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.

When we allow different perspectives to influence our judgment, a logical separation emerges between the facts of a matter and the lens by which we evaluate them. When we rush to pass judgment however, we diminish other perspectives and fail to acknowledge our own bias.

With enough practice, “trying on” disparate and opposing perspectives can give us a more resilient and curious outlook. This practice also gives us an alternative to self-deprecation when we’re disappointed or surprised by our own actions.

The manager to whom I reported when I started my first IT internship had a mortuary science degree. I was shocked, but mostly because I was inexperienced. He was a brilliant manager, he taught me a lot, and last time I checked (four minutes ago on LinkedIn), he was a Director with the same company.

When planning my career as a technologist, I felt like I had to do something involving my IT degree. Even when I left my job and started freelancing, I only considered offering tech-related services. I saw myself as a technologist and didn’t take the time to learn what else was possible. Where else did I have leverage and credibility?

Whenever I speak with younger folks looking for career advice, I affirm them in their interests independent of their professional and academic experience. I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, and giving myself permission to figure it out for a living has unlocked so much creativity and joy in my life.

I can trace a lot of my professional breakthroughs to the seeds of support planted and watered by mentors I’ve had over the years, and continuing this virtuous cycle for the coming generation feels like a worthwhile use of my time.

A profound truth, compassionately asserted, is a gift.

Racism reminders

01/19/2017

For many folks who hold historically marginalized identities, particularly those of us who feel the effects of racism and microaggressions acutely in our bodies, I’d like to share two truths for determining how to think about those who perpetuate bad behavior:

  1. They are mistaken.
  2. It’s not about you.

Half the battle is deciding if we’re justified in interpreting the things we’re experiencing as racism. What do we do about it if it is? Do we challenge them to a joust? Does the slight warrant a diss track? Might this person require an aggressive laying of hands? Don’t they know we’re from Duval County?

The not knowing and resulting paranoia can push us towards the limits of our sanity. When we replay these incidents in our mind ad infinitum, it causes stress hormone levels to rise, amplifying the effects of these perceived indignities, and harming our bodies.

Then we beat ourselves up for not speaking up or taking action. Then we begin overreacting preemptively so no one makes us feel that way again. Then we begin embodying stereotypes and slip into a tailspin of frustration and self-loathing, directed at no one and everyone at the same time.

It’s a losing proposition that must be short-circuited at its outset. Cultivating resilience frees us to get on with the important work needed in our lives, and in our communities. It’s also a much more compassionate way to treat our bodies.

When possible, let it all go.

I’m not saying we’re to accept what’s unacceptable and make excuses for bad behavior. What I’m saying is that we don’t have to internalize the feelings that arise from these interactions and give them top billing in our minds and hearts.

  1. They are mistaken.
  2. It’s not about you.

Bonus: you poppin.