Hacked By Imam with Love
If there is one thing the election hopefully has taught a lot of people, it is that we are not good at listening to each other. (Don’t worry. This is not a political post. Just stick with me) As someone living in New York City surrounded by millions of other liberals I was stunned watching states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania turn red. Turns out, I have no idea what it feels like to live in “The Rust Belt” and watch people around me struggle to find jobs and give their families the life they wish they could.
And I watched, after a man played on people’s fears and further marginalized people of color, women, immigrants, and Muslims, almost half of all voters overlook those hateful epithets, further dividing a country that he now has the duty to bring back together. Social media looked like thousands of people all trying to have a conversation with their own megaphone. Most of it was an unproductive hot mess. I would be fascinated to see data about if Facebook posts actually changed people’s minds, or if it just caused us to fall deeper into our own worlds, causing deeper rifts between political colors.
No matter what, what did not happen enough was listening to each other. Politics and religion bring out the worst in us. Compassion, patience, and having an open mind often gets thrown out the window. We are so set in our ways that we no longer regard others’ opinions and stories. If we are ever going to progress, this has to change.
We have all been taught at some time or another what active listening is. For those who need a refresher, active listening means:
- Maintain good eye contact
- Square your shoulders to face the other person
- Do not interrupt
- Nod your head a various points
- Paraphrase what the other person said before asserting your own, well thought out, response or prior to asking another question.
Those all sound great, and sure, they could work. But I would like to offer an alternative:
Just care, friends. When you care about someone you naturally lean in, maintain good eye contact, ask better questions, etc. It is possible for you to fake active listening, believe me I have done it. But it is not possible to fake caring. When someone tries to fake caring it is so blatantly obvious (perhaps you watched the Presidential debates?). It’s time to start having better conversations. It’s time to start caring.
People tell me they hate small talk because it is inauthentic and surface. The main way we shift from
small talk into meaningful dialogue is by choosing to car. When humans choose to care about someone else they slow down. Caring people are question-askers, rather than explainers and advice-givers. They practice patience AND empathy.
I am not sure when it became cool to not care, but the phrase “zero fucks” has permeated its way deep into our culture. If you don’t give any fucks, then what will you ever be proud of? It’s time to change the way we interact with each other. Start with your next conversation. Catch yourself if your brain wanders and then reinvest, lean in, share something about yourself, ask a deeper question, reflect about their answer. This election did not teach me that we are not listening to each other, it just reinforced that unfortunate reality. Let us be better humans. Let us care.
It’s hard to write when you don’t know what to say. It’s hard to smile when you don’t know if you’re allowed. It’s hard to laugh when you don’t think you deserve to. It’s hard to speak when you question your every word. It’s hard to trust when you lie. It’s hard to be present when all you do is question. It’s hard to be happy when nothing is enough. It’s hard to move on when you caused a mess. It’s hard to help when you’re not the person who is allowed to help anymore. It’s hard to give advice when you’re a hypocrite. It’s hard to be loved when you do not love yourself. It’s hard to reach out to others when you’re lost. It’s hard to change. It’s hard to be loved. It’s hard to be selfish.
It’s easy to stay where you are. It’s easy to blame yourself for everything. It’s easy to stew in guilt. It’s easy to settle. It’s easy to never question. It’s easy to never ask for help. It’s easy to go at it alone. It’s easy to assume. It’s easy to run. It’s easy to tell other people what they should do. It’s easy to think you know what’s right. It’s easy to find fault in others. It’s easy to follow society’s path. It’s easy to fall into and stay in routines. It’s easy to be selfish.
We all have something we are going through. We all question from time to time if we are doing the right thing. Many of us do not want to be seen as selfish while at the same time strive to live a life where we are happy. Internal conflict is going to happen, but just as my buddy Greg once told me, “It does not make it wrong. It just makes it hard.” And you and I can make it through hard, friend.
My wife asked me recently if I thought I was successful. I thought about it for a minute and I said, “No…not yet.” August 17th was my two-year anniversary of being out on my own with my speaking/coaching business. In the past two years I have doubled the amount of speeches that I did before being solo. I actually have coaching clients, whereas before I just said I was coach but did not actually have anyone I was working with. I am married to a brilliant woman who loves the hell out of me and together we parent two adorable puppies, Kyra and Sophie (note: they are 4 and 6, but they will always be puppies). Jacqueline has a great job and with our combined incomes, we are able to live comfortably in a beautiful home built in the 1800’s. Oh, and I just wrote a book. But when asked if I am successful, I have the audacity to say, “no.”
I personally suffer from what’s known as ambition. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you have it, too. It’s a pretty cool thing. Here’s how it works, I think of something I think would be really cool and meaningful to do, and then I figure out how I can do it for a long time. I sometimes also try to figure out how to monetize it, though that is not always necessary or the purpose.
The brain is a fascinating place, however. There are two sides to everything. So, for me, what also comes along with ambition are the feelings of: not being successful, wanting to do or be more, and not being enough. It also means that sometimes I take my relationship and my beautiful home for granted – I do not prioritize them enough. It means that the idea of having children is even scarier than it already is for most because of my selfishness for what I want to be and do. I am sure I will eventually write longer posts about each of these things because they each deserve more time and words but to keep this post reasonable I am going to attempt to stick to one point – feeling successful.
We are all climbing a mountain. At the top is our ideal version success, our definition of forever happiness, our dreams. For few the peak is clear. They know exactly what they are striving for and what their end goal looks like. For most of us, however, the peak is covered in some light clouds. We have idea of what’s up there and what we want our lives to look and feel like, but for the most part we are climbing toward an idea of our ideal. The steps that we are taking today – gaining confidence, developing competence, getting promotions, hitting goals, shaking hands and kissing babies/developing connections – are all ways that show we are climbing.
The advice that I give others that I rarely, if ever, listen to myself is that every once in a while you must stop, turn around, and look at how far you have climbed. Take a moment and realize that you have done more than you thought you had. Maybe you have even done more than you thought you could. Treat yourself, pat yourself of the back, be proud of yourself for a moment. Then turn around and get back to climbing. Get back to climbing because settling is one of the worst things we can do in our lives and, since you have made it this far up I know you are capable of more. Keep climbing your mountain and try not to worry about where others are on their mountain. Comparing yourself to others too much is just not healthy and you don’t know their story, their background, or their struggles which highly influence where they started their climb.
For me, however, I just keep climbing. I have my head down and I refuse to recognize my success. I have no idea how far I’ve come and even if you told me how far I’ve climbed I’d be quick to point out that because of my privilege I was able to start at a higher elevation than many others. Because of where and how I was raised combined with the color of my skin and the fact that I’m a man, I got a free helicopter ride to a higher elevation where I then started my journey from. So let’s not applaud mediocrity, is how I feel.
Fortunately I have people in my life that force me to stop and think about what I have accomplished from time to time. I am grateful to these individuals and a lot of the time I try and believe what they say to me – but I get in my own way too much so I am not very good at that.
How about you? Are you successful? How do your determine whether you are or not? Who do you have on your team and in your life that supports and encourages you? Who reminds you to reflect on what you have accomplished?
We are all climbing our own mountain. But every once in a while let’s take a moment to turn around and look back at how far we have come. Look back at it. Be proud of yourself – allow yourself to feel successful for a little while. Success is not only at the top, it has been occurring throughout your journey…whether you chose to admit it or not. Whether I chose to admit it or not
I am half Irish, half Italian, and my mother’s son, so if I am not stubborn I do not know what I am. I am not good at paying attention to my body when it tells me to slow down and I’m even worse at listening to people when they tell me to do the same (sorry, Jacqueline). If I vehemently believe something, good luck trying to convince me otherwise. Being stubborn is not the worst quality in the world but it does tend to get in the way of one of life’s biggest community builders – asking for help.
A couple months ago I designed and helped run a powerful developmental weekend for twenty-five men in their twenties. We talked about the weight they carry around every day in the form of responsibilities and fears. I asked them questions like:
- What version of yourself do you allow others to see?
- Who do you talk about your fears with?
- Who are you trying to make proud in your life?
- What is one lie you tell yourself every single day?
- What would it take for you to believe that your story is good enough?
Then I asked them, what would be possible if they started to shed some of that weight they carry? The fact of the matter is we all carry those pressures. The heaviest part of ourselves is our insecurities.
During the weekend one of the participants asked of my co-facilitator:
“How do you get better at asking for help?”
I don’t completely know why, but that question threw me for a loop. Maybe it’s because his question was super meta since he was asking for help on how to ask for help… I think it’s more, though, that I am not good at asking for help and never really thought about how or why I should be better at it. Then Wednesday, June 17th happened (Yes, the one a just over a month ago. Now buckle up because this is a long story).
I had flown down to North Carolina the day before because I was supposed to speak at a Student Affairs Professionals drive-in conference at Methodist University in Fayetteville. Now, as a quick backstory, my back had been bothering me for quite sometime but I had seen a doctor about it and was doing physical therapy because I decided it was probably bad that I could not feel some of my toes. Anyway, I flew down to NC and had a good day but as I was ironing my fresh outfit and talking on the phone with my friend Leigh my hamstrings starting getting super tight. I later called my wife while I laid down to try and get some sleep. At most I got 2-3 hours of choppy rest because I could not get comfortable. I began to feel like someone was shoving daggers in the back of my hamstrings.
The next morning, the 17th, I could barely get out of bed. Walking was not a stable affair, I could not sit for longer than forty-five seconds before the pain was too much and I needed to get up. I also could not bend at the waist to even try stretching, which is what I thought I had to do because both of my legs felt like they had permanent Charlie-horses. I laid on my back on the hotel room floor and cried on the phone to my wife. I had no idea what to do, I needed to speak that day but I could not move without stabbing pain in my back and legs. I told Jacqueline I was thinking of calling an ambulance on myself. She said I should do just that because I never say I am in pain so since I am now, and so much so I think I need an ambulance, I should follow that train of thought. So I did. I also called my host at Methodist, Doris, and told her what was going on. I said I would not make my breakout session in the morning but hopefully the hospital could get me on my feet by my 1pm keynote address.
HA! Good try, James. That keynote did not happen. Instead I called one of my great friends, Elizabeth Stewart, who works at UNC Chapel Hill, ninety minutes away, and asked her to come pick me up at the hospital and bring me back to her apartment. While at the hospital they gave me one shot of steroids and one shot of painkillers – one in each of my voluptuous butt cheeks, and prescriptions for more of the same. I then crawled in the back gate of Liz’ Jeep Patriot and laid diagonally on her folded seats all the way to Chapel Hill. Here’s another fun thing, I was supposed to fly out later that afternoon to go speak at CAMPUSPEAK’s new speaker training in Denver…that also did not happen.
What did happen is that I spent the next three days in Liz’ spare bedroom barely eating, barely sleeping, consistently crying, and trying to figure out how the hell I could get home to New York and live the rest of my life in this much pain. If I walked for more than three or four minutes my whole right leg would be numb, which actually felt better than the stabbing pain I felt other times. It was ugly, friends. I wound up flying back to NY that Saturday, the 20th and somehow drove my stick shift Volkswagen seventy minutes home.
That Monday, the 22nd, I had an appointment with my general practitioner so I could get a prescription for an MRI. He told me I probably just had a flare up because of the travel “so let’s not rush anything” but an MRI would be fine to get if I wanted one. At this time my symptoms were: tingling in both of my feet, right leg going numb after three minutes of walking, feeling like people were shoving knives in the back of my right leg whenever I tried to move it, incredible tightness in my lower back, numbness in my groin (which affected a lot of things), and lack of sleep from an inability to rest for more than 2-3 hours a night.
Also, that Monday I was supposed to fly down to Florida because on Tuesday I was to attend the CAMPUSPEAK Board of Advisors meeting and represent my fellow speakers along with my friend, Kristen Hadeed. That did not happen. I was then slated to stay in Florida because I was presenting three workshops at the annual ScholarCon conference a few days later. That, also, did not happen. #foreshadowing
Thursday, the 25th, I went in for my MRI. Having to stay still for twenty-five minutes was disturbingly painful and almost did not work as my legs were involuntarily twitching – fortunately that did not ruin the test. I then went for a swim in my new friend, Kusal’s pool because hydrotherapy was the only thing I could do that did not hurt as much. That afternoon I was doing research for how to best market my book when my doctor’s nurse called and said they just got off the phone with the MRI radiologist. The radiologist made a special call to them because she was concerned with what she saw – a severely herniated disc between my L4 and L5 vertebrae and spinal stenosis. The nurse said I should call and see if I could get in to see my neurosurgeon sooner than Monday, which is when I had an appointment. When I could not, my nurse called their office herself. In the meantime I called my brother, Brian, who has unfortunately lived with back issues for quite some time. While on the phone commiserating with each other, my nurse called back. She said she got the neurosurgeon to look at my MRI and then she asked me:
“How quickly can you get to the emergency room? You need to have emergency back surgery tonight.”
Holy. Shit. My mind took off like a poorly trained dog and it took hours for me to catch up with it. I called my brother back and told him the news, then I called my wife, then my parents. I do not know what was said in any on those conversations because I was scared and bawling. I knew Jacqueline was coming to get me so I fed the dogs and threw a book, my laptop, and cellphone charger in a bag and waited for her.
When we got to the ER, it was packed. After an hour my neurosurgeon Dr. Metcalf, who I had never met before, came out looking for me. He had a southern accent, which was strangely comforting, and he told my wife and I that they are trying to get a bed for me as soon as possible. I asked him a handful of questions to try and wrap my mind around what back surgery, more importantly its side-effects, would be. He told me that if they did nothing about my disc it would be a 90% chance that I would lose control of my bowels, sexual function, and eventually the use of my legs. So surgery it was! My wife, parents, and I weighed the option of going to a bigger, more renowned hospital a couple hours away but ultimately the same question kept coming up: you just met the doctor, do you trust him? I did. I do not know why but I trusted Dr. Metcalf and so I went with my gut.
Sitting in the ER waiting room I had no positive thoughts. Jacqueline stayed strong while I contemplated about how, potentially, my last steps were used to walk into an emergency room. I thought of 347 other places I would have rather taken my last steps. I thought about how my speaking career would be drastically affected and how I may have to find a more traditional student affairs job just to make ends meet. I thought about how useless I would be at home and how much people, namely Jacqueline, would have to take care of me. That, in turn, made me think her life deserved and needed to be way more than that, so maybe I should tell her to leave me when the surgery went wrong. I was in a very dark place.
About thirty minutes later I was on a random bed in the hallway of the ER and they were waiting to move me up to the surgical floor. While I was laying on the bed I checked my phone and remembered that I had never responded to an email from my friend Shannon who works for the College Student Alliance in Ontario, Canada. She wanted to see if I was available to speak to CSA in October. I started typing my response. My wife, quite confused, asked who I was texting and I told her to hang on. I typed to Shannon that I would love to be a part of their CSA October event so count me in! I then told my wife that I was responding to a work email, telling the client that I would love to be there…that I will be there.
It was at that moment I decided being nothing but scared of all the possible surgical outcomes was doing nothing for me. I told the doctor when he came over to me that I trust him and am glad that he was the one doing my surgery. I fully recognize that was probably more for me than him but whatever. I then told Jacqueline that I am going to be ok and I think, in a way, that gave her permission to show that she was scared. I was still nervous but I felt a huge weight lifted off of me.
I was moved up to the surgical floor where they setup an IV and checked my vitals. It was a little eerie because I was the only patient on the whole floor, to the left is a picture I took while hunched over in the only position that didn’t send shooting pain up and down my legs. Since we were all up there alone and it was creepy quiet, I did what I do best and started chopping it up with the nurses. I asked them where they were from, how they fell into the nursing career. One said while laughing, “well aren’t you nosy?!” I told her about my Airplane Friends and she said, playfully, that if we met on a plane we would “not have been friends.” They were great and it helped pass the time. I also called my doctor over to talk about his favorite restaurants in Ithaca and we talked about South Carolina and Georgia cuisine – we both agreed some sweet tea would be perfect right about now.
I called my wife around 4pm that day to tell her that I needed to go to the ER. At midnight I went in for surgery after giving her a tear-filled bear hug. About two hours later I came to, supposedly back in the same room as earlier but I was slightly out of it. I don’t remember any of this, but apparently I moved my legs to get comfortable and the nurse said, well that’s a good thing! I also immediately went back into cracking jokes and talking to everyone like we were old friends. I told the nurse who called me nosy that I have a few more questions for her and told the anesthesiologist I hope he did not get called again tonight (an inside joke we had from earlier). I then passed back out while they tried to feed me ice chips.
I vaguely remember the rest of the night after I was moved to the surgical recovery floor. I was woken up every couple hours to make sure my vitals were good but I mostly just slept. Sleep was amazing because I had not gotten any substantial amount in about a month. One thing I do remember was having to pee and being very excited that I had not already gone, that meant no colostomy bag or diapers for me!
A little before lunch my parents and Jacqueline came to hang out. I ate some surprisingly decent-for-hospital food and then I got out of bed and we all went for a walk. I had virtually no pain. I was blown away and so was everyone else. This was by far the closest thing to a miracle I have ever experienced.
Later that evening my brothers and one of my sisters-in-law showed up. They, too, had driven 4-5 hours to come and see me. I told Jacqueline earlier in the day to tell them they did not have to come, but she did not relay that message because she knows how ridiculous I am when it comes to not wanting to inconvenience people when I would do the same for them. It was really special having them there. We do not get together all that much (so says the one who lives the furthest away) but we are always there for each other when it matters most.
I left the hospital two days after I showed up with instructions to take it easy, not to do a lot stairs, and not to do a lot of anything. They gave me narcotics, which I have since made a lot of money off of, just kidding… My first two nights home I slept for 14 hours both nights. I did a great job listening to the doctor, which is not usually the case so I am proud of myself for that. It sucked though because I had to ask for help and Jacqueline also just knowingly did things for me because she’s pretty great, but that also was hard to deal with.
Do you remember the beginning of this post? It was quite some time ago. I started talking about how stubborn I am and the question one of my workshop participants asked, “How do you get better at asking for help?” For me, after surgery, I would not say I thought about how to get better, instead I just had to. That was, and still is very hard for me.
I am not sure what impedes my ability to ask for help more. My first guess is stubbornness or pride, but that seems too easy. I think the main reason is because I do not think I deserve it. I know how valuable time is in my life and therefore I do not think I am deserving of using other’s time. I would like to think I put in enough good in the world to ask for a little back from time to time, but I cannot stand putting that to the test.
I am not sure what the long-term impact of my back surgery/recovery will have on my ability to ask for help. I wish I could end this with some amazing take-home and tell you I am a changed man, but saying that now would be a bit hasty. I guess my main takeaway is that getting better at asking for help is a process. I am on that journey now. Fortunately I have surrounded myself with some pretty amazing and insightful people whose opinions matter greatly to me and I know are definitely willing to help me…I just need to get over myself and ask. I also know that my wife will give me a very stern talking-to if I do not get better, so that is a pretty good incentive, too!
To try and give you some more ideas of how to get better at asking for help I posed the same question, “How do you get better at asking for help?” on Facebook, and here is what some of my wise friends said:
Kristen Hadeed: “Remove all fear of the answer being “no!”
Marc Sauvé: “Understanding and accepting you are worth helping.”
Jen Gilbert: “Repetition. The more you do it, the less scary it becomes. Be specific. When you’ve honed in on what you need help with, you empower the person you’re asking to give you better help.”
Hillary Reeves: “Help others more. When you know what it feels like to dole out help, it feels less scary to ask for it from others.”
Mary Reed: “I had to change my perception of “asking for help” to “allowing other people in on the adventure.” When I realized that I loved helping people do interesting things, and I was happy to “help,” I finally made the connection that I had to allow people that same opportunity.”
Jennifer Mullan: “Let close peeps know that you struggle with this. Ask them to gently hold you accountable when you are over-doing and under- asking. AND make a note to ask once a week for something. Remind yourself that strong also means vulnerable. This has helped me immensely.”
Samuel Sanker: “The thing that first helped me get past my own personal misgivings about this was when I realized people have been helping me all my life without my having to ask them. That implies that people are willing to help other people without having to be asked.”
I hope some of their words resonated for you as they did for me. I encourage you to work on getting better at asking for help because when you need it the most you’ll be glad you developed that skill.
Oh, and just in case you are wondering, I am still recovering just fine. I have virtually no pain, am walking normal, I can drive, travel, and can get on the exercise bike. I spoke at Yale earlier this week and by the time you get this I will be helping to facilitate a LeaderShape Institute National Session. I am not allowed to lift anything of substantial weight just yet but that is coming. I’ve lost twenty pounds and will continue to lose weight. I still get emotional when I think back to the day I found out I needed to go in for surgery, but that is because of how very fortunate I feel and how thankful I am for proactive doctors with skilled hands. Thanks for asking 🙂
What if you could spend a moment each day saving a life? I’m in no way implying that it’s expected of you to be a superhero that flies around, saving people from danger each and every turn, but I am asking you to be a different kind of superhero. What if you were the kind that could save them just by looking at them?
I have always bought whole-hog into the phrase “the eyes are the window to the soul” and feel there is something deeper there. There’s a reason why people don’t maintain eye contact as well as they could when communicating with others. You mess up as a kid, smashed a baseball through a window or didn’t perform as well as expected on an exam. You come to your parent or legal guardian afraid to face them, perhaps even head facing downward. You might argue that you couldn’t even bear looking at them in the eye because you knew that you had failed them in some way. Other times its just nervousness or fear. Some of it is “If I lock eyes with this person, then they’ll see my secret” (I think if you wear glasses or contacts, then you get a leg up on peoples superpowers, it’s a little harder to get through your “wall”). What if you could be a superhero for others with your eyes?
I couldn’t tell you all the moments when I have had people save me, far too many to count. I will spend a lifetime thanking others for just looking at me when I needed it most. It could be in high school standing in a huddle before a big play. It could be when I was up & ready to quit my job to start a burrito restaurant and at that moment having a student or staff member look me in the eye and help me realize that me and all my thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears matter in this world. It could be anything you want it to be. To me, it’s hard to describe this sentiment of appreciation in any other way than thanking them for being a “lifesaver” or call these moments “lifesavers.” A personal superhero that has helped me pick myself up and dust off. Bear with me here. I’m not mocking the struggles that others face each day, each person has their own journey, but its essential to examine how we open ourselves up to others and allow others to feel like they can open up to us.
Often times its too easy to walk past the person asking you to spare a dollar or a person that you pass in the hallway and offer a half-hearted greeting and “how’re you doing?” as you mosey on throughout your day. What if that wasn’t the case? What if you made a point to spend just one time a day to look someone square in the eyes and, better yet, tell them what they mean to you. To take the chance on looking them in the eye, sharing a breath, and a conscious moment of empathy and happiness that says “HEY! I SEE YOU! YOU MATTER TO THIS WORLD!” The world is a strange and scary place. What if you did something a little less scary and helped someone not feel so alone in it, if even for a moment?
James Crawford serves as a Coordinator of Greek Life at Vanderbilt University and is a graduate of the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at the University of South Carolina and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where he majored in Athletic Training. James is a member of The Delta Chi Fraternity and enjoys spending time with his fiancée, his corgi named Pancake, and loves photography. He has a blog that he loves to write about leadership and life at https://darwinizms.wordpress.com/ and follow him on Twitter!
Got to love the emergency exit row on the plane, aka “1st class for the working class.” I’m what you would call an “extra healthy” American so I greatly appreciate the extra legroom. Call me weird but getting my knees crushed milliseconds after takeoff by a rambunctious seat recline by the 5’2” middle-aged kindle-reading individual in front of me is not my idea of comfort.
The exit row comes with its responsibilities, though. You have to read the safety brochure to know how to throw the door out and you have to get the rafts floating. You have to actually pay attention to the flight attendant safety briefing because they give you extra guilty looks if you don’t. One of the most disregarded parts of the emergency exit row experience is the question they ask you before taxiing to the runway: “Are you willing and able to help out in case of an emergency?”
That question got me thinking…what if we asked a very similar question to students and our newer employees?
“Are are you willing and able to lead?”
I am very fortunate, I get to speak to thousands of individuals every year and one of the questions I most consistently get asked when I speak at colleges is, “We have a lot of students in our organization who are not stepping up and taking leadership roles when they are available. So what should we do?”
Let’s have a quick moment of honesty; not every student or newer employee is ready to be a leader, at least in the capacity or at the time that we may want/need them to be. And that is OK! Please note: this means students and new employees should still be sought out and empowered to take leadership roles but we need to realize not everyone is looking or ready for that experience. So you need to use your time and resources wisely. That is why I think we need to ask: Are you willing and able to lead? Let’s break that down.
First: Student/Newer employee, are you willing to lead? When we ask this question we are also asking the following questions: Are you excited to lead? Do you have a vision? Do you care enough to prioritize this role? Are you prepared to hold others accountable? Are you ready to make potentially unpopular decisions?
Second:Student/Newer employee, are you able to lead? In asking this question we are also inquiring: Do you have adequate time in your schedule for this? What other leadership experience do you have or have you observed? How do you handle conflicts? Are you good at saying “no?” How do you handle politics and straddling the line of appeasing those above you and pushing your organization’s agenda?
All of a student/newer employee’s answers do not need to be perfect or fully flushed out. There is a lot of value in attempting to lead and struggling at it, as a way of experiential learning. Also, as we all know, we are good at getting in our own way and sometimes we need someone to motivate us to try something new. A good advisor can tell the difference between students who will be overwhelmed by a position and students who are just unsure of themselves. I firmly believe that student/newer employee’s roles are a valuable “leadership residency,” equivalent to a medical residency – just with less blood…hopefully. But rarely do we ask the questions above before a student is in their position. If we did, we, as supervisors and advisors, would be better at setting up our organizations for success because we bring expectations to where there is blind optimism, more concrete thoughts to dreams, and the idea time management into seemingly never-full-enough calendars. If we approached our teams differently, we would see an increase in forethought among our students individually and collectively, as well as a likely decrease in burnout among our student leaders and newer employees.
Supervisors, advisors, and experienced student leaders, it is time to have more honest conversations with your newer employees, students, and peers, respectively, before they take on leadership positions. A little more work upfront will better set up our organizations and communities for greatness. We should ask would-be (or should-be) interested students and newer employees: Are you willing and able to lead?
There are many ways to build clout as a leader. You can be intelligent and competent, have a record of success, talk the talk and walk the walk, get praise from others who are respected, etc. But I think there is one often-overlooked way to earn respect: be relatable.
If you are a “Humans of New York” fan as I am, perhaps you already saw the picture and caption below. Either way, it deserves another look/read because I think it is a perfect example of the power of relatability.
As you can already guess, I LOVE THIS. This teacher gets it. That last line, “And I want them to know that I cared about them before there was a problem.” gives me goosebumps. Tough conversations are bound to happen. However, if you earned the respect of your team, students, and/or children by putting in the work to connect with them and meet them where they are, those conversations are met with more open minds and less resistance.
As a leader it is imperative we remind those around us that we are human. It is also crucial we remind ourselves those around us are humans, too. If we do not, then we place unrealistic expectations on our team and wonder why there is a lack of motivation to go the extra mile. A good friend of mine, CEO of Sunshine Brands and author of CARE Leadership, Peter Van Stralen, recently said, “Care for your teams’ wellbeing and they will care for yours.”
Striving to be more relatable looks different for every population, but it is worth the work. Here are some things I do that students I speak to say they appreciate: I listen to Taylor Swift’s latest album, try to have an educated opinion about the NBA and NHL playoffs, I am on Pinterest.com to see modern design and fashion trends, I use their slang, and I like and listen to “trap music” and “EDM.” Not all of these things I care deeply about, but if you do not like Taylor Swift, we may have “bad blood” (#nailedit). Please note: you do not have to make your student, supervisee, or child’s passion your passion. But you must at least be open to learning and/or experiencing it.
How do you intentionally connect with others you work with? What steps do you take to let others know you are human? If you have not tried to be relatable, what roadblocks keep you stuck in your lane? Who is someone in your life that let you in a little and now you respect him or her more because of it?
Be that person for someone. Be relatable.
EXCITING!!! Airplane Friends has a home! I created a tumblr for it, PLEASE give it a follow/share/some love: http://airplane-friends.tumblr.com/
Super Bowl Sunday, aka “The Other Christmas” in America. I had my flights setup so that I could get home and indulge in as many dips as possible while watching the game and rooting for any team that had the opportunity to beat the Patriots. Alas the airplane, weather and football Gods had other plans for me because my flights got delayed and jerked around and, sadly, the Patriots won. Fortunately for me, though, on my flight from DC to Syracuse I met an airplane friend – Jesse.
Jesse and I were snugged up in the exit row for an hour longer than we should have been because Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) could not get their stuff together. The two of us looked like two lovable hipsters from Brooklyn with our newsie hats, beards, and horn-rimmed glasses. I forget how our conversation started, but I am glad it did.
Jesse is originally from Los Angeles and he went to school at Humboldt State in NorCal. He studied literature there and met his future wife in the process. He proposed to his wife on stage at a concert of a former hardcore turned singer/songwriter artist. Jesse had reached out to the artist when he heard he was going to be in LA. He agreed and suggested that Jesse come up during one of his songs. That was Jesse’s least favorite song by the artist but beggars can’t be choosers so he agreed. After their engagement he and his wife got married in a barn in central California.
For a few years after undergrad Jesse was a freelance programmer. He would alternate between taking jobs that paid well and jobs that were in the non-profit sector. He is passionate about energy conservation. When that became unfulfilling both he and his then girlfriend/fiancée decided they wanted to go back to school, her for library sciences and him for 18th Century Literature. They applied to a bunch of the same schools, she got into every one and he only got into Syracuse, so that’s where they chose! She received her masters and now works as a archivist for one of Syracuse University’s specialized collections. Jesse just finished is dissertation and is well on his way to being Dr. Jesse.
I asked him why he chose 18th Century Literature as his focus. He said he is actually studying food in 18th Century Literature. So he had read a ton of historical cookbooks as well as other pieces written during that time. He said the reason this fascinated him is because he has found that it is during the 18th Century when culturally based cuisines began to be celebrated and assimilated into other cultures. For example, the signature curry dishes of India started being made in European nations and being referred to as “Indian food.”
We talked a lot about food, which was just fine with me. I found out that Jesse does not really like barbecue, which broke my heart a little, especially because he lives minutes from one of the best BBQ joints in the country, the original Dinosaur BBQ. So we talked about foie gras, sweetbreads, Napa valley wines, how we both want to eat our way around Montreal, and how he hates all beer from New York.
Jesee has taken his passion for food and culture one step further than most with the help of his background in programming. He recently developed a program that tracks what ingredients and colors are most prominent in cultural cuisines. By using it you can punch in the ingredients of a dish and find out what nationality it is most likely derived from.
Other fun facts are that Jesse is obsessed with Soccer. The LA Galaxy is his favorite team and he actually has a tattoo of their logo. Indian is the culture he is the most fascinated by and the country he wants to visit the most. He has been to Burma a number of times because that is where his mother was born. Sadly, though, he never traveled there as an adult who was excited about diving into the culture. He is hoping to find a professor job somewhere in the Pacific Northwest after he is done at Syracuse I hope that whatever tenure-track position Jesse is able to land after completing his doctorate allows him to travel, until then, though, I am just glad we are airplane friends.
EXCITING!!! Airplane Friends has a home! I created a tumblr for it, PLEASE give it a follow/share/some love: http://airplane-friends.tumblr.com/
Like a video game, there are stages in life they were are “supposed” to “unlock.” There are the educational levels: high school, college, and beyond. There are the relationship levels: marriage, children and grandchildren. Also the occupational stages: entry level, middle management, top of the food chain. And let’s not forget the financial ones: moving out of mom and dad’s house, home ownership and retirement portfolios. Advancing through each one gives us a sense of accomplishment. Alas, accomplishment and fulfillment are not the same thing.
I want you to please carve out 10 minutes of your day and watch this video:
Now I want you to tell me, which one of the women are you?
Our lives are not meant to be like traditional video games where we advance level by level. That’s why I want more for you. Now, you may be really content so perhaps it’s wrong of me to project my thoughts of what I perceive to be a happy life on to you. But let’s say I am not wrong. Let’s say that when we think we are content it is in fact possible to be happier – like Ann in the video.
So again, which woman are you?
What can you do today to make yourself happier tomorrow?