Run (in the Forest), Run!

What does running have to do with the power of slow? There really is nothing Slow about running per se. With a minor exception of one blazing summer as a Washington, D.C. intern, I’ve never been the jogging type. But I do love my walks through the woods. I do them every chance I can get.

Run Phones meEvery now and then I’ll bring my iPhone with me to listen to music. But as I briskly jaunt through the forest, those annoying ear buds kept popping out of my ear. Dangling down to the forest floor, they seemed to mock me. I was about to give up every listening to music on my iPhone again until RunPhones contacted me. They offered me to try their product in exchange for a review on my blog.

So I agreed.

The headband comes in two types of styles — the warmer, fleecy type for winter and the cooler, thinner material for summer. Both are washable so you don’t have to worry about them getting funky after a while. I got the summer kind (thankfully). As the temperatures rise, I don’t really want anything on my head. I was ready for an itch-a-thon, but the headband is so comfortable, I soon forgot I was wearing it at all. It’s like having a portable stereo without the cackling ear buds to ruin the fun.

Another bonus is I don’t have to jack up the sound to have the high fidelity that the RunPhones provide. I always felt like ear buds were making me go deaf. Now I’ll be stylin’ whilst maintaining my hearing too!

I may never take up jogging again, but I’ll certainly be listening to my tunes  more often whilst traipsing through the forest.

The Frenzy of Immediacy

Ping. Click. Bing. Bloop. Blip. Huuuuuunnnn!

How often do you hear these sounds on an average day? And each time you do, your attention is pulled away from what you are doing to what someone else wants you to know.

Parenting in a digital world is a lot different than the pre-digital age of raising kids. You can’t get away from the demands as easily. In fact, you are on your guard 24/7, thanks to smartphones and other devices.

Just recently, my teenage son discovered the power of pissing Mom off by simply sending an evocative text message claiming this thing or that — because he wanted things a different way after all. Falling prey to the frenzy of immediacy, I would give him a reaction every time. I thought I was being a good, attentive mother, addressing my son’s needs, responding with discipline or reward, depending on the circumstances. But then, just this afternoon, as another ping, whirl, bing message hit my iPhone’s screen, I realized I didn’t have to give in to the temptation to give a reaction at all to my son’s complaining that he didn’t want to go to tutoring, despite our agreement this morning (and last night — and last week!) that he would. I could remain silent, not pay attention, ignore him. Just this once.

I realized what I had done all these months. With my immediate responses, cajoling, explaining, reacting, I had filled the space where his conscience should be. He didn’t have a chance to listen to his inner voice because it was replaced by my own. So I waited to see if he would indeed hear it. Within four minutes, he sent a third and final message that agreed he would go to tutoring after all. Even though he felt he didn’t need it.

He had been given time to review the countless conversations we had had about the importance of being your word. Of doing what you say you are going to do. To do things that are right, even if they are sometimes uncomfortable.

In our modern, gadget-saturated world it is tempting to react to every little message that crosses our path. It’s exhausting. And unnecessary. Sometimes sleeping on it is better. Looking at things with fresh eyes, instead of frenzied ones, can reveal the truth behind the situation. But what we need — above all else — is to give ourselves the time to digest what is truly important.

In a world drenched with information, silence is golden – more often than we think.

The No Vacation Nation

Our relationship with time is embedded in our culture. It is never so apparent than in the different ways in which people view vacation. For some, vacation is a luxury; for others, it’s a birthright. One glance at this chart reveals how diverse our perspective is about taking time off. It shows the number of mandatory vacation days per year. France wins – hands down – with 30 days. The United States lands on the opposite end of the spectrum with exactly zero.

vacation days 2015

 

After seeing this chart, I got curious.  John Piana, a veteran of Corporate America with over 20 years of experience and a work-life balance proponent, approached me with some of his ideas as to why Americans don’t view vacation as a necessity. He calls the United States the No Vacation Nation. It is so deeply entrenched in people’s minds that anything other than working is considered “time off” (even hospitalization – I swear I can’t tell you how many of my American friends told me to enjoy my time off and to consider it a mini-vacation when I went in for surgery– are you serious??).

Power of Slow: Do you think Corporate America will ever introduce mandatory paid vacation? 

John: If it does happen, it will be awhile.  In order for a fundamental change like this to take place, it needs momentum.  Right now there’s little to none.  And even when momentum begins to build, it will still have to overcome the powerful business lobbyists who will likely keep legislators from getting behind it.  Until the issue gets to the point of a social uprising, mandatory vacation will just be coffee shop talk.  However, I think a potential wildcard is social media.  I’m amazed at how many times social media has shown the power to turn public opinion almost overnight.  A social media firestorm could quickly transform the mandatory vacation landscape.

PoS: What things can leaders do to stay offline and in life while on vacation?

J: Simple.  Make the choice!  Prioritize it.  Set the expectation and precedent beforehand with your manager and with people reporting to you.  Explain you will not be calling or logging in during vacation.  Or if that is an impossibility (which I don’t buy), begin to take back control by severely limiting the contact and explain to others you will be checking in very infrequently, perhaps even defining the specific times of day you will check messages.  When an employee leaves the company, everyone always finds a way to get things done without that person.  It should be no different when an employee goes on vacation.

PoS: How should employees address the lack of vacation issue?

J: Set boundaries and priorities in advance with your manager and co-workers.  Once they know that vacation is a top priority for you, it becomes your holy grail.  Not only should you get fewer interruptions during vacation, but it also can become a motivational/reward tool to be used by your manager.  As far as simply asking for additional vacation, I think that may work in a small business setting only.  Large and mid-size companies will simply give a corporate-speak answer and say their hands are tied due to company policy.

PoS: Is mandatory vacation truly needed?  Does the government need to get involved to correct this?

J: Neither government nor corporations will solve this issue (see my ‘Work-Life Balance Advice That Makes Sense‘ post).  The US government won’t get behind it for reasons I mention above.  Employers long ago abandoned their long-term commitment to employees.  This is no more evident than seeing defined benefit pension plans being phased out.  Also, employees aren’t sharing in the ‘good times’ like they once did, but definitely feel the pain of the ‘bad times.’  If the company had a great year, that 2% raise becomes a 2.5% raise.  However, if the company had a bad year, there’s a good chance you’ll be shown the door.  Definitely not an equal risk-reward trade-off.  However, in general, I think free markets and, more importantly, the will of the worker should be sufficient to address this issue.  Again, I think social media could be a wildcard.

***

Social media has toppled empires. It could topple the belief that vacation isn’t important too. I advocate posting as many palm tree pictures this summer as possible, people. Let us rise up to celebrate our lives — both in and out of the office!

Vulnerability is not for the fragile

Teetering on a tightrope, trying not to look down, arms dancing from side to side in spread-eagle fashion. Toes sweating. Heart racing. Mind frozen in concentration. Being vulnerable is not for the fair-hearted.

Somewhere in my history, I thought showing any sign of weakness was somehow wrong. Being vulnerable was high on my list of not-to-do’s. Instead, I proudly belonged to the stiff upper lip crowd, smiling through simply everything. The message I received at a very early age was that being cute somehow meant I’d be lovable. In the black-and-white shadows of a child’s mind, that also meant not being cute meant not being loved.

And everyone wants love, yes?

We piece together a belief system as we grow, drawing conclusions and meanings from experience. And we live as if those carefully constructed guidelines are true.

And while our personalized rules and regulations may have served us well for a very long time, they become outdated at some point because life is an ever flowing river in which you never step twice.

If I have learned anything in the last two years since I moved to my beloved Freiburg, it is that breaking yourself wide open is the most courageous thing you can do. And courage takes strength, not weakness. Vulnerability does not leave us cowering in the corner in fear. Right before we walk on that stage of authenticity, we may be afraid, but the moment we move forward into the lights, something starts to shift. We release something within ourselves, like a dark secret that has weighed us down. And suddenly, the pressure that vacuum-packed secret created dissolves in thin air. When we step into that tender space within ourselves, we are drawing on the implicit well of goodness with which we were born. We reveal the very essence of who we are. And that is simply irresistible.

Vulnerability is contagious. When you rest in the vastness of your utmost truth, others start to settle into theirs. Have you ever noticed how you suddenly attract very different people when you are being real versus being fake? We start to break a long-held pattern of “keeping it altogether” to falling slightly apart. And in that brokenness, we create a new space for people to join us in our uphill battles and sorrow. We are not left behind. Quite the contrary! In embracing our own humanity, we invite others to do the same.

That is when the beauty of life — in all its richness — unfolds. Being vulnerable is key to living the life you are meant to live.

Take that leap of faith. This is your life. Who else but you can live it?