For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an encyclopedic recall of facts pertaining to my obsessions: dinosaurs, product features, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony lyrics, you name it. If it’s moderately obscure, has my attention, and won’t in any way add value to my life, I’m on it.

I once earned the eternal respect of an elementary school teacher when I correctly identified the color periwinkle. It was in my crayon box at home, how could I not remember it for the rest of my life?

And the other day in the office, my colleagues were surprised—nay, shocked—when I explained that the pattern on my friend’s wallet was houndstooth, and not gingham.

No lesson today, I honestly just wanted to write a post entitled Periwinke and houndstooth.

Doing things my way

01/31/2017

It’s been less than a year since I started sharing my journey and mission with live audiences, and I’ve never been more convinced of the need for voices like mine (and yours) to be amplified.

One of the reasons that I sit on “diversity” panels is because the audiences I’m in front of rarely hear words like slavery, racism, and discrimination used in this context. I’m not sure how else to have an honest conversation about the challenges facing business leaders today, so it’s an honor to hold that space.

I’ll also freely admit that I’ve had to temper my frustrations about this “diversity and inclusion” conversation with the fact that I hold a tremendous amount of privilege: I’ve had the luxury of stepping away from lucrative jobs and roles while building a life around work from which I can’t be fired.

Yes, we have corporate sponsors at Abernathy but nobody tells me what to write and publish. And yes, organizations book me to speak and facilitate workshops, but I’m not beholden to any company other than my own. I don’t take this freedom for granted.

Indeed, I’ve spent the past six years making a living in ways that allow me to speak and stand in my truth. I’ve left millions in revenue on the table because of how I choose to live my life, but what I’ve gained in the process has more than made up for it.

When I share my point of view with the world, I’m touting a perspective informed by a deep understanding of my own psychology, lessons learned from a wide array of successes and failures, and a first-hand look at the way in which ideas propagate among diverse networks and demographics.

The essential truth governing human behavior and motivation is often hiding behind the words people say. If we listen carefully and invite people to stand in their truth, we might also hear what they’re actually saying.

On your mark

01/29/2017

When I produced my first big event last November, the most disconcerting realization I experienced was that I was running the show. I’m not being figurative or egotistical, I’m being literal. The event featured the largest panel this side of the Mississippi, and it took a fair amount of wrangling to bring the lively discussion to a peaceful conclusion.

As the panel came to a close and fifteen of the last three audience questions were queued, it struck me that no one was going to come around the corner and give the “we’re out of time” signal. That was my job. Quite the experience to absorb live, and this realization was my chief takeaway from the evening.

If I don’t publish my daily post here, no one is going to come after me. I can get away with not publishing my weekly Abernathy newsletter as well. But opportunity lies in the things we don’t need anyone to tell us to do—the things we do without permission or obligation.

We’re all looking to each other for leadership and social cues, so stepping into roles with grace and confidence and consistency is sometimes the only qualification for leveling up in the world.

Did you know that the Unites States formally apologized for Slavery and Jim Crow in 2008?

“The fact is, slavery and Jim Crow are stains upon what is the greatest nation on the face of the earth and the greatest government ever conceived by man. But when we conceived this government and said all men were created equal we didn’t in fact make all men equal, nor did we make women equal. We have worked to form a more perfect union, and part of forming a more perfect union is laws, and part of it is such as resolutions like we have before us today where we face up to our mistakes and we apologize, as anyone should apologize for things that were done in the past that were wrong. And we begin a dialogue that will hopefully lead us to a better understanding of where we are in America today and why certain conditions exist.”

—Rep. Steve Cohen

What a shame this isn’t more widely discussed.

Long before I spent time abroad, I identified much more as a global citizen than purely as an American. We have a lot to be proud of in the United States—this American experiment has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the Constitution’s framers—but we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Indeed, many of our most “American” ideals and cultural staples have been imported, to put it politely.

When I lived in Buenos Aires, I got my first real taste of what life is like outside the (North) American context. Experiences captured in books and films pale in comparison to cultural immersion, and these experiences can open you up to a new way of seeing the world. The humans who escape the gravity of their home country tend to see the world differently, and it’s hard not to detect the fleeting outlines of a utopian pluralism with enough Malbec on hand.

I didn’t return to the United States with a grand theory on world peace, but I certainly gained some invaluable perspective.

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.

From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

—Edgar Mitchell, NASA astronaut

Time on, time off

01/26/2017

When I worked as an IT consultant, I logged a lot of hours: on the road, at the office, and sitting in front of my laptop. Work culture in that environment was heavily influenced by the optics: the client wanted to, quite literally, see where their money was going. The result, predictably, was a whole lot of pretending to look busy.

When I left the world of full-time employment my productive output, also predictably, rivaled that of a toddler. I was motivated and had plenty of freelance web development projects, but I had never cultivated a strong work ethic. On the contrary, I had been rewarded my entire life for my smarts and charm rather than hard work.

Lamenting to more productive folks, I consistently received the counterintuitive advice to spend less time working. This was confusing to me, not to mention a vast departure from the work culture to which I had grown accustomed, and it could easily have been used as an excuse to avoid work altogether. But that wasn’t the point.

The point was that the eight hour work day, just like the forty hour week, is a relic of the industrial age. It served the economy at the time and the needs of a different generation, but it hasn’t translated well to this information age. It’s simply a myth that we need to toil the day away to make a living.

The other point was to understand how to utilize a work day. We all have important projects and high-leverage tasks that comprise them, but many of us also have repetitive administrative tasks that need to get done. If for whatever reason our Important Project muscles need the afternoon off, it makes little sense to power through unproductively when the work isn’t bearing fruit.

The peaks and valleys of our productive output are perfectly acceptable so long as we keep showing up. We needn’t make a career out of learning Richard Branson’s productivity best practices, what’s far more important is learning what works for us over the long haul of our careers.

Rushing to judgment

01/25/2017

Rushing to judgment harms in two ways: the first is we leave no room for someone else’s ideas to be as valid as ours, and the second is that we don’t practice seeing the world from another’s point of view. There is no area of our life that’s improved by perpetuating this behavior, and years of practice makes it quite challenging to discontinue the habit.

I had the pleasure of hearing Ta-Nehisi Coates speak at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem in 2015. He was riding high from the overwhelming success of Between the World and Me, and temporarily relocated to Paris in the tradition of James Baldwin and other important African American authors.

During his writerly exile, Coates was besieged with questions about his decision to relocate, and addressed them during his live interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones. The answer disappointed some, but I loved it. In summary: he liked the cheese and the bread, but Paris is just a place.

I’m a fan of the grand gesture, and I have the outdated mailing addresses to prove it—I’ve relocated for opportunities, experiences, and most recently, to launch a media company. Sometimes in order to bring about important changes in our lives, these dramatic moves are useful. The grand gesture might involve leaving an unhealthy relationship, quitting a stressful job, or letting go of emotional baggage that no longer serves us.

The allure of elsewhere, however, calls to us like a siren song. The answers we’re seeking must be in Balinese yoga, Argentine tango, and Tanzanian hikes, right? I’m not so sure. The lessons in many spiritual texts and cultural myths suggest that everything we need can be found right where we are. This isn’t to say that important experiences aren’t to be found in faraway lands and novel experiences, but it’s the psychological shift that opens the door to growth, not the beach bonfires. Indeed, a contentedness with our present circumstances might be the foundational lesson we’re avoiding.

This lesson applies even if we decline to leave our zip code. Soup kitchens and youth mentoring programs serve important roles in our cultural fabric, and I’d encourage anyone with the time and means (see: anyone reading this) to get involved. However an affirmation of a friend, an apology to a sibling, or a call to a loved one might contain the most potent and enduring opportunities for personal transformation.

And it’s a both-and, not an either-or.

So yes, let’s do sun salutations in Costa Rica and rent motorbikes in Vietnam. But let’s also notice that joy and wonder in the miracle of Thursday evening soup with our third-favorite aunt.

Facts and figures

01/23/2017

I was frighteningly bored with the study of history growing up. The characters felt hopelessly distant, and the past seemed to be cloaked in a thick haze of irrelevance. Despite the occasional unmissable recommendation, I had little exposure to compelling stories.

It came as a relief, then, to learn that the teaching of history in this country is deeply flawed. History is riveting, and an important story under the direction of a skilled author is worth whatever it costs.