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A brand, a business and a career. From a nametag.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Slap a little redemption on this mess and call it good

My old startup founder had a mantra for all our company leaders:

Be soft on the person, hard on the problem. 

Which is wonderful advice in the world of management, but it’s also profoundly useful in the conversation we have inside our heads. 

Because that’s leadership too. How we choose to be with ourselves. Even when nobody is watching. Especially when nobody else is watching. This determines how we are with everyone else. 

The problem is, many of us have the wrong story in circulation. 

For decades, we have been slowly drifting into superstitions about ourselves, practicing unhealthy patterns of behavior based on irrational assumptions. 

In short, we aren’t soft on the person. 

Consider several examples. 

We assume that by criticizing our choices, we will be in control of ourselves. 

We assume that by beating ourselves up, we will change who we are. 

We assume that by making things as hard on ourselves as possible, we will meet our high standards without compromise. 

We assume that if we give the punishing voice inside our heads free reign, we will alleviate our guilt and increase our humility. 

We assume that if we act unkind and impatiently towards our work, we will create enough anger to catalyze ourselves into taking action. 

We assume that if we unfairly compare our career with someone else’s, we will get our life back on track. 

Each of these assumptions becomes a lash with which we punish ourselves. But we have no idea that paying rent in blood just to be allowed to go on living is not a healthy approach to life. 

That’s the work. Acceptance, forgiveness and surrender. 

Being hard on the problem, but more importantly, being soft on ourselves. 

Are you still using tools you built around assumptions that don’t work anymore?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Emotionally mature enough to put things where they belong

Human beings prefer that our thoughts and feelings are in in harmony with each other at all times. 

It makes us feel safe, controlled, competent and satisfied in this chaotic chamber of horrors called life. 

That’s why, when our inner planets fail to align, we go to great lengths to restore the balance. The internal inconsistency is too psychologically uncomfortable. 

Unfortunately, the cash value of cognitive dissonance rarely pays out in real life. 

We live in a world where control is an illusion, consistency is a fantasy, and uncertainty is the constant. And considering the madness that awaits around every corner, our willingness and ability to compartmentalize is a priceless asset. 

Fitzgerald famously wrote that the test of a first rate intelligence was the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. 

But it’s more than just intelligence, it’s also a key part of having healthy boundaries. People who can deal with conflicting internal standpoints simultaneously, people who can choose not to let one thing blur into another, and people who refuse to stay frozen in the purgatory between bloody armies of true believers, they are the least stressed. 

Consider, for example, the ancient argument about separating the art from the artist. Like when a celebrity gets busted for illicit, unethical and unconscionable behavior. And their scandal complicates the world’s reception of their art. 

Some of us are able compartmentalize that. Instead of tossing that artist’s records into a fire, patting ourselves on the back for being offended and congratulating our friends on how upset we all are, we choose to experience the work as purer than the tainted soul that produced it. 

But sadly, this raises some questions. 

Does that mean we’re in denial, or does it mean we are emotionally mature enough to put things where they belong and not let them get in the way of the rest of our life? 

Does it mean we’re robotic, delusional sociopaths who are complicit in the problem and deserve to be shamed in public, or does it mean our minds simply know how to deal with conflicting internal standpoints simultaneously? 

Does mean we are fugitives from our feelings whose black hearts are slowly atrophying, or does it mean that we have mentally healthy, compartmentalized minds and diversified personalities that enable us to behave differently in a variety of situations? 

Seneca, the legendary stoic philosopher, wrote:

Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life

What he was trying to tell us was, ambivalence is an intrinsic part of the human condition. And so, compartmentalizing is a valid and necessary mode for comprehending this messed up universe we live in. 

We all do what we have to do. We all remember the past the way we need to. 

Next time you develop a brain cramp because every single one of your thoughts doesn’t get along with each other perfectly, take a deep breath. Inhale for five, pause for two, exhale for five. And then, close that compartment and open the next one. 

Or better yet, say no to things that don’t deserve a compartment in the first place. 

Decide not to invest emotionally. Isolate the issue from all the other challenges you are dealing with. And move on with your life. 

Are you getting dragged down in the depressive mire of people who can’t compartmentalize?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

We take ourselves with us, everywhere we go

There is a great saying the recovery community. 

Addicts are like pickles, they can never become cucumbers again. 

Meaning, certain predilections are never out of our lives completely. We take ourselves with us everywhere we go. Genetics combined with environment says that any one of us could relapse into old patterns that diminish what we are in our best moments. 

Here is a morbid way to think about it. 

It’s like an old stalker who doesn’t know that you changed your address. And so, you think you’re in the clear, until one day, years later, the doorbell rings, and he’s standing there saying, remember me? 

But this experience is not specific to addicts. Nobody is immune from the things that frighten, tempt or bully them into their lesser selves. We all have our own version of relapse. 

The scary part is, it’s very insidious. Our seeds of relapse are planted long before the actual event. And because we overestimate our strengths and underestimate our weaknesses, it’s often too late before we realize just how much we have backslid to old habits, outdated patterns, unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

Occasionally my workaholic tendencies will resurface during times of loneliness, which leads to drowning myself in tasks without stopping, isolating, resenting loved ones who interrupt me, and distorting work by impatiently demanding it gets completely immediately. It’s scary. 

What’s your version of relapse? 

Look, everyone has their own addictions and weaknesses and unhealthy behaviors. But no matter how much work we do on ourselves, sometimes it still feels like that stubborn candle on the birthday cake that never goes out no matter how much we blow on it. 

And that’s okay. Some things never go away. 

But what we can do is plan for relapse in advance. We can anticipate our lesser moments when we’re in a calm, cool state, and that way we can execute when the pressure is on. 

Even if that means setting a timer to go off every sixty minutes to prevent you from overworking until your jaw hurts. 

What unhealthy actions do you revert to in a state of fear?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Show up with your full self and bring some joy to the room

The most exciting part of poker is anytime someone goes all in. 

This is a type of bet where the player commits his entire stack of chips. Even if it’s not a huge amount of money. Not the point. What matters is the commitment. The courageous, binary decision to jump into this situation unreservedly involved, without equivocation. 

Because in poker, there is no fence. You’re either in or you’re out. It’s a very simple, black and white construct. Or in this case, black in red. 

That’s why people with zero resolution are be infuriating. You know the ones. Wishy washy wimps who couldn’t make a firm decision if they were offered a lifeboat alongside a sinking cruise liner. Makes you want to pull your hair out. 

These people desperately need some upside down ankle shaking. 

And this is more than just everyday indecisiveness, too. What we’re talking about here are people who lack the ability to fully commit. To anything. It’s like they are never fully there, never fully not there, just sort of indifferently floating in the middle somewhere. 

Unfortunately, because life is not a game of poker, there is no binary rule that says they have to decide anything. There is no commitment police to enforce to keep people in line. 

Which means sometimes we almost have to campaign for others to show up completely. 

As if to say to them, hey man, there is a big feast going on here, if you would only show up. 

There is no guarantee that it will work, though. 

People don’t always show up the way we want them to. 

And we have to learn to accept that disappointment. 

Whom do you know that never seems to be all in, or all out, for anything?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Keep the spirits happy, keep the nest safe

Being the arbiter of moral rectitude is very rarely welcomed. 

In fact, it’s usually met with ungenerous opposition. 

Like when you go out to eat with a group of friends or colleagues, and upon ordering something healthy, all the sudden you get the chorus of eye rolls. People joke about how you are make everyone else feel bad. They make passive aggressive and backhanded remarks about your conscious choices. And you feel shamed and bullied for trying to be healthy. 

It’s not hyperbole, it’s biology. It’s a deeply ingrained evolutionarily driven impulse that all people do to protect their tribes. 

And so, when you are the deviant person refusing to conform to the normality of the group, people’s reptilian brains kick into high gear. They perceive you as trying to leave the tribe, and that ancient chorus begins spinning on repeat. 

Keep the spirits happy, keep the nest safe and show allegiance to the chief and the clan. 

Biologists call this the shaming and shunning instinct. It’s an expression of envy and anger. 

In the case of healthy eating or drinking habits, for example, one member has what the others want. 

Discipline. Restraint. Strength. 

Which means the mob needs to take them down for it. 

How dare you make healthy choices in front of us? We are eating friend chicken and drinking whiskey, and that is that. 

Sadly, this instinct starts at a very young age. And it never stops unless we become aware of it. 

Reminds me of middle school. Everyday my brown bag lunch was a turkey on a bagel with pretzels and an apple. Whereas everyone else was eating junk, sugary snacks and other normal food. 

And so, my friends humiliated me. They called me a brown nose goodie two shoes. Because apparently, it was not cool to responsibly pack and bring your own lunch, much less a healthy one. 

The shunning and shame got so bad that eventually I just stopped doing it, and just purchased junk food from the cafeteria machines instead. 

Maybe nobody really wants you to be healthy after all. 

What healthy choices have you been shamed for?

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Share the essence of the person who is underneath

During the coronavirus pandemic, nametags started to take on new meaning. 

Particularly in hospitals. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are legally required to keep their distance, interacting with patients only under excessive layers of protective equipment. 

My friends who worked in medicine told me it made them feel deeply disconnected. But certain healthcare workers found clever ways to help patients feel less alone and more joyful. 

Scripps hospital system had a group of respiratory specialists that started wearing nametags with cheerful pictures of themselves on their gowns. Displaying their full names along with reassuring, comforting smiles uplifted sufferers of this horrible virus and made a big difference to scared patients. 

Can you imagine how good that would feel if it were you? 

On both sides of the stethoscope, too. For the patients, the nametags bring ease during a stressful time. The patient care experience is instantly made more human and memorable. 

And as for the healthcare providers, the nametags elevate their sense of pride as an essential worker. It also prevents them from being reduced to a pair of eyes behind layers of gear.

It’s no surprise, then, that hospitals have announced changes to their identification protocols as the coronavirus spreads. Many are now requiring larger, more prominent nametags to be worn at all times. This sticker is to remain visible to patients, guests, and other personnel, rather than just hanging from a belt loop in the background. 

After all, being in the hospital for an unknown virus is scary enough. May as well do what we can to ease the burden. 

One chief of medicine told his local paper that giving patients hope through a friendly face is fifty percent of the battle. If he has someone who loses hope, it doesn’t matter how many medications he gives them, they're going to go. 

Perhaps nametags are just what the doctor ordered. 

Now, there is no clinical proof that the nametag heals the outcome of someone’s condition, but it certainly helps the experience of treating it. Particularly during this time when people are already starved for connection, this story is a reminder for all of us to not make a tough situation even harder by being anonymous. 

Put yourself and the people around you at ease by visibly articulating your humanity in an uplifting way. 

Wear your nametag. Share the essence of the person who is underneath, and let the healing begin. 

How could you use connection to comfort those who are suffering?

Friday, May 15, 2020

It was abuse, but you thought it was just the way that they loved

According to the national coalition against domestic violence, an average of twenty people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute. 

It’s a sad and terrifying reality of modern relationships. 

And the worst part is, abusers are highly skilled at shifting the blame for their toxic behavior. They are experts at finding excuses to dodge any and all responsibility. 

Consider several of the most common abuse justifications. 

It wasn’t that bad. It was stress. It’s because they care so much. It didn’t really have much of an effect. It’s because they want things to get better. It’s just a phase. It hurt, but deep down there is love. It was just a moment of anger. 

Unacceptable, right? 

There is no excuse for abuse, as the activist mantra goes. 

And yet, we justify abusing ourselves every day. In all of those moments when we berate and act unkindly and torture ourselves mentally, the story we tell is no different than the spouse who hits their lover. 

If we don’t beat ourselves up about this behavior, then we will never change it. 

But it’s just another excuse. Shifting the blame. Dodging responsibility. 

If we have any intention of healing, then we have to figure out what story we are telling about the hurt. We have to interrupt the spiral of abuse before it gets out of control. We have to be gentle with the place inside of us that feel so bad. We have to stand with ourselves as a whole human beings, forgiving whatever imperfections we assume make us unlovable and worthless.

 In short, we have to open our hearts to ourselves.

Remember, lying takes skill, but honesty takes courage. 

Trust that telling the truth is the only way to exist in the future. 

Are you bargaining with yourself to hold onto those abusive behaviors that don’t serve you?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Faith wanders and shakes hands with the craziness

Everything seems inevitable and logical in retrospect. 

But for now, reason is being invaded by history. Tumbling down a fantastic realm where logic and reason no longer applied, there seems to be no objective moral framework in the unforgiving chaos of this absurd universe. 

This is difficult for our primitive egos to comprehend. 

Because nobody wants to admit theyve seen something that their education or experience can’t explain. That cognitive dissonance is simply too disturbing. If we cant find something black and white to hang our hats on, then our faith will wander and shake hands with craziness until further notice. 

No matter how evolved and savvy and sophisticated we pretend to be, human beings are still superstitious natives who have to chalk everything up to something. And its not helping us. 

Cameron once wrote that faith is the ability to be where we are and to accept that where we are is where we are supposed to be. 

This definition may not be peaceful, but it can bring us peace. Because if we surrender our need to know how everything works and why everything happens, loving the truth more than the ideal, then we can navigate the chaos with a modicum of grace. 

Remember, even if it hurts when we argue with reality, let us trust that nature knows what its doing

Are you blocking reality with the richly textured excuse and explanation that accompanies it?