Debraining Fish for Science’s Sake and More January SmartBrief Highlights

February is here, and Punxsutawney Phil predicted the news will continue to develop rapidly. Just kidding – he predicted an early spring. BUT the news will continue to develop rapidly, and I enjoy helping deliver the most important stories to SmartBrief readers. These are my favorites from February:

From ASPA (The American Society of Public Administrators)

Denver City Council unanimously bans conversion therapy

Why it’s so interesting: The American Psychiatric Association says, “No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.” I believe they are right. Kudos, Denver.  

From Sigma Xi Science Honor Society

Monogamous species may have similar genetics

Why it’s so interesting: The point of this article is that monogamous fish, frogs, mice and voles may share a genetic pattern. There were two sentences in the article that made me say, “wow, people will do a LOT for science.” It was: “Hofmann donned scuba gear and plunged into Africa’s Lake Tanganyika to chase finger-length cichlid fish into nets. Delicately debraining them while aboard a rocking boat, he says, was a struggle.” The picture of these scientists debraining finger-length fish while aboard a rocking boat gave me a sense of their dedication. (It also confirmed what they said about their work: “We wanted to be bold—and maybe a little bit crazy.”)

From the National Association of Social Workers

Cleaning up the public perception of hoarding

Why it’s so interesting: I imagine most of us have joked about ourselves or acquaintances being “hoarders” because we accumulated so many material goods and let them take over our spaces. But, as this piece notes, hoarding can be a mental health problem. The part that struck me about this article was the issues that accompany hoarding — some people’s lives are at stake because they can’t be rescued quickly due to obstacles created by their accumulations. People who hoard animals endanger their lives because they become overwhelmed by their needs and fail to care for them properly. The town featured here created a Hoarding Task Force whose goal is to “get the person to agree to a significant clean-out.” 

From UN Wire

Anti-Semitism is worsening, UN chief warns

Why it’s so important: Sadly, I doubt this is news. Holocaust Education Week events will be happening this week in Tallahassee through the Holocaust Education Resource Council. “…hatred is easy to uncork, and very hard to put back in the bottle,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. He is right.  

From BoardSource

St. Louis program aims to curtail gun violence

Why it’s so interesting: This piece describes a de-escalation program in St. Louis designed to reduce gun violence. It describes a situation where the nonprofit paid a victim of violence to leave town while it attempted to intervene with the perpetrator.The victim then returned to St. Louis “with the guarantee no harm would come to him.” I really hope this works, but the “guarantee” part leaves me a little skeptical. However, what a great thing that this effort is being made. 

From the Reserve Officers Association

Changes to Uniform Code of Military Justice Now in Effect and Thousands vie for spots on Army’s esports team

Why they are so interesting: The esports story was my choice this month (6,500 active-duty and Reserve troops competing for 30 spots  on the Army’s esports team, vying for about 30 positions? The Army has an esports team? (They do, obviously.)

However, the Uniform Code of Military Justice story was far and away the most popular story in the ROA SmartBrief in January, so clearly it was of high significance to our readers. (The UCMJ was revised to incorporate new definitions of adultery and domestic violence, among other things.) I learn something new every day working for SmartBrief, but editing this story led me to learn more about the UCMJ, and to appreciate, as I always do, having a job that encourages me to keep learning.

From the National Emergency Number Association

Dispatch center’s foster dog helps lighten the emotional load

Why it is so interesting: It has become clear to me that being a dispatcher and/or first responder is a profession that is stressful. This dispatch center in Johnson County, Ind., took one step toward alleviating stress by bringing on a foster dog, Lincoln (he’s named after Lincoln Logs). Inspired by the dispatch center that handled the Sandy Hook Elementary School emergency, the dispatch center and the county’s animal control department worked together to match Lincoln with the center until he is adopted. The power of animals, again. 

From ICMA (the International City/County Management Association)

Mom from Zimbabwe describes city’s challenges

Why it is so interesting: This piece described, from a mother’s perspective, the intersection between a city’s economic and government conditions and the day-to-day survival of families. As the city’s mass transit system deteriorated and private transportation took control, someone like a mom needing to do the grocery shopping on Saturday found herself in a catch-22 situation. Maureen Sigauke says that high prices are an issue because of inflation, but those are made worse by the difficulties of getting to vendors — she can only afford to take two of her six children with her because fares are so expensive (she also faces a Central Business District beset by danger). Another mom must walk. A mother in slightly better economic conditions doesn’t face the same difficulties, but still must contend with high prices for gas and parking. As a mom, I felt so much empathy for these other mothers, just trying to feed their families against difficult odds.

Checking Out Some SmartBrief Features While Traveling

During my recent trip to New York City, I got to see two things that had been featured in SmartBrief newsletters I had edited.

Pier 55 Park

When I filled in as the editor of the National Recreation and Park Association SmartBrief in December, we ran a story about Champagne-glass-shaped pylons going up on NYC’s Pier 55 park project.  As I read the stories about the project the day I was editing, I tried to get my head around the 90-ton, champagne-glass-shaped pots that will be the centerpiece of the project. My itinerary in the city was NUTS, so I didn’t have tons of time to thoroughly indulge my curiosity, but I did catch a glimpse of the project as I took a Lyft one day:

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling

We talked about this place in the BoardSource SmartBrief in October, then I discussed it in a video shortly afterward. Although it was a brief (no pun intended!) visit, I loved seeing the museum in person.

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

This is the mural, Recuerdame, that is behind me in the above picture.

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

The weather had been pouring and rainy when I arrived. When I left, it was a different — and beautiful — story.

SmartBrief’s DC Office

This doesn’t relate to a story we’ve covered, but it was a highlight of my trip. I started as a freelancer with SmartBrief in January 2017 and became a full-time editor in September 2018, working remotely the whole time. I spent one of the days of my trip working in the Washington, D.C., office.

Although I love almost everything about working from home, I am also a big believer in the power of spending time in person with team members when possible. It was a memorable day, and only confirmed what I already instinctively knew: I work with bright, enjoyable people!

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

Speaking of bright, enjoyable people…

When I share my recaps, I also like to give an update about openings. I wrote in more detail about my experience here.

SmartBrief’s open position(s)

Here are SmartBrief’s currently advertised open positions:

And in the New York office:

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer or email me so we can discuss further. 

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including our newest, the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope to play a part in keeping you informed long into the future!

Favorite January2019 SmartBrief stories

*Note: My opinions about the stories are my personal viewpoint; they do not reflect an endorsement by my employer.

Five Minute Friday: WHERE

Five Minute Friday Where

Five Minute Friday: WHERE

“If explorers only thought about the destination they’re trying to reach, they would never see it. In a cave, short-sighted tunnel vision can be a lifesaver.”

Shannon Gormley wrote the above line as part of Into the Dark, an article about the Thai cave rescue.  I was riveted by this article — I doubt many of us missed the news of the rescue itself last year, but the exhaustive research by the author that shed light on every angle of the rescue made me think at every twist and turn.

Knowing that I would be writing to the prompt “where,” I did set that quote aside. It aligns with so many quotes about life’s journeys, but it held a special poignancy to me as I thought about the efforts to get those boys (and their coach) out of the cave.

I know I am a better foot soldier than I am a general, and this situation was full of “generals” — and people who were accustomed to being in charge. They had to deal with cultural differences, language challenges, a perilous situation and the constant scrutiny of the media.

Even though the article is so thorough, I still walked away wondering exactly how the rescuers finally arrived at a plan and carried it out. Some of the techniques used were terribly unconventional, and showed drastic risks on the part of those who participated.

BUT EVERY ONE OF THE BOYS AND THEIR COACH LIVED!

Those boys and that coach certainly did not plan to end up where they did — deep in a cave with virtually no egress. But another group of people ended up being where they needed to be to contribute to a successful rescue. If my kid had been one of the boys in the cave, I would say grateful prayers forever.

Five Minute Friday Deep

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

Five Minute Friday: CONVENIENT

Five Minute Friday Convenient

Five Minute Friday: CONVENIENT

“It’s not what I asked for.”

How often is that true for all of us? We end up in a situation that we didn’t plan or want. It’s the opposite of what we dreamed of.

This lyric is part of “She Used to Be Mine,” one of the songs in the musical “Waitress.” I saw it last Thursday night, starring Sara Bareilles, who wrote the music. The song starts off relatively calmly and quietly, but by the time it reaches the end, the singer is leaving it all on the stage.

As an audience, we had a moment as Sara reached the end of this song. The events that had occurred and inconvenienced her character were things we all had invested in by that point.

As I was standing outside the theater after the show, at the stage door waiting and hoping to see some of the stars, someone else who had been there said, “this show makes me want to be a better person.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Theater does that for me, too. This show is “about pie,” but it’s about so much more. It’s about overcoming insecurity, about claiming your body back from someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. It’s about doing what you have to do when you inconveniently end up being responsible for another innocent human being

***end of five minutes***.

Two families that are friends of mine are dealing with very ill babies right now. One baby has gone home, and the other goes home within the next day or two. They have different prognoses, but for now each one is going to require extremely intensive medical care, both from the parents and from medical assistants. In each case, a family and their older child/children have found their lives completely turned inside out — emotionally, financially, logistically.

It’s tempting to say, “I couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be what I asked for.” I don’t know these two families intimately, but I know them well enough that I’ve seen how their situations have evolved. Despite all the complications and inconvenience, I have watched two families fall in love with their babies. They want support, and I have watched them learn to ask for what they need. But I have also seen them do what caregivers the world over have done for as long as issues have arisen with loved ones: figure it out. Love. Be Mom. Be Dad.

Convenience can wait.

Note: Here is information about my friends’ babies. Thoughts, prayers if you are the praying type, and support are all appreciated.

Jesse: Facebook page (Pray for Jesse). GoFundMe.

Lydia: Facebook page (Beautiful Warrior). GoFundMe.

And here’s Sara Bareilles singing “She Used to be Mine”:

Five Minute Friday Deep

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

Marching Right Past Each Other’s Humanity

I lost “friends” and sowed some discontent on Facebook when I participated in the Tallahassee Women’s March in January 2017.

Marching past humanity

Tallahassee Women’s March 2017

That’s fine. We lose connections with people, especially on social media, as our differences become too great to overlook.

However, it has bothered me ever since January 2017. My pro-life friends said, “I wouldn’t have felt comfortable there — it wasn’t for all women.” And although I argued that they would have been comfortable, while my friends who had been marching in DC also asserted the activity was for all women, I knew in my heart of hearts that they would not have been at ease.

Two Years Later — a Trip to DC’s March

When a few factors came together to make a trip to New York City possible this year, with the date being up to me, I intentionally chose something that would make it possible to get to DC. My friends, all strong advocates in their own right, and I planned to meet up in DC.

I have zero apologies for participating in the March, or for the positions about which I am most vocal. Yet, it is a challenge when those positions and my choices abut people who are dear to me.

As the time of the Women’s March drew near, friends on Facebook asked for prayers as their teenagers were headed to the March for Life, to be held the day prior to the Women’s March. Of course I wanted those teenagers to be safe, and I admired their adherence to their beliefs, but I felt conflicted.

A Woman’s Place is in the … WHAT?

As my friend Yolanda and I wound our way through the streets of DC, admiring people’s signs and reveling in the shared sense of purpose that our country has to find its way back to some semblance of equity and fairness, our attention was drawn to a group of counterprotesters on the sidewalk. They were there to express their pro-life views. A group of Women’s Marchers had stationed themselves in front of them to try to block their message.

Honestly, I barely looked at them. I was processing things. But I remember Yolanda reading one of their signs: “A woman’s place is in the kitchen.” Their other messages were along the same lines and they were screaming at us about killing babies.

Where in the world is the middle ground?

As the day went on, chatter about the interactions between the students from Covington High School, the Native American Elder and the Black Israelites started to fill Twitter and other news channels. (Here is the BBC’s coverage because it’s virtually impossible to choose objective press about the event here in the US.)

Something in my gut told me to hold off favoriting/sharing on social media. My friend and I were running around, and it was extremely difficult to get a handle on what was happening. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an Indigenous People’s March, much less on the same day as the March for Life.

What I am about to say may be the single most naive thing I’ve ever written in 10+ years of blogging, but here goes:

Choosing to share your side of a situation in a public demonstration is not the time to have any hope of finding middle ground; that happens person-to-person, face-to-face, in our everyday lives. Our living rooms, the vantage point of a parent in a driver’s seat speaking to a kid in the passenger seat being driven to dance, soccer or lacrosse, and hopefully the classroom or place of worship. But not a protest situation.

Here’s how much a parent can control what their teenager does:

(Slight hyperbole alert here):

ZERO.

One of the first things you learn as a parent is that your child is their own person. I always cringe a bit at the “this all starts at home” line of reasoning when a young person does something unaccepting or otherwise meanspirited.

What I do know, however, is that a school that allowed a situation to escalate in the way the Covington situation escalated is probably not one where my children would have remained enrolled very long.

I know, too, that is entirely imperfect as my children’s parents are, they have seen two parents who each tried to model fairness, appreciation of diversity and inclusion.

Social media is misleading

Did you see the picture of Prince William “shooting a bird“? It turns out the truth is in the camera angle.

There are things about the Covington situation that speak their truth beyond the camera angles:

  • the body space invasion of Sandmann and Phillips in each other’s personal boundaries
  • the MAGA hats
  • the chanting

Some authors, such as Andrew Sullivan in the Intelligencer, claim the Covington students were sort of captive (waiting for a bus, at the mercy of the Black Hebrew Israelites). After watching 100 minutes of footage before, during and after the most widely promoted moments Sullivan said, “This is a moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror of social media and see what we have become.”

I appreciate Sullivan’s perspective, yet I tend to align most closely with Average White Guy via Black Girl in Maine, who said, “Wearing a MAGA hat and approaching any person of color, but most particularly Black or Indigenous people of color, is an act of aggression by its very nature.”

Protesting is hard

I feel ridiculous typing “protesting is hard,” because I really don’t know “hard.” As a white, middle-class woman who has definitely gotten everything I need in life and more than my share of what I wanted, I am aware that “hard” is something I do not know.

This is the section where I tell you I don’t know the answer (ha!). It’s the section where I admit that my entire upbringing under a lovely Southern mom was geared toward being polite, not making waves.

When I was at We Won’t Wait 2016, and trans women talked about how they disrupted a panel at a conference, making it impossible for the presenters to continue and essentially holding the entire gathering hostage until someone would let them share their message, my inclination was to say, “but do you know how hard those people worked to make their presentation? The conference fees they paid? The years of research?”

I don’t know the answer, but I also know Rosa Parks didn’t exactly wait until a passenger gave her a seat. At that same conference (We Won’t Wait), a speaker said, “Rosa Parks wasn’t tired of racism … Rosa Parks was TIRED.” (I know she was probably both, but the point was well taken.) The big changes in our society don’t happen quietly or politely. They get people’s attention and make us uncomfortable.

Were the Covington students doing something hard to further a greater social good or doing something self-centered to which they were relatively accustomed to further their own discriminatory agendas?

There’s no talking sense into a fundamentalist

Once I learned more about the Black Hebrew Israelites, I had a better understanding of the elements at play that day. And ultimately, there’s no reasoning with a group that far on the fringes.

Megan Roper, who grew up as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church, known for rigidity and especially for protesting funerals and expressing hatred toward gay people, left that all behind. She now says, ” They [people she met on Twitter who were from outside her church] approached me as a human being and that was more transformative than two full decades of outrage, disdain and violence.”

Marching past humanity

 

Finding the human beings beneath it all

In January 2017, my pro-life friends protested that they would not have felt welcome at Tallahassee’s Women’s March and in January 2019, people I loved marched to espouse the right to life the day before I marched for women’s rights (and other rights) while being yelled at to “get back in the kitchen.” Somewhere in the middle of all that, a group of high school boys from Kentucky came face to face with a Native American Elder while another group of extremists egged everyone on (it appears).

What I can’t reconcile is why no one in that entire mix approached anyone else as a human being. It seems like it would have been more transformative.

Marching past humanity

 

Not Every Leader Wears a Business Suit

Power of mothers

I saw lots of stock photos in my four years of doing freelance social media work, writing, and editing. If I used a search term like “leader,” I could predict the types of images I’ would find. The one above is an example.

But I could also predict the types of images I would not be likely to detect:
Power of mothers

Leading in the Mountains

I have been involved for years in Unbound, a non-profit program that works to help people in poverty. When I participated in a blogger trip in 2014 and had an opportunity to meet participants in El Salvador up close, one of the most memorable activities was a meeting with a mothers’ group high in the mountains.

The organization’s philosophy revolves around the concept that people benefit more from learning to help themselves (with support, as needed) than from handouts.

That’s where the mothers come in. As the organization found in a 2017 report, “mother and guardian empowerment” in topics such as decision-making, community involvement, and employment leads to “increased choices in life, positive change and greater personal control.”

The rural areas of El Salvador are far removed physically from typical corporate board rooms, but the qualities I saw among these moms paralleled what I would see in a C-Suite officer trying to make sense of corporate finance numbers for the upcoming fiscal year.

Accountability

When a mother’s group meets in El Salvador, the roll is taken scrupulously. A participant who does not show up and sign in is not eligible to participate in decisions or have a hand in how funding is allocated.

Doesn’t it work the same way in mainstream corporate America? Despite the fact that, as a Harvard Business Review article notes, “one out of every two managers is terrible at accountability,” the expectation is that accountability helps organizations maintain integrity and therefore increase their chances of being profitable.

Being Scrupulous about Setting a Good Example

The mother’s group was populated by moms of varying ages, some still bearing and raising families, others further along in life. These women were conscious of setting an example for one another (and for their children, some of whom were present at the meeting). The tone I got from them was, “as we go, so goes our community.” They meant business, and they loved their community.

Here in the US, employees also look up to leaders to set a good example. “[G]iving people a reason to believe and to follow,” is how the American Management Association puts it, and I agree.

Helping Each Other’s Children

These women didn’t watch for their own children solely – every child was every mother’s responsibility, to an extent. It may be a slight over-generalization, but it is what I have observed consistently in Central America: the presence of a commodity (food, a job opportunity, other resources) is treated as a welcome benefit to all, not to just one.

I wish I could say this is true or something I have read or seen in the US, but we all too easily devolve into a me-first culture. In The Collateral Damage of Selfish Leadership, Dan Pontefract wrote, “But it’s the selfish leader [emphasis his] – those choosing to lead with a perilous fixation on power, pay and/or profit – that might be causing much of the disengagement and dissatisfaction in today’s organization.”

Honoring the Culture

Our visit was a “special occasion” (that was humbling), so there was a gracious reception for us with local foods, fresh flowers, and unique decorations. The group didn’t try to adjust for what they thought we wanted; they brought out the best in their cultural expression.

This is a time of many mergers in the global economy. Merging two organizations can’t be easy; it occurs to me these newly joined organizations could take a page from the mothers of El Salvador and figure out what each partner’s roots are before digging everything up and trying to graft two companies together.

Moms Know

True leadership doesn’t require a fancy briefcase, a bespoke business suit, or an advanced degree from an Ivy League institution. Sometimes it shows up most when a Salvadoran mom takes the lead.

A version of this post was originally published by the Lead Change Group as Not All Leaders Wear Suits.

 

Five Minute Friday: INFLUENCE

Five Minute Friday Influence

Five Minute Friday: INFLUENCE

When I rented a car yesterday, I accepted the keys and paperwork from the representative, then went directly to the spot he had indicated: E2.

When I was handed the fob for a keyless entry car, I thought “I can do this.” Even though my CRV is a 2005 and anything but keyless, Tenley has a keyless car. Other people in 2019 have keyless cars. I COULD DO THIS.

I was a bit surprised that it was a Cadillac, but figured he gave me what he had on the lot, even though it was an upgrade beyond what I ordered.

I pressed the button to start the ignition.

Nothing.

Nada.

A weird note on the screen, “place keyless device in pocket.”

WHAT POCKET?!

There I sat, for about 10 minutes, watching YouTube videos of how to start a keyless entry Cadillac. I found the glove compartment and the old-timey paper manual and looked up how to start the thing. No luck.

I finally gave up and decided I needed to walk back into the airport, where the rental car counter was, and ask. I wasn’t happy about this development, but I needed to get going.

Then the voice in my head suggested something:

“Why don’t you look at the little tag on the key and make sure you went to the right car?”

Hmmm.

[Picture me here looking at the little tag.]

[Picture the little tag saying “Acadia,” which is NOT a Cadillac.]

[Picture me walking to spot E1, pressing the “start” button on the Acadia, and the Acadia starting right up.]

The rep didn’t intentionally send me to the wrong spot, but his confidence influenced me to go there.

It took 10 minutes for me to stop being frustrated, stop searching for a way to start a car I didn’t have a key to, and to explore the evidence right in my hands that I should think differently.

What do you need to re-think today that might shed light on a message someone told you, confidently, that wasn’t factually correct and resulted in you not getting anywhere?

Five Minute Friday Deep

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

Aging is Not a Hammer

How hard did aging hit you?

This is the wording of the latest social media challenge making the rounds. The wording is accompanied by a Facebook user’s collage containing their first-ever profile picture and their most recent.

I resisted at first, partially because it is impossible to make my original picture and my current picture symmetrical (the 2007 picture of Tenley and me is taken from a distance; my current profile picture is a headshot). I still shared it on Instagram, but the inability to make the two images symmetrical was a hurdle.

The other hurdle? I am not a fan of the challenge’s name. 

“How hard did aging hit you?” makes it sound as though we are at the mercy of aging. I also almost physically recoil at the imagery related to “hitting.”

First, Here’s What I Think

It’s not that aging doesn’t bring hits

I’ve had my share of adversity as I have grown older. I suspect anyone could say the same thing. Wayne’s job loss (twice), my mom’s death, the consequences of making financial decisions that turned out to be poor choices.

For all the pain, every one of those “hits” have been a part of making me better and forcing new growth. Wayne’s job loss made us communicate differently as a couple. My mom’s death brought priorities into sharp relief. Poor financial decisions made me be crystal clear to my kids about what to look out for in their spending decisions as young adulthood approached.

The work world has changed, and I refuse to take an “I’m a victim of being “hit” mentality into my career path

I am a mid-life person and have started a career in a new (to me) profession. I have been involved in the profession (editing/writing) on a freelance basis and as a pastime for most of my career. (In addition, my co-workers from Healthy Kids would no doubt argue that my tendency to edit everything gave me away.)

The work world is changing. People don’t stay in their positions as long as they used to. Offices are literally structured differently, and more people (such as me) work 100% from home. People communicate in less direct ways (most of my communication is by email and Slack).

I have had peers lose opportunities because they “couldn’t keep up.” I don’t want to be blind to my shortcomings, but I will fight hard to be well-versed on changes in technology and work life. These are not things people who have caved to being “hit” are willing or able to do.

Life is so much broader than pictures from the beginning of Facebook until now can communicate

Most of these “first profile pictures” come from 2007 (or so). And this is a non-scientific observation, but most of the participants are women. The number of men chiming in when I asked about this on Facebook was tiny. And one of them pointed out how military service had shaped him. Not that people aren’t still serving in the military, but the period of time covered by Facebook’s existence just doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of life’s influence on our evolution. There’s more to life (looking at you, people who survived Vietnam) than our children’s prom pictures and our travelogues (not that those aren’t great!).

The Reveal

Here’s the version that is true to the challenge – first profile picture (2007 at Xanadu in NYC) and most recent (headshot by Debby Stubing).

Aging is not a hammer

Now, Here’s What My Wise Friends Think

I asked my friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Twitter for a substitute for the “being hit” imagery.

Aging is not a hammer

Here’s their hivebrain response:

“A potter’s wheel. Being guided and shaped from the inside and the outside over time. Sometimes breaking under weak spots when life spins out of control, but rebuilt with careful attention to be stronger in those areas.”

“Aging Disgracefully”

“Aging is a beautiful thing when you do it with health and a really good dose of wisdom.”

“Aging isn’t hitting me at all. It’s more like massaging me gently towards the inevitable grave.”

“Chicken or egg? Do we tell ourselves we are getting older & feel that way or, depending on one’s health, it happens. It happens. But it can happen if we are young, middle-aged or older. I like how poet @maggiesmithpoet writes each day: ‘keep moving.'”

“Evidence of a life lived”

“For a while I was annoyed that I hadn’t planned for a life that lasted so long. But I’d have to admit that’s better than planning for a long life and not getting one.”

“… hey, I’m 10 years older”

“How far I’ve come…” and “flourished”

“How has life shaped you?” would be better…

“How I have been refined…”

“…how many wonderful memories you have made between these two pictures!”

“I am wiser”

““If we’re lucky, we’ll all get old. — Mom”

“I’m a good single barrel whiskey that’s been aged to perfection. The older the whiskey ages, the more it’s worth and enjoyed…”

“Less as a sledgehammer and more like a woodcarver’s chisel. Time and experiences shape us. But it also grows us in new ways, like a tree grows around damage or obstacles.”

“…like being a teenager all over again. A blank palette. What are you going to do with your life?”

“Living life unfiltered!”

“Maybe like the patina on copper? Or weathered wood?”

“Natural wisdom, growing beautiful, enlightenment of inner peace and knowledge”

“Older, wiser and healthier. How I took better care of myself for this thing called life.”

Reducing a sauce down to increase flavor and strength!”

“…runaway steamroller”

Seasoning. Maturing. Becoming. Thriving.”

“Slide down a sometimes bumpy hill. Leaves you bruised and confused.”

“Sweet caress of a mother? Gentle head pat from Father Time?”

“…the current state is much better”

The ‘look I’ve changed over time and I’m supposed to be devastated challenge'”

“We don’t age, we just get better, like a fine wine.”

My friend Stacy said, 

In the process I’ve birthed and raised two kids, co-authored a book, written hundreds of articles, earned a good living, turned my marriage into an even more deeply satisfying partnership and stood up loudly and proudly for things that matter the most to me.

A handful of pictures don’t tell that story and never will. I have wrinkles and fat in places I’d rather not. I have bags under my eyes and a double chin. My breasts are baby chewed and my backside rather more spread out than it was when I was who I was so long ago.

I also have memories that of a life that, while not always as well lived as I have liked, has meaning and value.

No challenge can tell that extremely important truth nor can any comparison pictures tell the honest truths of our authentic lives.

 

As for me, I lean toward the image of a glassblower’s torch, transforming something that already had potential into a more beautiful sculpture, demonstrating a few imperfections, some sharp edges, and more nuanced curves than it had before.

Lastly, I’ll let my smart and insightful friend, Caroline, have the final word.

Aging is Not a Hammer

 

Five Minute Friday: BETTER

 

Five Minute Friday Better

Five Minute Friday: BETTER

I had a conversation on Twitter a few days ago that has given me an earworm of “Rainbow Connection,” the Muppet song. (The person tweeting said they had failed their child because their kid had not heard the song.)

The conversation got pretty amusing (to me at least), because it sent me down memory lane. “Rainbow Connection” was the song we walked to as contestants in the Miss Union County High pageant in 1981. Is there a less pageant-y song anywhere? It was cute in context, though. The whole theme was essentially rainbows and happiness.

I am not pageant material. However, participating in Miss U-Co-High and a pageant I did in college are things I think about frequently. It’s not that those times in my life were better times (not at all), but that being in those contests helped me be a better person. They also give me a better understanding of pageant culture and a certain angle on what pageants have become in our society.

I remember clearly my talent at Miss U-Co-High (I played “The Entertainer” on my flute and created a “jazz” kind of feel — I had on a vest-type thing and brought out an old gas lantern I had borrowed from my aunt.) I also remember Mary Annette Shadd’s talent (she won! congrats!) — she sang “The Rose” and clinched the deal by accompanying herself on the piano, something she ended up deciding to do somewhat spontaneously. I’ve always felt that addition of accompanying herself gave her an edge (can you tell I was first runner up?!).

For the other pageant I did, it was one of the scads of for-profit pageants that are around, the kinds featured in reality shows. I had no clue what I was doing. I got a dress with a hoop skirt (in a situation where most women aim, to an extent, to demonstrate that they are in good physical shape — I obscured all that). What I remember most clearly is how hard it is to smile CONSTANTLY. My lips were quivering. My knees were knocking. It was nerve wracking.

Despite the nerves, I am still glad I took a stab at sharing my better self with the world. It taught me a few lessons that stay with me decades later.

Five Minute Friday Deep

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.)

Toy Drops, Accountability, and the End of Overdue Book Fines

In October and December of last year, I shared posts recapping my favorite SmartBrief stories among the briefs I edit. Here’s an update:

From ASPA (The American Society of Public Administrators) and from ICMA (the International City/County Management Association)

Cities loosen penalties for transit fare evasion (ASPA)

Utah library stops charging fines for overdue books (ICMA)   

Why it’s so interesting: When I lived in New York City (1989-1992), fare evasion was definitely seen as a “no-no.” Now it’s (to an extent) in the same category as fines for overdue books. Speaking of overdue books, some cities are choosing to forgo fines for those now. This (keeping a book past its due date and owing money for it) was seen as a “no-no” long before I was a NYC resident paying my fair share for transit services. Things are changing regarding how municipalities incentivize behaviors that contribute to the greater good. The Utah library was concerned that fines exacerbated inequity, for example, and made it hard for the people who needed the library most to use its services. Also, in both cases, there were analyses of the amount of resources spent on enforcement in comparison to the revenue generated. It makes me look at the world in a different way than I did before. 

Favorite December 2018 SmartBrief stories

From Sigma Xi Science Honor Society

Invasive wasp endangers Spain’s chestnut crops

Why it’s so interesting: It’s a problem in itself that sweet chestnut production in Spain is down 30% due to an invasive Chinese parasitic insect. It’s a bigger problem that the diminished chestnut production and parasitic attack is a) affecting a struggling economy dependent on exporting sweet chestnuts to France b) contributing to an increase in forest fire risk (because some farmers are burning their crops to kill the invader c) resulting in “urban drift” as young people have become more cynical about a future in chestnut farming and d) causing more questions as one method of combating it (the release of the parasite’s natural predator) may itself cause. This is one of many stories I read that help me understand the challenges our world faces. As one government investigator said, “If we take a wider view this is another example of the unintentional globalisation of parasites and the problems facing scientists as they search for ways of eradicating, or at least limiting the pest.”

From the National Association of Social Workers

Commentary: Seeking, finding support helps former foster child

Why it’s so interesting: This story was about Deitrick Foley, who spent time in the foster care system as a child, and says his involvement in several support groups has helped him see that it is possible to find affirmation and support from people who are not relatives by blood. I loved this quote: “I learned to never give up spreading love to the people around me, and to look at one person leaving my life as leaving the door open and making space for two people to come into it.” So wise.

From UN Wire

Female Venezuelan migrants selling hair, sexual favors for income

There is absolutely nothing uplifting about this story. Nothing. As difficult and heartbreaking as it is to read stories like this, it means a lot to me to be a part of sharing them to a broader audience. For International Women’s Day 2018, Kathy Escobar wrote, “May we remember that our freedom is all tied up together, and none of us are free unless we are all free.” I concur.  

From BoardSource

Organization, bipartisanship help nonprofits excel, Bono says

Why it’s so interesting: When I first read this article, I thought about the last time I participated in “Hill Day” for Shot at Life. On Hill Day, advocates visit the offices of their congressional representatives and share their hopes for their cause. There were so many ONE advocates it was almost comical (it was heartening and wonderful, of course, but the visual was a dramatic statement). Bono, the founder, knows what he is doing and he doesn’t mind being direct and possibly even controversial. Case in point: this line from the article: “Whatever you feel about the NRA – and I don’t like them very much – they’re a very well-organized group and we want ONE to be the NRA for the world’s poor.” I admire him for his ability to praise the organizational abilities of the NRA (while also systematically working day and night to achieve goals that are mostly diametrically opposed…).

From the Reserve Officers Association

Operation Toy Drop prep involves 260 jumpmasters

Why it’s so interesting: Operation Toy Drop (not surprisingly) doesn’t involve actually “dropping” toys. In short, it’s a cooperative, multi-national training opportunity that involves paratroopers from 14 partner nations. The participating troops also collect toys for children in the surrounding area. The event started in 1998, and I enjoyed poking around to learn its historyAt a time of so much divisiveness internationally, I loved the cooperative tone of this project. 

This video gives a brief overview of the event:

(As a side note and point of personal privilege, this story was also relevant to me because my daughter went skydiving for the first time ever last month. Thank you to Jump Jasper Skydiving for delivering her back to terra firma safely. And props to Tenley for being brave enough to do something I have no desire to do. EVER.)

From the National Emergency Number Association

Peevyhouse: Trauma among 9-1-1 professionals should be given priority

Why it’s so interesting: First, I loved the title of this commentary from Jamison Peevyhouse, President of the National Emergency Number Association, “Hell is empty, & all the devils are here.” Such an evocative use of words to introduce a piece about the stresses first responders and dispatchers face. Besides the explanation of the challenges faced by dispatchers, I loved the emphasis on being observant, of being a team, such as, “Be the one who will commit to check on each coworker after a tough shift.” We should all do the same, regardless of our industry.  

From SmartBrief on Leadership

Letting employees design workflow increases engagement

I edited SmartBrief on Leadership for six days in December. This brief is how I became acquainted with SmartBrief years ago, and it has its own significance to me for that reason. Being entrusted with editing it was mixture of enthralling and nerves (but mostly enthralling!). One article from that six-day period that stood out to me was this interview with Stephen Mumford, an executive at Baton Rouge General Medical Center. In discussing employee engagement, he said this:

Listen, listen, listen! I find that sometimes my employees just want to be heard. I make rounds in the departments as much as I can. My employees really like when I come to their areas and see them in action. I also let my team design the processes and workflows for their departments. This keeps them engaged, and they hold each other accountable to the processes they build.

People like to be involved in designing “processes and workflows.” In the medical environment, who better to be a part of designing workflows than the people who do it? I can see why they are more engaged and why they emphasize accountability if they had a hand in the way things run. 

Another cool component of the leadership newsletter is its Twitter feed. Check it out by visiting @SBLeaders.

About Working at SmartBrief and Our Current Openings

When I share my recaps, I also like to give an update about openings. I wrote in more detail about my experience here.

SmartBrief’s Open Position(s)

Here are SmartBrief’s currently advertised open positions:

And in the New York office:

If you apply, please list me as your referrer. 

To Recap

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including our newest, the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us on Facebook, SmartBrief Twitter, Leadership SmartBrief Twitter, LinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope to play a part in keeping you informed long into the future!

Favorite December 2018 SmartBrief stories

6 Sincere Ways to Say “Thanks”

Sincere Thanks

This quote by William Arthur Ward is charming and inspirational, but may be as ill-fitting as a “Best Wishes on Your Wedding” bag among all the Santas and Snowmen under the tree, especially in the work setting.

“[T]here can be serious consequences to misusing, or overusing, displays of appreciation in the office,” says Vidyard CEO and co-founder Michael Litt in Gratitude schmatitude: How too much praise devalues appreciation.

I have had my share of curmudgeonliness here on the blog this year (looking at you, gender reveals). Since I try to position myself as someone who leans toward optimism, I don’t want to close the year out on a “but think about the downside” type of note.

Litt’s article, which appeared in SmartBrief on Dec. 19, did leave me thinking, though. Does gratitude lose its effect if said too often, too insincerely, too mechanically?

With those questions in mind, six ways we can try to be more intentional and creative with our expressions of gratitude in the coming year:

Recognition

Some people find recognition extremely rewarding; others not so much.

Case in point: My son won an award at school in the spring of his senior year (April 2017). The awards were intended to be for the “non-traditional” sort of achievement and give students who might not tend to get more conventional awards a moment of gratitude. It was a lovely ceremony, and he was given a certificate, a medal and several other mementos.

His items are still sitting in the back seat of my car … a year and a half later! (And yes, I realize this says way too much about how often I clean out the back of my car!).

Sincere Thanks

Maybe the recognition meant more to him than he let on, but given his choice of what to do with the mementos, I’m inclined to think it was not, in the scheme of things, a huge deal to him.

Consider whether the person you want to thank finds public recognition fulfilling and/or motivating.

Trust

For me, one of the best ways someone can express their appreciation for my role on a team is by trusting me with the details of “the big picture.” I simply function more effectively when I understand how my contribution fits into the overall plan.

There are some facts and details pertinent to an organization’s life that need to remain confidential for logical reasons. However, there are many more elements of an organization’s plan that are better off being exposed to broad daylight.

Transparency also has the potential to help leaders do a better job and help organizations fulfill their missions. “When employees are in the loop about an organization’s challenges, they’ll likely better understand and support the tough decisions that leaders must make,” says Rebecca Hawk in 5 Benefits of More Transparency in Your Workplace.

Is there a way you can translate your gratitude for an employee’s trustworthiness and commitment to the organizational mission into a more transparent approach?

Sing Someone’s Praises — Without Them Knowing

This may seem counterintuitive. In the context of the opening quote, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it,” it may seem warped.

Look at it, though, as wrapping the present and then giving it … not to the recipient but to someone who can use it to the recipient’s benefit in some way.

I was involved in the freelance social media and communications world for the last four years, and trust me when I say that although its universe is broad, it’s still exceptionally common for people to know each other, or of each others’ reputations, even if they haven’t ever spoken.

If someone comes up in conversation, it never hurts to say, “[Facebook Frances] did a great job on my campaign; she made a difference for our brand. Don’t say it if it’s untrue, obviously, or if it is awkward, but if you’re talking about Facebook Frances and have an opportunity to say a kind word, go ahead and say it. That’s the kind of paying it forward that may make a difference when Facebook Frances is looking for work in the future.

Take the time to say the word of praise if it’s natural and true, even if it is not said directly to the subject of the compliment. It’s a way of giving karma a little boost.

Flexibility

Flexibility is huge. Flexibility as a reward is something many people appreciate. I would argue it also goes hand in hand with trust.

“[I]t’s becoming more common for employees to perform ‘life’ tasks during work hours and take work home during ‘off’ hours,” says the Staffing Industry Analysts group in Workplace Trends for 2019 Include Flexibility, Digital Sophistication, explaining why flexibility is gaining prominence among desired work conditions.

Although I agree that the trend SIA is discussing is happening, and employers will gain employee goodwill by accommodating it, my thoughts on flexibility are a bit different.

Now that I am a remote worker, and have a great deal of flexibility, this problem has been largely resolved for me. However, when I was in a traditional office, and still juggling the multiple balls involved when a family has active kids and both parents work, I would have had much less stress (and much higher morale) if there had been options to modify my schedule and work around everyone’s needs.

Seek ways to help people who are performing well configure their life in a way that helps them make the best use of their energy levels and helps them take care of their other obligations. They’ll be less stressed (and more productive).

A Receptive Ear

With an increasing amount of our workforce finding themselves as freelance workers, opportunities for disconnects between people engaged in mutual work grow. (Statista reports that 35% of the US workforce in 2016 were freelancers, an increase of two million over 2014.)

Throughout my four years of freelancing, I was a member of quite a few Slack groups.

Not to overdramatize, but there are times when you are a freelancer that your Slack channels are the main way you interact with other humans during the day.

I have had some pretty deep (yet brief) conversations on Slack. As my responsibilities grew in one of the organizations, and my status changed from freelancer to employee, one resolution I carried forward was a commitment to — within the bounds of professionalism and efficiency — make sure to always express my gratitude and to recognize the way personal stresses present challenges unique to freelancers.

You may not be able to see a freelancer on the other side of a Slack (or whatever system you use) exchange, but they still need to know their efforts at doing a good job matter and their stresses are acknowledged.

Money

One of Michael Litt’s points in writing about the dangers of watering down gratitude by expressing it too often and/or too insincerely was, “Money doesn’t always buy thanks.”

Litt didn’t mean that money should never be used to express gratitude. However, he says research does not substantiate the effectiveness of “short-term or one-off financial bumps” for improving performance.

Litt’s organization gives “off-cadence options” (shares in the business) in truly “exceptional” situations to demonstrate “a direct connection between an employee’s contribution and the continued success of the company.”

Don’t rule money out to demonstrate gratitude, but be deliberate in your approach and choose something that directly correlates with the difference an employee made.

In closing

I like financial rewards as much as the next person, but I agree with Litt that there are other ways to help employees feel appreciated.

For me, the most important ways to show appreciation are trusting me with glimpses into the “big picture,” honesty about where things stand (organizationally and with my performance) and appealing to my sense of teamwork.

How could an employer best show gratitude to you?

Sincere Thanks