Low power mode

01/08/2017

Apple iOS 10 comes with a feature called Low Power Mode that “reduces the amount of power your iPhone uses until you can get a full charge.” Humans have a similar setting, and it’s called living below our potential. It comes standard and it’s a bug, not a feature.

I spent much of my adult career in this mode. Part of it was professional misalignment, and part of it was that I hadn’t yet done some important work I needed to do on myself. Regardless, it was wasn’t good for my employers and collaborators, and it certainly wasn’t good for me.

It’s a generous thing to call someone out, with love, when their light isn’t shining as brightly as it could. But care must be taken to not do damage when someone is fighting a hard battle in secret, and it’s best to be invited to that sacred space of candid feedback.

I say this because I’ve damaged relationships by providing “well-intentioned” feedback that was too harsh. That’s not fun to admit to myself, much less acknowledge publicly, but it’s the truth. Behind my harsh feedback was actually a fear of being called out for my own hiding and subpar performance.

It was a vicious cycle. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. My hope is that you show up in the world generously, and stand firmly in your truth, with love. We need a lot more of that.

“A place to spend my quiet nights, time to unwind
So much pressure in this life of mine, I cry at times
I once contemplated suicide, and woulda tried
But when I held that 9, all I could see was my momma’s eyes
No one knows my struggle, they only see the trouble
Not knowin it’s hard to carry on when no one loves you
Picture me inside the misery of poverty
No man alive has ever witnessed struggles I survived”

—2Pac, Thugz Mansion

I’ve done a lot of things in my short time on earth that I’m proud of. I’ve worked with my heroes, supported people who mean the world to me, and shipped projects that have touched the lives of a lot of important folks. My professional bio suggests that I’m successful and accomplished, and many of my business partners and collaborators over the years would echo this notion.

But out of everything I’ve accomplished, what I’m most proud of is that I’ve learned to be kind to myself.

I’ve learned to destigmatize the need for healing in my life, and to have compassion for myself. This shows up in subtle and profound ways; my humor is no longer self-deprecating, I’m careful not to be so hard on myself, and my self-image has improved substantially. An unexpected benefit is that I’m now able to extend much more compassion and kindness to others.

For many black folks and historically marginalized people, 2016 in particular was an incredibly difficult year. And for many of us, especially in the black community, the hardest part is what we don’t share with others. I’m talking about the dark thoughts we think, and the feelings we experience in our quiet moments. What’s particularly hard to reconcile is the fact that publicly, we don’t often seem to be struggling. I ended 2016 rocketing towards success with a fabulous tailwind, but that is most definitely not how it started.

Now I get it

The first article we published when we launched Abernathy was entitled The Sad State of Depression in the Black Community. It remains one of our most popular pieces to date, and for nearly two years we’ve been beating the drum of emotional and mental health in the black community. I’m proud of that.

But the importance of this conversation and the need for healing came from what felt like a fight to the death with my own anxiety and depression. It’s hard to pinpoint when it first began (I’ve got some ideas), but I found myself feeling tortured and alone on the mountain of shame. The most terrifying part of this ordeal was that no one knew I was suffering. The shame was unbearable and everything hurt, but I was functioning more or less “normally” in society.

During this time, I felt like the walls were closing in on me, and things only improved when I started talking about how I was feeling; not just hinting at being in a funk or sharing with those close to me that I was working on being kinder to myself. I had to enthusiastically raise my hand and say, I am not okay. I fought feelings of selfishness and smallness (everyone’s fighting a hard battle, why would I burden anyone with this?) and removed the footholds of shame I had granted in my life.

I refused to continue suffering in silence. I demanded more of and for myself, and practiced loving myself enough to say that I needed help. And let me tell you, crying in front of colleagues and mentors sounds a lot worse than it really is. It can be freeing. It was for me. My public tears healed private wounds.

I know what it’s like to weep silently in my room without being able to put my finger on the pain, and I know what it’s like to put on a smile before going out into the world. I know what it’s like to respond to “how are you?” with deflections that mask the pain and confusion.

I also know what it’s like to feel like anxiety might rip me limb from limb. And I know what it’s like to hide from responsibilities and projects and friends because of the shame. My struggles with mental and emotional health over the years, I’m now realizing, has cost me relationships and opportunities and time I’ll never get back.

The familiarity of failure

One of the ways trauma shows up in our lives is through personal and professional self-sabotage—an addiction to failure. We see this in family members who can’t stay out of jail, friends who go from one abusive relationship to the next, and lovers who would rather destroy an otherwise successful relationship than be vulnerable.

The reason we feel addicted to the cycle of failure and unhealthy habits is because it’s what’s familiar to us. We know how to deal with dysfunction and pain, yet many of us don’t know how to deal with success. And so the heartbreaking cycle of New Year’s Resolutions like “never again” breakups and “never again” hangovers and “never again” decisions made on lonely nights festers like an untreated wound, causing us to hate ourselves. I broke this cycle in my life by speaking up about how I was feeling, and by putting daily habits in place to help me to get my footing.

I’m the product of a two-parent household, private school education, and tremendous opportunity. Not understanding the role that trauma (transmitted through the blood) plays created some tension for me. I didn’t live a life of oppression and discrimination and hardship, so success should’ve come easy, right?

Wrong.

I’m the grandson of sharecroppers, and the son of a man who grew up on a farm in the segregated south. Black folks are not prone to communicating our pain and discomfort, and so a culture of dysfunction is perpetuated in our communities and lives. Dr. Joy DeGruy labels it Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome in her important book on the topic:

While African Americans managed to emerge from chattel slavery and the oppressive decades that followed with great strength and resiliency, they did not emerge unscathed. Slavery produced centuries of physical, psychological, and spiritual injury.

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, lays the groundwork for understanding how the past has influenced the present, and opens up discussion for how we can use the strengths we have gained to heal.

This body of research explains why many of us feel the way we feel, and why a particular pattern of dysfunction feels endemic to our communities. These are the echoes of chattel slavery, and we’re exhibiting trauma responses and maladjustment to our toxic environments.

Silver lining

The good news is that healing and restoration is available to us, and there are many resources for us to learn and to grow and get help. We are not broken. We are whole people surviving in a broken system that was not designed for our success.

The scar tissue disfiguring America’s history is comprised of systematic plunder, oppression, genocide, and dehumanization. We can’t change that. But what we can do is allow this legacy to evoke compassion for our fellow marginalized and indigenous countrymen, and most of all, for ourselves. Because if we can heal ourselves, we can heal our country, and if we can heal our country, we might just heal the world.

I’m under no illusions about the likeliness of this outcome in my lifetime or the next thousand lifetimes, but this is the hope to which I cling. Instead of quietly incubating these ideas and building out resources when everything feels perfect and ready, I’m going to take you all along this journey. This isn’t a purely academic exercise, either. What I’m also saying is this: reach out if you’re struggling. I’m not a therapist, but I know some folks who are. And I’ve got your back.

A version of this article originally appeared on Abernathy.

I’ve get this question with relative frequency, so I’ll address it here.

I am not on Facebook (or Twitter, or Instagram) anymore.

No more social media for me.

August, a new kind of consulting company based out of Brooklyn, recently sponsored Abernathy after their President found out about our audience of smart black professionals at a conference in the Bay Area last September.

One of the reasons Mike was primed to allocate budget towards this, aside from my irrepressible charm and boyish good looks, is because they saw great results from their sponsorship of the Buzzfeed‘s Another Round podcast. Another Round is hosted by two black women named Heben and Tracy. They’re usually irreverent, sometimes profane, and always hilarious.

On Episode 74, the podcast begins with a clip by my friend Christina Coleman empowering a group of young girls with the following exercise:

I want you to look at the person next to you. I want you to say, “Look at you. Have you looked at you today? You poppin.” One more time, “Have. you. looked. at. you. to. day? You poppin.”

Aside from reliably evoking weepiness every time I play it back, this adorable clip is a reminder that the generous gift of affirming another soul needn’t follow any particular format, nor require an excuse.

I’ve found affirmations to be an indispensable tool in my journey towards abundance and reminding myself that I’m the kind of person who deserves—nay, demands—all the things I desire in life.

Many of us well know how important and touching tiny moments of care and love can be, and I’m happy to amplify this one in the hope that you’ll find it useful.

Because let’s be honest…you poppin.

This is the feedback I got from my first manager at Accenture, on my first project with the company. I had been working there for a little while, and was excited to be in the game. But I had no idea what he meant by the feedback.

We’re currently a few short days into 2017, and I’m seeing progress on many fronts accelerating at a blistering pace. This time last year, I focused a lot on protecting my work time. I felt overwhelmed with demands on my time, and tried to batch calls and meetings or avoid them altogether.

The trouble with this approach, especially combined with how much experience I still needed in order to be good at my job as the CEO of an independent media company, is that I wasn’t particularly productive in the time I guarded so carefully. I was operating from a place of scarcity, and I expended a lot of cognitive energy brainstorming ways to structure my days with plenty of “work” time.

My heart was in the right place, but I now recognize my resistance as fear. These days, I’m getting on with it. My inbox fills up as fast as I clear it, but things are getting done. My mornings are pretty quiet, but afternoon to evening feels like a whirlwind of collisions and calls and meetings. Amazingly, I’m getting a lot more done with a fractured schedule than I ever did in my prayer closet of productivity.

I suppose my former manager’s feedback wasn’t about something you can really quantify; maybe it’s more of a posture. There’s something powerful and redemptive about a flat-out sprint. It’s exhausting, but dammit I feel alive.

We recently published our 300th article over on Abernathy, which feels surreal. There are far too many articles and contributors to highlight from the past twelve months, so I’ll simply direct you towards the archive.

There’s a lot of great content we haven’t yet published as well. Interviews with leaders in tech and media, contributor profiles, tech spotlights, and much more. I used to be hard on myself about not having cleared out the editorial backlog sooner, but one of the ways I’ve experienced breakthroughs professionally and personally in recent months is by being kind to myself. It’s coming. A lot is coming.

As I was constructing a new narrative around how to approach the balance of the year, my friend Tylea, never one to mince words, assured me that I didn’t need to listen to another podcast, read another self-improvement book, or otherwise wear myself out on this cerebral hamster wheel. I just needed to get on with it.

And she was right. The more I reduced inputs and listened to my intuition, the more the universe conspired in my favor. Below, please find a few 2016 Highlights:

April

  • Appeared on the Mass and Volume podcast (thanks Scotty!)
  • Received the 2016 distinguished alumni recognition from the FSU College of Communication and Information

May
Appeared on the Behind the Brilliance podcast (thanks Lisa!)

July
Spoke at the [email protected] Culture Conference, discussing racism and other personal topics about racism for the first time (thanks Michael and Sol!)

September

  • Spoke at Responsive Conference—my first time in the Bay Area (thanks Robin and Christine!)
  • Facilitated a workshop for a software company called Pivotal in their San Francisco office (thanks Guillermo and Neha!)
  • Facilitated a workshop at Pivotal’s Cambridge office (thanks Jonathan and Brittany!)
  • Spoke with Hubspot’s People of Color affinity group in Cambridge (thanks Katie and Kate!)
  • Delivered a talk during Baltimore Innovation Week (thanks Sabrina and Margot!)

November

  • Produced an event in Harlem sponsored by WeWork that was conceived and executed in 15 days and drew hundreds attendees from across the city (thanks Eric and Enesha!)
  • Announced our sponsorship with August Public (thanks Mike!)

December

  • Spoke at the Wharton African American MBA Association’s 43rd Annual Whitney M. Young Conference (thanks Chris!)
  • Spoke on Qubit and Quartet Health’s tech diversity panel (thanks Hakim!)
  • Spoke at Encore‘s final Brown Bag Lunch of the year (thanks Marci and Eric!)
  • Appeared on the Woke Podcast (thanks Brandon!)
  • Appeared on the Leadership and Loyalty podcast (thanks Dov!)

Equity & Inclusion
Many of you will recall that I was reluctant to offer consulting services around “diversity and inclusion” despite having more than a decade of related experience. A turning point came when I realized in a conversation with an advisor that it was both silly and selfish to keep my gifts and experiences bottled up.

I’ve since thrown myself into this work—which feels more like a calling than a vocation—and I’ve spun it off into its own brand: Equity Impact Group.

Here’s the summaey, for those interested:

Equity Impact Group empowers thoughtful organizations and the leaders who run them. We provide Equity & Inclusion Workshops, Executive Coaching, and Assessments for companies looking to make meaningful strides on their Diversity & Inclusion initiatives.

New Years Eve
Shortly before the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s, I’ll take the stage at the legendary Solomon & Kuff Rum Hall in Harlem to share a short message about 2017 (and beyond)—a Call to Community, if you will. Sasha, Ephraim (performers in the original Hamilton) and Shaun are hosting the second annual N.Y.E. “Off the Kuff” party.

I’m deeply humbled by this opportunity and equally proud to play a part in something so crucial. Celebrating during challenging times is revolutionary, and I look forward to sweating out my weave with like-minded folks through the night. I hope you’ll join us.

2017
We’re busy planning a February event in Harlem to follow the Movers & Shakers Event, and I’ll share those details as soon as they’re available. New projects will be announced in the newsletter first, so be sure you’re subscribed if you consume these updates on the web or social media.

Thank you all for an amazing year, and I’m looking forward to connecting in 2017.

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Recently on Abernathy
Note: If you’re a writer and you’d like to get your best work in front of Abernathy’s brilliant audience, please submit your article here.

From the archives

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Note: a version of this post first appeared on Abernathy.

Our own ordeal

01/02/2017

In a world of unlimited distraction, it bears repeating (often) that the outcomes we seek both professionally and personally are to be found internally rather than externally. The discomfort that stems from slowing down and being alone with ourselves causes many of us to maintain a constant posture of looking around for validation and points of comparison.

The danger in this is that we’re often hooking into the vision that others are manifesting for themselves as they embark on their own journey. And so we brainstorm ways to put a spin on Person X’s idea, or try to make a career out of proving to ourselves that we can do the same thing Person Y is doing. It’s exhausting, unfruitful, and does a great disservice to the brilliance within each of us.

Connection and collaboration is important, but not when at the expense of our own calling. Put another way, as it came to me: we must be fully engaged with our own ordeal. I spent years of my life trying to find my way by looking outside of myself for a lane in which to manifest my desires.

Things changed when I started spending more time with myself and trusting my intuition. What has resulted is both an unprecedented confidence in my own abilities, and a priceless daily reminder that I’ve always had everything I need to do everything I ever wanted to do.

That’s how we do

01/01/2017

I recently got some photos back from an event and I wanted to use one of them as a new profile photo. The image needed to be cropped a bit since there was another person in the photo, and also because the angle of the camera made for a rather—ahem—crotchy shot of me. I work alongside my dear friend Alex on most days, and he was happy to lend his expertise as a creative director and human of extraordinarily good taste.

To make things simple, I handed Alex my laptop with Photoshop open, the photo teed up, and the crop tool selected. I figured it would take maybe twenty seconds to get it right. Alas, I don’t like when folks look over my shoulder while I work, so I milled about while he did his thing.

Minutes passed, and I was starting to wonder what might be taking so long. Not impatience, only curiosity. I figured I was being treated to some photo retouching, which was even better. A few moments later, I was summoned to see the results.

Six high-res versions of the headshot had been created for me: a banner, a tasteful crop, an 8×10, a square version, a full-size render for media requests, and a custom one. It was so much more than I expected, and I told him as much.

Alex was gracious, as always. “Of course, man. That’s how we do.”

One of my favorite pastimes is walking Marcus Garvey Park, a twenty acre square in Harlem that forces Fifth Avenue traffic to slow down and behold its gated splendor. By day, the park plays host to pickup basketball games, boisterous children, and an endless parade of pooping dogs. By night, it’s largely deserted.

Last week, I went on a late night walk around the park to clear my head. On my second revolution, a police vehicle had stationed itself in the walking path. Negotiating this inconvenience was simple enough: act normal, swing wide so I’m seen in plenty of time, rehearse the potential verbal exchange in my head, and make it home alive.

The absurdity of this mental checklist struck me as I rounded the southwest corner, unscathed.

I cut my walk short. Not because I felt like there was any danger inherent in walking past the police every ten minutes, but because my mind was suddenly buffeted by a torrent of thoughts that I shouldn’t have to think. Thoughts that came as naturally as one might mentally review a grocery list.

One of the ways I’ve maintained my mental and emotional health this year is through meditation. And part of my mindfulness practice involves disassociating my identity from the thoughts that arise in consciousness. Which is to say: I’m not my thoughts, I’m the thinker of my thoughts. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.

The alternative is a waking state more akin to being on a cognitive hamster wheel rather than one of agency and intention. In moments like these, creating this mental space allows me to observe the ways in which the despicable lie of racism permeates the mind. I’m grateful for the ability to observe these thoughts, but simultaneously galled by their existence.

As I made my way home, it struck me how much of what I share in this newsletter is safe and predictable. Yes, we traverse some uncomfortable terrain, but it’s distilled to the point of occupying a fairly well-defined category in the mind of my audience.

But I feel a responsibility as a writer and as a black man in America to surface the madness. And while I’m at it, let’s continue to loudly reject the stigma associated with mental health in the black community. The best way to walk through a haunted house is with the lights on.


 
Upcoming appearances
If your organization or event needs an experienced speaker on the topics of equity and inclusion, please get in touch.

  • 12/1/16 in NYC: Quartet Health’s “More than just a Number” Diversity & Inclusion Panel
  • 12/3/16 in Philly: Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Conference
  • 1/18/17 in Boston: BREAD (Boston’s Racial Economic Activated Dialogue)

Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.

learn by doing

11/12/2016

In the first few months of launching and running Abernathy, I learned more than I would have in a year of grad school. Not just the nuts and bolts of publishing and media and selling sponsorships, but also things like the transformative power of going faster than you’re comfortable with and working on projects that you believe in.

There’s a fascinating transition that occurs when a project goes from an idea to being A Real Thing. There isn’t always a dramatic delineation between these phases like when you click “send” on an email campaign, sometimes the thing that you’ve been dreaming up more or less materializes before your eyes.

Our first live event was a launch event here in New York, where ten speakers gave five minute talks (a format borrowed from my colleague Wes Kao, who emceed the event). I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud than that evening, looking around the room full of friends going back decades, strangers who braved the cold on a windy evening to talk about race and privilege, and #DayOne colleagues who helped me refine the writings on my wall into what the world now knows as Abernathy.

It was a memorable evening of ideas and storytelling, and many of you asked to be notified when we had another live event.

As promised:

On Wednesday, November 16th at 7pm, we’re doing an event in New York, sponsored by WeWork. It’s called Harlem Movers & Shakers and it’ll be an evening of networking, music, and a ridiculously good-looking panel moderated by yours truly:

  • John Henry, a young and disarmingly wise entrepreneur and investor
  • Jonathan Jackson (no relation), the multi-talented co-founder of Blavity
  • Neal Ludevig, co-founder and executive director of the Harlem Arts Festival
  • Mary Pryor, a passionate and accomplished media expert and Urban Socialista
  • Mike Street, digital media influencer and host of the top-rated #SmartBrownVoices podcast
  • Teri Johnson, host of Travelista TV and owner of Harlem Candle Company
  • Ivo Philbert, an eminently magnetic and gregarious VP at The Jackie Robinson Foundation
  • Carra Patterson, an actress who played Eazy-E’s wife Tomica Woods-Wright in Straight Outta Compton
  • DJ Ness will be on the ones and twos (I’ve always wanted to say that), and I’d be thrilled if you could join us. You can check out the details and RSVP here.

    PS If you can’t make it, tune into the livestream at https://www.facebook.com/HarlemNY

    Abernathy is the leading online magazine for professional black men, and this is an excerpt from a recent newsletter. Subscribe for full and early access.