and avoid any issues.
    • Yellow leaves + crispy or brown edges on the leaves can indicates underwatering
    • Bright yellow leaves + some leaf loss on lower leaves can indicate overwatering (and potential root rot!)
    • Whole plant semi-yellowing can indicate root bound or lack of nutrients for the plant. Size up your pot and get new soil or fertilizer!
  • Light / Environmental Changes – One you find a forever home for your plant, try not to move it. More sensitive plants – I’m looking at you fiddle leaf fig – will drop leaves when they are moved. Extreme temperature changes also impact plants. In the winter as the days get shorter and you turn on your heat, plants may drop some leaves due to the lack of light or humidity. Although you can combat this with grow lights and regular misting, you can also just trim the dead leaves off and wait for spring.
  • Pests – if your plant just suddenly starts dying, you might have some pests! Check the underside of the leaves and the soil for any unwanted attachments. To treat, I spray down the leaves of any infested plant and apply Neem Oil to both sides of the leaves until the pests go away. This is a great blog on some of the common pests and how to treat as well!

Hope some of this helped you on your plant journey. At the very least, it will give @luckyandi something to send her friends when they want tips 🙂

 

 

On being a father (some advice)

In a few short months, I will be a father again. On or around February 14th, we have another baby girl on the way – and she is already making her presence known with her 5am kicks! One of my best friends is also on his way to fatherhood – for the first time – and we were able to met up on a “future” dads weekend this month. Over the weekend, he asked for my top 5 pieces of advice and compiling them has turned out to be a great reminder for me on my own journey into fatherhood again.

  1. Take parental leave – I know not everyone has the luxury of having leave, but if you do have any parental leave, TAKE IT. I hear many working dads talk about how little time they took off when their child came, and about how urgent that one work trip or presentation was at that time in their career. This is such a myopic view of work and your role outside of work. You can and should take time off! One of my favorite perspectives on work is from this New York times article, “Play the role you are given… Play it seriously, and diligently. But recognize that it is only a role, one among many — and not of your design or choice. When you see your duties as various roles you must play, and your life as a collection of these roles, this will alleviate the urgency and anxiety that burden any given task — including, or especially, your career.” You will never get those first few weeks/months with your new child back, so being able to be present, involved, and not boggled down by emails and work to-do lists is a really good thing.
  2. Tune out the noise – there are so many books, blogs, podcasts and people out there with TONS of parenting advice. What they should wear, what they should be doing at what age, if you should co-sleep, how or if…or when! to sleep train, how to discipline and the list goes on and on. Each piece of advice conflicts with the last, and each is given with such passion that makes it challenging to ignore. Ultimately, every kid is unique, and it is your responsibility to figure out what pieces of advice to ignore and which to take as you embark on your journey of fatherhood.
  3. Change all the diapers – especially early, new baby doesn’t need you as much as they need mom, so do the dirty work. Jump up to change diapers, to rock to sleep, and for 5am wake-up calls. Especially if you are working, you don’t get as much time with the baby, so every second you can grab – even doing something non-glamorous – is precious and helps start building the same bond that is ingrained with mom from birth.
  4. Be a good partner – your relationship with your partner changes overnight. It is so easy to let frustration fester in a lack-of-sleep induced craze. If your partner is at home with the baby, they are going crazy from lack of adult interaction, and never-ending diapers and whatever your child needs in a given moment. If you are working, you are running on fumes for important calls and meetings and feeling under-appreciated for aforementioned #3, while providing for your new family. Go out of your way to show appreciation and thankfulness for what your partner is doing – both in words and regular actions (if you can’t think of the last time you did… it has been too long). Emily Oster’s interview with Erza Klein has one of the best reflections on the data around martial happiness – and how it is impacted and evolves with kids.
  5. Be present – with so much less time, it is easy to try to multitask your life. Play with your kid, as you respond to just one more work email. Scroll instagram as you rock your baby. Being constantly connected helps to bring friends and family closer – but also disrupts boundaries between you and your baby. Ditch technology around your kid when you can (trust me, they will notice when you are fully present), and create rituals to leave work at the door as you get home.

These are the 5 pieces of advice I am giving myself as I prepare for daughter number 2 – what is the best advice you have heard? What has been noise you have learned to ignore?

Kids are Terrible for Your Career

Terrible click-bait blog post title (I apologize). Last week right before Father’s Day Business Insider posted an article about Eric Bahn’s tweet storm about how terrible kids are for your career.

Screenshot 2019-06-23 at 3.29.47 PM

Over the course of eleven tweets, Eric proceeds to share that his kids bring him so much joy despite robbing him of time, sleep, health, and friends. Having been a father now for a little over a year, I agree with a few of his points. For one, kids empirically do strain your marriage in the early years – but leave you closer the older you get. Ezra Klein had a great conversation with Emily Oster on this subject. Kids also do make you way poorer. They are really, really expensive; kids born in 2018 (like Lucy) will cost $233-372k from birth until their high school graduation.

That being said, I want to offer a counterpoint to the assertion that kids are terrible for your career.  Since becoming a father, I have seen my performance as a leader improve in a few ways – and talking to other fathers, they agree! Here’s a few ways that becoming Lucy’s dad has helped me grow as a leader and human.

  1. Understand your value – if you are fortunate enough to have parental leave at your job, you realize that you might be out for a long period of time. As a leader, you have to trust that your team is aligned and empowered to deliver great results without you. Leave can also have an amazing side effect for leaders (if you choose to take it); as you come back, you can let your team continue to operate as they were when you were out. This allows you to step back and understand – was I delivering the most value as a leader?
  2. Prioritization the right work – I can agree with Eric that you have way less time – both for yourself and for your work. That realization can result in you attempting to do exactly what you did before you had kids…OR you can re-assess what are the most important things to get done. Say no to meetings that you don’t need to be in. Let your team do their work without checking in at each step in the process. You will find a healthier more productive you and a more empowered team along the way!
  3. Listen without jumping to conclusions – infants have incredibly simple needs and even more simple ways to communicate those needs. Leaders in the workplace can have the tendency to jump to assumptions of what their team needs without ever listening. And then, they get frustrated when their team complains about their answer. Being a father has taught me to slow down and pay attention to what people are communicating and respond and support them accordingly.
  4. Selflessness – as a parent, you learn to sacrifice pieces of yourself for your child – your time, your money, your relationships. This Chad Knight sculpture of a child being created out of a parent is both beautiful and too real. Beyond becoming less selfish as a parent, I find myself becoming less selfish as a leader – sharing and giving praise and cheering on those around me to become the best versions of themselves.Chad-Knight-Collater.al-6

For me, becoming a father has helped me stop and reflect on how I am showing up in the world, both at work and at home. It’s also taught me to strive to be a more caring, more conscious and less selfish version of myself. Kids are terrible for your career only if you don’t stop to reflect on the change that kids force you into – and how you want to show up in that change.

P.S. I want to acknowledge that my point of view reflects my experience as a father and it’s possibly very different for mothers. There are also plenty of studies that show that kids do have negative impacts on your career, especially for women in the workplace. I’m curious to hear from other fathers and especially mothers on what ways, if any, that having a child has helped you think differently or grow in your workplace.

Asking Better Questions

[Excerpt from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy]

“O Deep Thought computer,” he said, “the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us….” he paused, “The Answer.”
“The Answer?” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to what?”
“Life!” urged Fook.
“The Universe!” said Lunkwill.
“Everything!” they said in chorus.
Deep Thought paused for a moment’s reflection.
“Tricky,” he said finally.
“But can you do it?”
Again, a significant pause.
“Yes,” said Deep Thought, “I can do it.”

[7.5 million years passes]

“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“Tell us!”
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Yes..!”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Yes…!”
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Yes…!”
“Is…”
“Yes…!!!…?”
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”

Moral of the story being – if you don’t ask the right question, you will never understand the answer!

Lately, I have been doing a series called “career chats” with individuals both within – and outside of – Lyft that have been successful in their careers.  Although it is an AMA (ask me anything) style chat, the core question almost always seems to be, how do I get to where you are? Or to use the above analogy, what is the answer to life, the universe… everything!?

From self-help books to TED talks, we are in constant pursuit for the answer but rarely stop to ask ourselves what our question is. And the reality is that an answer given to a bad question rarely is the answer we want. Deep thought (the most highly intelligent computer in the book designed to give the meaning to life) gives the answer “Forty-two” to the question almost reluctantly… “you really aren’t going to like it”.

How do we stop looking for the answer and get to better questions?

A few thoughts (note, this advice is focused on career questions):

  • Focus on self – Before coming to the conversation, ask yourself what do I really want? The quick answer to this might be – more money, a promotion, to be recognized for my work, more flexibility in my hours or to learn new things. All of those are valid answers (and I think everyone would say yes, I want all of those things!) If you reflect more deeply, you might really care about one of those, and using a technique like the 5 whys might bring you to the realization that your job is really a way to focus on and fund your other passions. Focusing on self and investing time in understanding your motivations, passions and desires helps you ask better questions and in doing so, helps others understand how to help you.
  • Focus on others – generally the people answering the question do not know enough about your specific situation to give you the answer. Even if their career journey looks identical to yours, their answer to a specific question about your journey might sound like “42”! Great questions acknowledge and understand the difference between my journey and yours and seek unique perspectives on their journey. Great questions focus on the why versus the what. Why did they take that step in their journey and not… what should I do at this point in my career?
  • Ask what you should be asking – when we focus purely on what we want to know, we miss on the general wisdom that those further along in their journeys bring. Some of my favorite questions here are “what advice would you give a younger you” or Guy Raz’s “Does your success come from skill or luck?” or even a simple “What question hasn’t been asked that you believe should?”

Let’s not stop searching for the answer, let’s just make sure we understand our question first.

Ambiguous loss

I first heard about the concept of ambiguous loss from the podcast “On Being” with Krista Tippett interviewing Pauline Boss. “With ambiguous loss, there’s really no possibility of closure. Not even, in fact, resolution, whichever word you prefer to use.” This is what the families/relatives of prisoners of war or those with dementia or Alzheimer’s experience. Someone is there, but *not quite* there. We are a culture that likes the finite. The vast majority of stories and movies involve a main character who experiences conflict and then over time, resolves that conflict. It doesn’t matter if the conflict is resolved negatively or positively; the story ends and there isn’t ambiguity about what happened to the characters. There is just an end.

The most difficult stories (and life events) to process are those without resolution. I distinctly remember the story of a woman whose mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and subsequently moved in with her and her husband. For the husband, his whole relationship with his mother-in-law was marked by Alzheimer’s. Every day, they (the husband and mom with Alzheimer’s) would have the same conversation. Share jokes, talk about the weather, eat breakfast. He liked to do improv comedy and would test his jokes with her – if one failed, she would forget! Alzheimer’s was a reality – not a loss. For the woman, having her mother there – someone with whom she had a lifetime of shared experiences – was entirely different. Her mother was physically there, but mentally was a different person from the strong, amazing woman who raised her. This conflict is played out day after day without resolution. This is ambiguous loss.

Into the dark is podcast that follows the story of Jacob Wetterling, a missing child whose case was not resolved for over 27 years. Although he was abducted in 1989, his body wasn’t recovered until 2016 when his abductor collaborated with authorities as part of a plea bargain and lead them to the site of his rape and murder. For those 27 years, Jacob’s parents searched, created advocacy groups for children’s safety, and even had Jacob’s details on milk cartons (he was one of the original milk carton kids). For 27 years, they experienced this ambiguous loss – never knowing if he would come home or was truly gone for good.

I had the opportunity to hear therapist and author  Esther Perel speak. She shared that she is seeing an escalated number of the symptoms of ambiguous loss in people across the United States today, but interestingly especially from individuals that DON’T have any of the common types of root cause events like the ones above. What is happening?

Esther started asking the audience questions. My answers are in bold.

  • How many people have their phone within 3 feet of their bed? Yes
  • How many people touch their phone before they touch their partner when they wake up in the morning? Sometimes
  • How many people check their email before 7am? Yes
  • Of the parents, how many parents will pull out their phone for a text/email/call when they are playing with their kid? Yes

It feels like we are losing each other because we *are* losing each other. Striving to be constantly connected has caused us to lose out on real connection!

Aziz Ansari’s latest Netflix special “Right Now” reflects how difficult it is to see his grandma who has Alzheimer’s (ambiguous loss), and asks the crowd to remember their last weekend at their parents house:

Think about everything you did. Hone in on your most cherished memory. And when you’ve got your memory, just raise your hand. There’s, like, five hands right now. You know why? ‘Cause we all had the same shitty weekend, okay? I know what you did, ’cause I did the same thing. You show up late on a Friday like, “All right, well, I better unpack my stuff and get to bed.” “All right, we’ll see you in the morning.” Day one done. Then, you wake up early the next day at like… 11:30. go in the kitchen, making coffee. “Oh, you guys got a new coffee machine.” “Yeah, we like it.” Conversation done. The rest of the day, everyone’s on their phones, computers, doing whatever they can to avoid eye contact or any kind of deep conversation. …Just as you’re leaving, one of your parents finally looks you in the eyes. And they’re like, uh, “Is your life okay?” And it never is. But you’re just like, “Yeah!” ‘Cause we’re completely incapable of having a real conversation with these people we’ve known our entire lives. We do this whole song and dance 59 more times… And then they’re dead.

This is modern day ambiguous loss. We are experiencing loss of in our relationships because we are trading off small dopamine hits from likes on social media for real interaction with the people we love. It’s not that smart phones or social media are bad; we have just used them as an excuse to replace our relationships entirely. Someone is there, but not quite there. We are together, without really being together. Like Aniz’s weekend with his parents, the conflict – our story – is never resolved, it plays out day after day and year after year. We know what we lost and still seem unable to make a change. How tragic that the characteristics that the families/friends of prisoners of war, abducted children, and Alzheimer’s experience also marks the way we experience relationships today.

“The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” – Esther Perel

How we decide to engage (or not engage) with those around us determines the quality of life we live. Let’s put down our phones today and try to have one more real interaction than we yesterday and connect with those that we love!