Braving the Wilderness

In case you missed last Thursday's article, I'm taking a minor left turn from how we typically think about work around here. While I recognize that there's more philosophy built in here than usual, I promise that the detour will slowly lead us back to the work highway. In fact, these ideas have been bubbling inside me because I've been thinking so much about "scale" - mostly in a business sense, as it is certainly the buzzword du jour. If you're unfamiliar. Scaling is often synonymous with growing fast and impersonally. Through technology we can grow faster and reach more users from a distance.

However, there are other important contexts for scaling too. And when I consider the idea through a non-business lens, I'm convinced that its role in our everyday lives can no longer be ignored. 

The person who most recently weaved the connections together for me was Dr. Brené Brown. I sat in her audience in Nashville a couple weeks ago, listening to her discuss findings from her new book Braving the Wilderness. While I wouldn't have scalped tickets to see her live (as I watched others do??), I wholeheartedly admire her data-driven approach to "squishy" topics. She launched a brave movement in 2010 and has been giving academic legitimacy to feelings ever since.

In her newest research, she moves from the vantage of the individual to the collective. Braving the Wilderness holds us citizens accountable to do difficult work in our offices, communities, and societies.


"Braving the wilderness" is a metaphor for one's confidence to stand alone in a vast, unknown land. But listen carefully: "alone" in this case actually means belonging. But belonging only to oneself. Which is not the same as fitting in. Confused? Me too. The definition is a little heady, so let's try it another way...


True belonging means that people want "to experience real connection with others- but not at the cost of their authenticity, freedom, or power." People who have true belonging and are able to forge real connection with others have boundaries, and they're not afraid to use them. And sometimes this means that they end up alone in the wilderness - belonging to no one but themselves.


From the 200,000+ data points collected, Dr. Brown's research team found just four key elements of true belonging. You can read about all four in the book, but to debunk the popular everything-must-be-done-at-scale temptations of our current age, I want to focus on the number one way to belong:


People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.


Sit with this for a moment. What images comes to mind? Fear and sadness from acts of hate? Bubbling anger from articles in your Facebook feed? Perhaps it's not so dramatic. Maybe you were stung by a curt email in the office yesterday - a simple, everyday occurrence that someone inflicted upon you from a distance. All it took was a colleague trying to get through his pile of to-do's, a dash of keyboard courage, and a sender who felt bold because there was a screen between you and him. 


So what is the solution to the problems caused by distance and scale? Zooming in. 


"The women and men I interviewed, who had the strongest sense of true belonging, stayed zoomed in. They didn't ignore what was happening in the world... 

They did, however, commit to assessing their lives and forming their opinions of people based on their actual, in-person experiences."


Again, pause. Does this finding make you nervous? It makes me nervous because it takes a lot of work. Just thinking about it right now overwhelms me. I try to live and work by this principle, and the amount of effort it takes that others sometimes don't reciprocate is exhausting.


I recognize that here, I'm advocating for a point of view and behavior modifications that contradict the standard by which our society and workplaces now operate: do more things, quickly, reaching more people - from a distance. 

I'm not a cave woman. In some respects scaling is just awesome. But there are times and places, like during conflict, where operating from a distance through an instrument of scale (think: social media) will create far more polarization than the connection that Facebook claims. Remember last week's article? It feels more wrong to harm someone by physically touching him than by flipping a switch from a distance. Cowards without connection do things at scale, from a distance.

I will leave you with one request - one ask - to practice zooming in: the next time you're faced with someone at a distance (figuratively or literally), for whom you feel the tension rising, have a coffee or pick up the phone and ask one simple question:

Why? Why does (s)he feel this way? What experiences have led him or her to this belief?

Then, unpack it with three more whys and really listen to the answers. Do not listen to respond. Listen to understand. Get up close and personal.


Those who truly belong to themselves move in to connect in meaningful ways.  And sometimes this means being alone in the wilderness.


Wilderness watercolor available on Etsy


About What Happened in Vegas...


Hey, good morning. First of all, thank you for the great comments and private messages about Monday's post. I spend a lot of time thinking about and producing a wide range of creative content that always ties back to the consistent theme of work. Along with finding the right spectrum, ranging from choosing a work wardrobe to men's take on paternity leave, sometimes I feel self-conscious about personal story telling vs. practicality, the obvious vs. insightful, etc. All that to say: I am happy that the diet tweak resonated with many of you. 

Today, I'm taking things in yet an entirely different direction, really testing this spectrum. I've had a burning desire to write about scale through a couple lenses, like scaling a business or social networks... And today, I'm going to write about scale through a sad and difficult lens: destruction.

I'm going to present "scale" via a few lenses to you, via a mini-series that will go live over the next couple Thursdays. On the surface today's article may not appear tied to work, but stay with me if you will. The common thread reveal itself as the series unfolds...


I woke up on Monday morning and was surprised to learn that the largest mass shooting in the history of the U.S. had happened overnight in Las Vegas. And I admit to you: to use the word "surprised" sounds like an understatement, but for me, it's significant. Last year, I embarrassingly admitted to a couple of close friends that shootings and terrorist attacks don't rattle me as much as I know they should.

When I realized this about myself, I was rightly alarmed that I couldn't seem to feel the pain of others in the empathetic way that I should. For goodness sake, I was one block away from the Boston Marathon attack; I heard the bomb explode and felt the ground shake, saw the FBI black cars speeding past me, and finally sprinted down the course searching for my now-husband who was running. You'd think that I'd be able to recall the personal terror on-demand. 

Amidst my "what is wrong with me?" self-analysis, I realized that I was 12 years old when the Oklahoma City Bombings occurred. I was 16 during the Columbine shooting. And at 18 I watched live footage of September 11th on my high school library's TV. History-altering events that showcased the worst side of humanity began for me in fifth grade. I expect them.

For me, one of the main connections between all these is: they were attacks from afar, en masse. Not one of these mentioned killers had the courage or ambition to kill another close up, while looking into his victim's eyes. The pain was all inflicted from a distance, while some coward hid behind a veil - a detonator switch, an airplane, a gun.


Have you heard of the Trolley Dilemma? It's an ethical dilemma, posed by British philosopher Philippa Foot in the 1960s. It embarks to answer: is it more wrong to kill five people than one person?

And because I've grown up with horrible events inflicted at a distance, the secondary question posed at the very end has always intrigued me more than the first:

Why does it feel less wrong to kill one or five people by flipping a switch - at a distance - than it does to kill one person by physically touching him, pushing him into the trolley tracks?

When you take away weapons of mass destruction or even the keyboard courage that some feel when they're hiding behind the veil of social media, it is difficult to do wrong to another. It is morally, mentally, and physically more difficult. Whether we're talking about life and death or an internet troll, take away the wrong-doer's distance, and (s)he would never EVER have the courage to perform the same heinous act up close - if forced to look into the eyes of a fellow human being.



photo via Studio 21 Tattoo

video via BBC Radio 4


The Diet Tweak that Shot My Productivity through the Roof

Once upon a time, I moved to London. I lived there for three gray and cloudy years, and my time there changed many facets of my life: my career, my understanding of other cultures, and even my body. 


When I arrived in the U.K. back in March 2014, I was alone for the first four months. Although my partner promised that he was on his way, the unrelenting pessimist inside taunted me, day in and day out. I tried ignoring her by pouring all my attention into building a new business for my company. After all, that's what I was there to do. But when I wasn't in the office, I was mostly crying into my pillow, wondering if I'd meet people and if my partner would ever board that one way flight.


So, how did I gracefully deal with all this distraction and fear, while slowly chipping away at work that had no end in sight? 

I ate my feelings, of course.


I've always wondered about those people: those mystical human beings who lose weight when they're stressed. It's a concept that I simply do not understand. They say that they lose their appetite. But in case you're unfamiliar with stress eating, let me educate you: it does not require an appetite. You just shovel in food.

However, after many years of this habit that brought me much shame, a noticed something new about myself when stress eating: I became aware of how my body felt and how my actions impacted the way my brain functioned. I had a big job to do at work, and all the Oreos were stifling my performance. I constantly had a dull headache, I was irritable and emotional, and I was deeply unhappy. All these things affected every area of my life, including my productivity.


Around that time, I came across U.K.-based nutritionist Chris Sandel. After learning more about his approach, I decided that it was time to invest in help. Four years later, I maintain that working with him was one of the best investments I've made. I learned about myself in several dimensions: my belief system; how my sleep, temperature, and energy are all physiologically intertwined; and of course, food. 


Chris embedded knowledge and habits in me that I actively use today, which has made me content (dare I say: even happy) with my body and brain.

So I wanted to share one of his most impactful, actionable diet tweaks that has created tangible productivity outcomes in me. It's not complicated, but it does take some habit formation and planning:


Eat more protein. Especially at breakfast.


So simple it's almost underwhelming, right? I'm quickly leaving my personal circle of knowledge, but allow me take it one step further. After my intensive six months of client work with Chris ended, I took the new foundation that he created in me and layered on experimentation with other programs, like Tim Ferriss's 4 Hour Body. Although Tim's program in its complete form is all wrong (for me), his iteration on this protein commandment took my body and brain to the next level:


1. Eat breakfast within one hour of waking - ideally, within 30 minutes.

2. Include >20g of protein in breakfast - equivalent to three eggs or a generous scoop of vegan protein.


Since I've incorporated this tweak into my routine, I stay full until lunchtime, have stabilized and constant energy throughout the morning and afternoon, and have an extra edge that allows me to go mentally deep into each problem that I'm trying to solve in and out of the office. 



PS - Hopefully it goes without saying that (a) I am not a doctor nor nutritionist and (b) I recognize that everybody, and every body is different.

For me, having low maintenance weekday morning habits are critical, so I cook the pictured protein-packed muffins each Sunday, then re-heat and pair with a smoothie each day of the week. This how I personally am able to integrate this advice into my routine in an easy, doable way.