Opinion

Is your tech making you happier?

The Working Parents Group at my office showed a screening of Screenagers this week.  I’m so glad I saw this movie and am starting to think critically about the role of technology in my life before I have a teenager. While my son is only (almost) 3 years old, I’ve come to be both impressed and a little scared at how fast he picks up technology.

And kids are little experiments, aren’t they? I can see everything we read about play out in my son. We’ve noticed when he has more screen time, his behavior gets worse. It creeps me out that he can be in the same room with me and if he’s watching a show, he does not hear or notice anything else. And research shows that increased screen time changes brain chemistry – permanently. Social media can be socially isolating. 

What are we doing with all this screen time?

After seeing the movie, I’ve been thinking more about what example I’m setting at home and what I’m doing with the available technology.

Actions speak louder than words, and if my wife and I are on our phones all the time, we’re sending the message to our son that what’s happening on our phones is more important than what’s happening in the room. I’ve taken to telling my son what I am doing when I have my phone out in front of him. “I’m sending a note to Mum to see what time she’ll be home.” “I’m looking up what roads to take to get to the park.”…and so on. It may be a bit much, but you’d better believe I’ve never said “I’m posting a picture of my coffee for strangers to look at” even though I’ve done that, too.

In the film, what struck me the most was how the kids where sitting next to each other, but interacting with each other through their phones. Technology is changing all the time, and changing everything. I believe strong EQ and interpersonal skills are going continue to be differentiators in what makes someone successful.

What does this have to do with work?

Work is getting more digital, and technology allows us to be more connected to the office more than ever before. I believe large organizations need to examine the expectations being put on employees and understand the role company culture is playing in home life. Have you thought about your company’s digital culture and if it aligns with your values?

If staying in touch with the office is the excuse parents are using for being on their phones, the message we’re sending is that work is more important than what’s happening at home. It’s a complex issue: if we know we’re happier the less we’re on screens, and that happier people are those who feel more in control of what’s happening in their lives… well, we have to ask if our tech is making us happier?

Technology enables the happiness trap of overwork. If how our work, technology and home life are coming together isn’t making things better, it’s time to take individual accountability and change what’s not working. I’ve personally found that the boundaries I put in place with a newborn are still making me happy: no work emails while my son is awake and I’m home with him. Period.

One last thought… my wife is a high school coach, and the team hosted a baby shower  when we were expecting. As part of the party, we asked 20 high school girls for parenting advice. The two things they told us:.

1. Play with your kids as much as you can (Dads, they all loved the “monster game”: when their dads would hide and they’d find him, he’d chase them and then tickle them. Who knew?)

2. Take away my phone. They told us they might pretend it’s awful, but they liked being able to say “my parents won’t let me…” so they get a break from the pressure of being connected all the time.

Maybe to be happier we need to take away our own phones for a bit.
What do you think about screen time, being connect to work and feeling happier?

15 minutes happier, Yourself

15 minutes happier: one day, some day

When to use: When you’re feeling as if everyone else has a claim on your time.

Supplies: The outdoors, a pen or pencil and paper.

Instructions:

  • Take a 10 minute walk – preferably outside. Leave your phone and music behind. The purpose for this quick walk is to be alone with your thoughts.
  • Ask yourself: What would I want to do if I had an entire day to myself?
  • Any thought is valid – you’re brainstorming as you move, so give yourself permission to entertain ideas that might feel crazy or impossible.
  • After 10 minutes (or longer, if you’ve found the time), note the ideas which excited you most. You can save this list to your smartphone, too.
  • Bonus: make a date with yourself to put some of your ideas into action. One day to yourself every three months will have transformative and restorative impact.

 

Why it works:

  • “Take a hike!” is compassionate advice: going outside is proven to have many benefits, including increasing your creativity, focus and connection to others.
  • Walking changes our brain chemistry, and helps us each do our best thinking.
  • Articulation is the foundation“: Clarifying what you want, and being able to verbalize your intentions is the foundation for setting yourself up for success. When  unexpected free day finds it’s way on to your calendar, you now are better positioned to make the most of it.

 

Inspiration: I started thinking about how I would spend a free day to myself after another working mom asked the same question in a discussion group. Over the summer, she was going to have a furlough day each week, and wanted to know what everyone would do with it. The answers ranged from cleaning the house alone to going to a spa to reading at the beach to visiting friends. There’s no right answer, just an answer that’s right for you.

Then I remember that Julia Cameron introduced the concept of an artist’s date in her seminal work The Artist’s Way. One full day as a commitment to your own creative priorities. An artist’s date need not be artistic, just inspiring and restorative. If you’re able to give yourself a day, and are willing to share how you spent it, let me know!

Opinion

Owning Your Energy

Autumn is my favorite season, and yet September is my least favorite month. After all, going back-to-school is just as frenetic for teachers and their families as it is for parents. Being married to a teacher for going on 8 years now, I’ve figured out how to prepare for the overnight change of pace that comes after Labor Day. We have more pre-made dinners, Sunday night calendar check-in sessions and of course, extra coffee.

Even knowing September is coming, the day-to-day is still hard. Throw in a few colds (me and the toddler), restless nights (the 12 year old dog), a few big projects at work, some craziness in the daily news, and it’s so much more draining than the rest of the year. September is the time of year when it feels like our good days are the days when we kept all the important things moving along and don’t drop the ball on anything majorly important.

September is when I adjust down my definition of a good day. A good day is when I’ve owned my energy. I may feel a bit frayed and run down, yet I try to not let it show. Or, to be more specific, I try to not to get snarky with other people. My goal is to not do anything in September that damages relationships for the rest of the year.

Taking responsibility for how I show up can feel a bit like faking it – except it this faking it comes with the goal of creating a virtuous rather than vicious cycle. If I act as if I’m not tired, I feel less tired. If I act as if I’ve got things in control, it feels like things are more in control. This isn’t stuffing true feelings and emotions aside, it’s pushing myself to not let them get the best of me. My feelings are still there – I just don’t react to them in the moment.

I may not be the best version of myself, but I’m not the worst, either.

We all do this to varying degrees of success. It’s a huge aspect of being an adult, and I have to believe I’m not the only person who just wants to say “I don’t wanna!” when asked to do something and instead says “I can get to it next week” or even “Sure, no problem”.

So, today, I’m giving anyone else who needs it merit badge for the times you’ve owned your energy when it’s especially hard. Nice work, everyone!

And, I want to remind you … it’s finally October.

Opinion, Yourself

Wear Your Happy

My “Wear Your Happy” theory:
Success starts with happiness, therefore “dressing for success”
starts with wearing what makes you happier.

What you wear impacts your behavior, and if you want to be happy, you have to feel happy. As we get ready to move into autumn, with tall boots and blanket scarves, let’s take a minute to strategically curate a capsule wardrobe that makes you happier. Limiting wardrobe decisions each morning means there is more bandwidth for more critical decisions throughout the day. It also decreases clutter and streamlines shopping. And makes it more likely you’ll be able to find your own style and signature ‘uniform’.

Continue reading “Wear Your Happy”

Opinion

A Happier Labor Day

anytime

Gretchen Rubin has proposed a #happierlaborday movement – and I am all in!

Tied to the upcoming Labor Day holiday in the US, Gretchen proposes we use Labor Day not only as the transitional holiday between summer and fall, but as a touchpoint in the calendar to reflect on our own labor. Labor in this case being the work we do – our professional lives.

I’m all in for finding ways to be happier, particularly at work. As my contribution to a happier Labor Day, I’ve come up with five questions and three I-statements to help us each inventory our work-life and to plan ahead for the following year.

Five Questions to Ask Yourself

How do I feel about Sunday nights? You don’t have to love setting an earlier alarm than on the weekends, but if your Monday ruins your Sunday, it’s time to think about significant shifts in your work. I like to have a Friday night and Sunday evening “special thing” to look forward to bookend the weekend. It helps with switching between weekend mode and work mode, both of which I enjoy. On Fridays, it’s family dinners and later bedtime for my son, and on Sunday’s it’s ice cream for when it’s warm and a mug of tea and a new episode of a favorite TV show when it’s cool.

 Do I have a career or a Career? A “big-C” career is how a good friend of mind describes the reality of wanting to advance and contribute in corporate America. I like this distinction, because a big-C career (in my book) comes with rules that are set by others for a game you’ve chosen to play. Little c vs big C isn’t a better vs worse option, but understanding how you think about your work in terms of ambition and goals can help clarify how you talk about your work with others.

Where is there friction in my workday? Everyone has some small daily annoyance that makes our workday just a little less enjoyable: a coworker who always sends an IM with just “Hi” and no question, someone who stops by your desk and talks for 25 minutes every morning, a commute that doesn’t go by a Dunkin Donuts. Identifying small things that you’ve learned to deal with but if changed would improve your day can be a good first step to being happier in the office.

Who makes up your tribe at work? There’s internet ‘wisdom’ floating around saying we’re an average of the 5 people we spend the most time with. Who are those 5 people in your work life – and do they reflect how you want to experience working? Lunch with the office gossip can be fun, but it can become a source of negativity when left unchecked. Check to make sure you’re spending time with the people who encourage your work goals and who make you feel good about where you’re spending your time.

How would I describe my work without using a title? Titles are often meaningless outside a specific organization. A friend recently shared a LinkedIn profile of someone who gave themselves the title of “Curator of Dreams”. You could call yourself anything you wanted, which is why we’re seeing an uptick in creative titles. Since a supervisor in one industry might be called a president in another, what you do is more important than what your title is.  Begin describing what you do in plain English – focusing on the parts of your work you want to do more often.

Three I- Statements

I work so that…
Why are you working? Knowing why you are in a particular job at a particular company, or have chosen to be self-employed or are pursuing a new field of work is key in reminding yourself why you do what you do every day. If the reason you are working is to get a paycheck and get home so you can be a dance instructor, you only need to be doing “good enough” at work. If you’re looking for that next promotion at the office, you probably want to be stepping up at work and giving 110%. Know your why so you are working with intention.

In a year from now, I will have….
What do you want to be able to say you’ve done next Labor Day? Attended a conference? Tried a new idea? Changed jobs? Learned how to code? Whatever it is, Name it to claim it!, as Oprah says. This has nothing to do with your production goals at work – this is a time to be selfish and prioritize why you’re working. Then make a plan to set things in motion to get what you want out of your work.

In the next week, I will try…
Finding happiness at work can be a bit of an experiment. Commit to testing one change to see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, try something different next week. Consistency in the attempt is the key, not success on the first try.

***

I want to hear from you: Did these questions help? Is there something getting in the way of making a small change? How are you having a #happierlaborday?

Opinion

on advice

Advice is easily given and rarely taken. Often unsolicited or unwanted, and usually vague. We ask “what’s the best advice you’ve been given?” in the hopes that someone else’s tested advice will be our new found wisdom. I find that question itself revealing: asking about what has been given, not what we took to heart and used to change and grow.

I believe sharing that knowledge to help someone else be happier is intrinsically human. We want to be connected to one another, and we want to be of service.

So, how to share what we’ve learned so it is truly helpful? The best advice is advice that helps us change, resolves something personal and is given without expectation. Often small, good advice creates positive ripples throughout our daily lives.

The best advice I’ve taken came from one of my best friends. While on maternity leave, I’d been finding half-drunk cold cups of coffee around my house and even in the microwave. I had a theory you could only reheat the same cup of coffee three times before you’d ruined the coffee. I told her I was disappointed that the mom-memes were true. Apparently, having a kid and hot cup of coffee were mutually exclusive. And, I’d never appreciated a hot drink as much as I did when home full-time with a newborn.

Her advice? Get a travel mug.

Of course. The simplest solution and it already existed! Cold coffee wasn’t just a new parent problem, it’s a busy people problem.

And man, did having hot (or warmer) coffee every day make me happier. I appreciate a cup of coffee more now than I ever thought possible. I am grateful for warm coffee every day. And I think of my best friend over many of those cups of coffee. How fantastic is it that she didn’t make fun of my new mom-ness, or tell me to get a travel mug while laughing at my inability to solve such a small problem? Especially since we actually had no less than 3 travel mugs in our house at the time! The solution was literally in front of my face.

My go-to travel mug | doesn’t always match my outfit

Those small, possibly forgotten moments of sharing wisdom with each other are some of the most powerful points of connection we have with one another.

My lesson from the Travel Mug Advice is to give advice only when you aren’t invested in the outcome, when it’s something the other person can do, and when it’s solving a problem the other person has already identified themselves.

So, tell me about the best advice you’ve taken recently?

Opinion

Jenny: Raising Conciousness

I once walked out of my Boston office, and directly into to my doctor’s office, convinced I had a brain tumor. Over the month prior, I would have random dizzy spells, terrified I was going to pass out in a very public and likely dramatic way, probably when I was wearing a skirt. My anxiety was a little demon perched on my shoulder all day, every day, telling me I was likely dying. After a consultation and follow-up appointment, I learned that I was grinding my teeth enough to jack up my inner ear and give myself symptoms of vertigo.

In addition to recommending a night guard to help with the teeth grinding, my doctor recommended stress management for the anxiety – “something like” yoga or meditation.

IMG_4883
Yoga at the pond with Jenny and her yogis.

A quick google search, and I decided to go to the closest class I could find: Jenny Smyth’s compassionate yoga in a dance studio on a Thursday night. When I arrived, I wasn’t sure where the instructor was, until Jenny welcomed me with a big smile and introductions to everyone else in the room. Jenny wasn’t what I expected.

What I expected was a repeat of my yoga experience in Washington, DC. In my twenties, I tried a yoga class with a friend at a somewhat fancy gym. I wish I could say I was hooked immediately – but I wasn’t. The class felt like a competition to see who could be the most zen.

So, while I’d read all the articles about the virtues of yoga, I was skeptical it was for me.

Jenny’s class was totally different from those gym yoga classes. In that first class, Jenny coached us through a position she herself couldn’t do “perfectly” (eagle pose). She joked about not being a skinny-minny yoga pretzel woman. It made my plus-sized-self feel more comfortable about trying things I wasn’t sure I could do – because trying means you can’t be failing Jenny’s class.

In the 6+ years I’ve attended Jenny’s classes, I’ve learned that she used to work in corporate America. She knows the realities of office jobs, the dangers of sitting down so much, and gently reminds us to stretch and move all week – not just in her class. She found her way to yoga because she needed yoga. She learns – and then shares what she is learning with her students.

Jenny approaches yoga not as a workout, but as a journey. Her teachings aren’t just about warrior poses, but about clean eating, new music, running her own studio, meditation and how she interacts with the people around her. She’s using her positivity to raise the vibrations of everyone around her.

HowardThurman-quote-what-makes-you-come-alive

I’ve wondered – more than once – if Jenny is psychic, or if she has some mystical training where she watches us all walk in before class and can tell what we need that day. The weeks where I carry stress in my shoulders, we always seem to spend more time in poses focused on our shoulders. When I am feeling the need for a little more fellowship, Jenny seems to talk a little more in class. There is power and inspiration in witnessing someone do what they were clearly meant to do. Sharing yoga is Jenny’s calling.

Jenny tells us we’re wonderful – and because she is wonderful, we believe her. Her classes run long, because she wants to share the joy she finds in yoga with us for as long as she can. When she says namaste at the end of class, she looks each of us in the eye, and means it. Yoga seems to make Jenny come alive, and she encourages each of us to find what makes us come alive, too. And while that go-to Howard Thurman quote can feel like self-help mumbo jumbo, yoga with Jenny is a reminder that we have to look inward before we can see what the world needs.

namaste

Opinion

Soapbox: Go Jump in a Lake

More than half of working Americans leave paid vacation days on the table at the end of each year. Paid time off is a benefit, considered part of your overall compensation – and not using it is the same as walking away from money. I’m on a mission to preach the benefits of taking your vacation time – and the obligation we all have to use up that benefit so we’re more engaged, energized and creative at work.

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I’ve found that using my out of office messages is a great way to remind people that my vacation is just that… my vacation. Joining the ranks of creative out of office messages means my coworkers look forward to my being away – and I remind them what I’m doing so they know just what they are interrupting for a “work emergency”.

Warning: Using your out of office messages in this way may result in more emails upon your return, since more people email you just to see what you’re sharing!

***

For our annual family summer vacation

Canoe believe it? I’ve gone to the lake for the week!

If you’re going through an oar-deal that can’t wait until I return on July 23rd, please contact abba@dancingqueen.com

It’s a true emergency, text my cell at xxx-xxx-xxxx. 

In the meantime, anchor yourself with one of these pebbles of wisdom:

  • Be clear
  • Reflect
  • Not be shallow
  • Stay calm
  • Be full of life

 

For a day out of the office volunteering

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Company Cares Day – one of my favorite things about working for my company. I’m joining 7,000+ colleagues across the country to giving back to our local communities. Follow along on social media using #thishashtag and #thathashtag.

I will respond as soon as I am back at my desk. Thank you!

 

A few days off to reconnect with a great friend 

Nothing to stop this from being the best day ever. ~U2

Twenty years ago, I spent a year abroad in Dublin, Ireland. I am taking time off through Monday, June 25th, to spend time with my flatmate and to see U2 in concert.

Send me some fun email to read once I’m back in the office: tell me about the best concert you’ve attended?

It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away. ~U2

 

Opinion

Allison: Shaping the world with stories

This July, I’m sharing stories of firecrackers: women I know working different paths to speak up and light up the world.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” ~ Joan Didion

Allison is my oldest friend. Not in terms of age, but our shared history. We go way back – all the way to early elementary Sunday School in Dallas, Texas. Choir together in junior and senior high school, shared friends, church youth group, discussing the merits of Scarlett vs Melanie, Rhett vs Ashley…

Allison is the person woven throughout all the facets of my childhood. With all that history (and some dirt, if we’re honest), I feel uniquely positioned to confirm that Allison has always been a storyteller, performer and 100% herself. I mean, she once got a high school beau to reenact the gazebo scene from The Sound of Music – complete with leaping from bench-to-bench while singing “I Am Sixteen”. That is impressive.

After we both left Texas to go to separate colleges, we settled down in new (and northern!) cities. Allison in Chicago, me near Boston. Yet our friendship benefited from the rise of social media, and we have been able to stay in touch over the years. While our friendship has roots in our early, more innocent days, Allison’s sharing of her own stories has cemented our connection as grown-ups.

“Everybody is a hero in their own story.” ~Maeve Binchy

Allison’s honesty and humor shine through in her annual Christmas cards – which have become a highlight to my family’s holiday season. My wife texted me last year that “Allison’s card arrived today!” and that she had already opened it. Rather than a Norman Rockwell-esque photo shoot each year, Allison pulls back the curtain and shares her real life, laughing through the challenges life with four kids can bring. My favorite so far?

A picture of her newborn son, “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” printed the front. The honesty? Well, this was this picture of her son. Not sleeping. And not so peaceful. But so honest and real to what was happening in Allison’s life that year. IMG_4137.jpegI think about that every year, while the pretty holiday cards come in, and everyone’s life seems picture perfect. Once I had my own baby, it became a reminder that no matter what it may seem like, everyone’s gorgeous baby cries and doesn’t sleep sometimes.

When one of Allison’s sons was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), she looked for stories from other families in similar circumstances. She searched for books reflecting the experiences and daily life her son was experiencing. And she couldn’t find any. As she says, they just hadn’t been written. Yet.

She is now writing these stories into existence for her children and for others with similar experiences. A boy named Peter is the central character these stories, loosely based on her own son and other children she’s met with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I know that once those stories are published, they will help families having similar experiences just as much as that Christmas card continues to help me. (If anyone is or knows of a publisher, send them to Allison’s website!)

“We must all become storytellers of a future we want to share…” ~Bono at the UN

Allison’s stories are always entertaining, and she is now using her own stories to change the world around her. In addition to her children’s book series, her longer blog entries are hopeful, positive and always keep it real. In one of my favorite pieces, Tomorrow, Shine On, she challenges us to each “To be a light. I dare you.” And while that particular essay is a heavier subject matter, Allison is telling the stories of a future she wants to bring into being.

* * *

The July Firecracker series is inspired by the question “Why aren’t more people speaking up?” in response to the more recent news headlines. A somewhat simple question with complex and complicated answers for each of us. It sparked me to think about how I contribute to the world I want to live in, whether it be sharing my voice online, volunteering, or continuing my own political activism. As I reflected on the ways I choose to speak up, I noticed that almost everyone I know is using their unique voice and passion to be of service to others. It also gave me the idea to spotlight the powerhouse women I know who are changing the world from where they are. People and purpose are part of the fuel helping each of us lead meaningful, and happy, lives. If you know of someone speaking up with their own unique voice, please share their story with me at workyourhappy@gmail.com.

Opinion

Becky: Answering the call to help others

“Why aren’t more people speaking up?”

A peer recently asked this question on an active discussion board in response to the more recent news headlines. This somewhat simple question has complex and complicated answers for each of us. It also sparked my own reflections on how I’m contributing, whether it be sharing my voice online, volunteering, or continuing my own political activism. As I reflected on the ways I choose to speak up, I noticed that almost everyone I know is using their unique voice and passion to be of service to others. It also gave me the idea to spotlight the powerhouse women I know who are changing the world from where they are. People and purpose are part of the fuel helping each of us lead meaningful, and happy, lives. And, we all speak up in different ways.

This July, I will share stories of different paths to service, starting with my cousin Becky, and her family.

Some of us don’t choose how we will be of service  – the path chooses us.

When Becky and her husband, Chris, welcomed their third son, Luke, into their family, they realized quickly that something wasn’t right. Luke was struggling to breathe, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. I remember getting updates from Becky’s mom that Chris and Becky were commuting between their New Jersey home to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, trying to find out what was happening and what they could do – for weeks. For weeks, they did a juggling act between home, hospital, work and rest that seemed just about impossible as an outsider. A few years later, Becky told me she just switched into one-day-at-a-time mode and was so glad her family and friends were close enough to help with everything at home that she and Chris just couldn’t get to.

Luke was eventually diagnosed with a rare disease: Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome (CCHS). With only one person in 6.3 million being diagnoses with CCHS, ‘rare’ may be a bit of an understatement. CCHS is a condition where everything is great when Luke is awake – but he stops breathing when he is asleep. At just a month old, he had a tracheostomy and needed a ventilator any time he fell asleep. Imagine that situation for a newborn – you know, since newborns sleep the majority of the day!

It’s also important to point out that not only was Luke’s diagnosis a rare one, he is also one of the lucky ones. CCHS has a range of symptoms, and while Luke is able to lead a mostly “typical” life when awake, some CCHSers need to be on a ventilator around the clock, may have learning disabilities, seizures, neuroblastoma (a rare cancer), blue spells, cardiac pauses – and more.

“Sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare.” 
― Mike McIntyreThe Kindness of Strangers

At a time when most of us might see success as making it through each day, one at a time, Becky and Chris started reaching out to help others. While it hadn’t even crossed my mind to think about the possible implications as my wife and I started our own families, they shared details with us (and my brother), so that we could be tested and prepared if the cause wacchs.s something genetic (it is) or hereditary (it wasn’t). And then they went big: Becky stepped up and co-founded of the CCHS Foundation. Through funding research, connecting CCHS families to one another, raising awareness, and sharing her story, Becky is changing – and saving – lives.

 

I’ve known Becky my whole life. She always wanted to be a nurse and has always been a caregiver. As I’ve had the privilege to witness Becky and Chris’ journey, the word that always comes to mind is “grace”.  In a situation when it would be completely justified to pull in and focus on her family, Becky chose to give to others. She is an advocate for the support and resources she wished she had. When I asked if I could write this and share her story, her response was that she did what any parent would do. I’m not sure that co-founding a foundation dedicated to medical research is what we’d each do in a similar situation, but I love that Becky thinks it is. She is speaking up for families who will find themselves with a newborn who needs additional care every time the fall asleep. An unexpected purpose found Becky, and Becky found people who she needed – and who needed her.

To learn more, please visit (and consider donating to) www.cchsnetwork.org.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy.
It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate,
to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson