Are you proud to be an American?

Are you proud to be an American? Is America the kind of country that you think best represents you? Do you think other people in other parts of the world think, when confronted with a tough political, social, or economic problem, “What would the Americans do?”

Flag in the wind

If there’s one commonality in today’s America that people of any belief or political faction have, it’s that they feel America’s going in the wrong direction. Conservatives think it’s becoming a craven, gluttonous paradise where anyone can marry anything and their religion is a persecuted minority. Liberals think it’s becoming a Taliban of its own and the rich get richer while everyone else is left in a gutter to rot. The average Joe knows for sure his wallet is getting lighter, the scale in the bathroom says he’s getting heavier, and political leadership seems more like Game of Thrones while the city around him seems like Breaking Bad.

Is this the America that 3,000 people died for on 9/11/01, 13 years ago today?

There are two catchphrases from my friend and former boss, Allen Nance, that would greatly benefit America if we could all live up to them. Do what we say. Work as a team.

We know what our American ideals are. They’re fairly clearly printed in the various founding documents of the nation. Do we actually do what we say? Do we believe that all men are created equal, that we aim to provide for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? If not, then that’s starting point #1. Our basic principles tell us that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are for everyone, not just a privileged few or whoever’s in office right now. Our basic principles tell us that we are a nation of the people, by the people, and for the people – and if we’re not doing what we say, then we need to remove the people from office (of any party or political persuasion) who want things to be just for them and their friends and not everyone.

Do we work as a team? Do you help your neighbors, even if they are hipster liberals and you’re a button-down conservative? Do you wave and say hello to your neighbor in the hallway or on the street, even if you’re a devout Muslim and they’re a Baptist? Do you even know who your neighbors are? Work as a team means that whatever your differences, you put them aside and you work together for your common good. There are plenty of serious issues like poverty, crime, and blight that don’t need to have a political bend to them in order for you to find a common, apolitical solution. Conservatives and liberals don’t want to get mugged coming home from work. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have charity written into the basic tenets of their respective religions. Blacks, whites, Latinos, and Asians all don’t want a crackhouse in the neighborhood. Find the common ground and work to improve it as a team, as a nation.

Do what we say. Work as a team. Those are tough things to accomplish, but if we do them as a nation, perhaps we’ll build a country everyone can be proud of again.


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Thoughts on Work-Life Balance

“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” – Bob Dylan

Scales of Justice - Frankfurt Version

Work-life balance is all the rage as a topic of discussion these days. What is it? How do you achieve it? Why is it so important?

It’s not.

I’ll wait for the frothing at the mouth folks to leave.

Okay, good.

Work-life balance isn’t important for one simple reason: chances are, either your work or your life could stand for some improvement first. Work-life imbalance typically happens because one of those two buckets is significantly out of balance. If you hate your job and hate your work all the time (not just temporarily), then work-life balance takes on greater importance because you spend a lot of your time at work wishing you weren’t at work, and resenting even a minute more on the job. The solution isn’t demanding work-life balance. It’s quitting your job and finding a better one, or finding another path in life.

Sometimes, the other unhealthy extreme occurs, where you’re not happy with your life outside of work, and work is your escape from the rest of your life. While your shareholders and investors thank you, chances are your health and well-being do not. Fix it. To use the over-used quote, there’s an app for nearly anything wrong with your life (short of actual medical conditions such as depression, for which you should see a doctor).

Either way, what’s really problematic is that one of those two meta-areas is out of balance. If you get them in balance, if you get the quality of life at work and outside of work to improve, then you don’t mind when either of the areas occasionally requires more focus.

What if you like your work and you like your life? What if the above doesn’t feel like it applies to you, but something still feels off? The other thing that can help with work-life balance: centered awareness. When you’re at work, be at work. Be present, be in the moment. As best as circumstances permit, focus on work while at work. Do the best job you can. When you’re in your life outside of work, be there. Turn off your email. Put down your work-related devices. Enjoy the time that you’re not work to the fullest. When you lack that centeredness, when you don’t enforce those boundaries carefully, then work and life intermingle and distract you from what you’re supposed to be doing at that moment. That sense of distraction, of never fully committing to anything in the moment, can diminish your appreciation of the moment.

Fundamentally, concern about work-life balance is a symptom, not a root cause. Fix the areas in your work and life that are most broken, then see how the balance feels afterwards. Ideally, constant and never-ending improvement in both work and life, from new jobs to personal growth, will help you find balance without having to seek it specifically.


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The struggle

Yesterday, in one of our team meetings at SHIFT, one staff member asked a question – and I’m paraphrasing – about what will help set someone up to be successful in their career. I wanted to share part of an answer that I gave, because I think it’s almost universally applicable.

The sign that you’re successful or on the path to being successful is to be in a constant state of challenge, a constant state of struggle. You’re constantly stepping outside of your comfort zone, challenged by new material you’re learning or ways to refine and improve what you already know.

Much_to_learn__you_still_have__-_Master_Yoda___Meme_Generator

When you feel comfortable, when you feel like you’ve got it down and you’re content to stay there, that’s when you’ve set yourself up for failure, because that’s a clear sign you’re no longer growing. In the fast-paced, ever-changing world we live it, the moment you stand still, the world races past you. The moment you’ve decided you don’t need to learn any more, don’t need to grow any more, your career is over.

I still struggle. I still struggle every day, and I do so joyfully. I struggled the other night writing a new piece of code, trying to understand how a particular API worked. I struggled yesterday trying to become minimally competent in a new piece of software. I struggle every time I get on stage to speak, to be a better speaker than I was the last time. The days I worry are the rare days when I don’t struggle, when I don’t feel worn out at the end of the day.

Now, you might say, “well, that doesn’t sound like a particularly happy life”. That’s a matter of perspective. People who love fitness are happy when they struggle at the gym or to set a new personal record in a marathon. People who love to write struggle with every blank page. If you’re struggling constantly with something you don’t like and don’t want to do, that’s a different story. Figure out what you love first, then challenge yourself in that. That’s a struggle you’ll enjoy.

Be curious. Challenge yourself. Accept that struggle should be part of every day as a sign of your growth, and be concerned if you hit a period when you realize you’re not struggling any more.


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