It warrants repeating that traveling, even within your own community, is vital to developing a more caring an empathetic mindset. It allows you to appreciate what you have, how little you know, and how much good there is in the world.
As I wait to board my flight to Vienna, Austria (country #2 on my Eastern European trip, I want to focus on my own privilege as an American citizen. How fortunate I am to be able to travel across the world and still have my language spoken, and be able to read signs, order food, and even hear my language on the radio. I also see familiar companies and brands that give me some odd sense of being comfortable and at ease. It was cool to see the Securitas company handle in security at the Berlin airport. They wore the same badges my security guards did at Louisville Hall when I was a Resident Director. Despite this privilege, traveling amongst others and in places that are unfamiliar is still challenging. That is the thing about privilege – while unearned and advantageous, it doesn’t mean life is always “easy.”
Having stated that, I think about conversations about privilege I have with my colleagues, students, family, and strangers. I am usually met with the futility of the guilt that comes with these discussions, and the lack of an ability to see the both / and dynamic of privilege. I can only examine my own practices and hopefully reflect how to best use my privilege in constructive ways. At the very minimum I don’t want to abuse my privilege. This means while I’m abroad I work hard to try to learn and speak the native language. I try to be conscious of what I wear or have, knowing that I may or may not have income advantages that others do not. I try to listen, and learn, and frequent local establishments, and most importantly share what I’ve heard and seen so that people in my circle can appreciate the humanity of others.
If only we could do more of this at our local synagogues and mosques, government debates, cookouts and BBQs, or with the people with whom we have little in common. If only. Take time to a) do some work on what privilege is, b) think about the privilege(s) you have, and c) make a commitment to not abuse that privilege, and even better, to share it to uplift others.
I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last blogged. I’m going to do better. I find my blog let’s me make my thinking explicit: as much for myself as anyone else. It also serves as an important record of observations and experiences in my life. With that, I wanted to use my current trip to dive back in.
It’s been four years since my last trip to Europe. This time I’m spending time in Eastern Europe, starting in Berlin (via London) then to Vienna, and then in Slovakia over the next 10 days. This will prove a much needed opportunity to take stock of my own life and what I think I know, by immersing myself in the culture and land of others. I’ll continue to post through my trip with my ah-has, as I find traveling one of the greatest ways to discover yourself and the global community. I find it makes me a better man, dad, son, VP, leader, consultant, and citizen. I am blessed and privileged to be able to do this, so I hope what I write allows others to experience this vicariously through me, or it motivates them to book their next trip.
A friend and colleague said to me at a recent professional conference that she doesn’t believe in work-life balance, rather she looks for work-life harmony. If that didn’t capture exactly what I’ve been trying to say to students and other colleagues for so long, I don’t know what could! This is not a new concept, but one I’ve been trying to re-frame personally.
Then a few days later I read an article in Business Insider saying the exact same thing. The CEO of Amazon expresses some of these same sentiments. When you find your true calling and passion, it gets very difficult to turn work or life outside of work on and off. To try to do so is self-defeating.
The difference is not trivial. The clues are in the definitions and synonyms you find through a simple web search. Balance is about even distribution and equilibrium. It connotes impartiality. Harmony, meanwhile, is about agreement, combination, and even peace. What words would you rather choose or embrace related to the relationship between work and life? I really appreciated this author’s very personal and practical take on Balance vs. Harmony.
I’m curious how those of you reading this experience work-life harmony. Is there a real difference? What do you actually do to achieve harmony?
Whatever you feelings about this – know that it is OK that your work and non-work intersect. Embrace it; understand it is messy and sometimes confusing; and at the end of the day try to achieve harmony between the two. You spend so much time thinking about or doing work, it just seems to make sense that you seek harmony as opposed to some artificial sense of balance.
When I was an undergraduate at NC State University, I was a counselor for the African American Symposium, a per-orientation experience welcoming new undergrads to NC State and helping them get a strong positive start as an African American scholar. I hate I didn’t attend as a freshman myself. There is a poem by Lance Jeffers (1972) that was read to the incoming freshmen, and it gave me so much strength and sense of purpose and power. It helped that it was read by a legendary faculty member and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brother, Dr. Lawrence Clark. I had the opportunity to read this poem to a room full of students today, kicking off our African American Read-In at Rochester Community and Technical College. I am so blessed to have had people and experiences in my life to remind me of my own power. I hope this poem can remind you of yours.
“Give me my flowers while I yet live; so that I can see the beauty they bring. Speak kind words to me while I can hear them; so that I can hear the comfort they bring.”
It is a touching song that laments how we often wait to give people praise, love, thoughts, and gratitude until it is way too late. At their funeral perhaps, or on their sick bed. I want to take this time as we enter a new year, to say I love you to so many of those in my circle – and I encourage you to do the same. I’m doing it here and will find ways to do it more. Hear me when I say that your love, encouragement, and influence make me who I am today – even though you may not know it. I love you and appreciate you more than I’ve told you! Here are your flowers.
Michael Anthony (Dad, son, brother, friend, colleague, teacher and mentor)
I don’t know about other leaders, managers, or supervisors out there, but I love to be challenged by members of my team. I call that “pushing back,” and I can think of no better way to come to really good decisions, while increasing satisfaction in our work.
I do my best work with the people around the table (who are highly trained and highly skilled) say…”but what if we did it this way,” or , “the concern I have is…,” or “let me offer a different direction,” or, “I don’t think that’s a good idea…” This sends a few important messages:
They are listening. If they weren’t, they would have nothing to say.
They care. If they didn’t, they would not bother offering feedback.
They are smart. Not only do they listen and care, but they have the wherewithal to synthesize what I offered and transform it into something unique.
Maybe it is better, maybe its not; but without the push back, how would we ever truly engage our teams. Almost as much as I value it in my team, I value it from my supervisor. My President in a recent conversation literally said, “go ahead, push back,” when we were discussing a recent staffing and space issue. First she noticed that I had something to offer, and that maybe it didn’t sync with what she was thinking. She invited the push back! I love it. Doing that for me sent a few important messages:
She is not afraid or threatened by me. My intelligence, or energy, or ideas. A real leader is not scared of their subordinates, rather they embrace the challenge and input.
She trusts me. She knows I care about my job and about our work. She knows what I have to offer is given from that solid foundation.
She values me. Everyone loves to be affirmed and agreed with; that’s not leadership it’s human nature. Leadership is inviting feedback when you know it will fly in direct opposition to what you think, say or feel. That is true guts, and true leadership.
I have not always felt this in my work environments. Ask yourself, how often are you invited to push back? How often do you invite the push back? I invite you to put yourself in a place where your input and expertise is embraced, and to embrace the input and expertise of those around you. It’s good medicine, both in your personal and professional life.
As the world is continually made smaller through social media, I find some of us are lulled into thinking we “know” people and things because we read a post about it. Or that we are somehow worldly because we have a few friends in international places. My challenge for you is to go further in 2017. Do not hide in your own neighborhoods, with your own friends. I can think of no more important message than this: go places, and do things.
This is the way the world can be made safer – this is how we begin to dismantle hate and bias. No class or workshop will fully teach you how to value others – only your relationship with others can do that. Despite what you may hear from the highest political leaders in our land, the path to peace and happiness is through embracing differences, not hiding from them or sending them away. Here are some tips to get started and get the most out of your “going and doing”:
Locate a place that is “culturally” different from you (e.g., another part of town, another city/state/country, a place of worship where no one talks or looks like you, etc.). Notice these don’t require a lot of money to do this. Of course maybe you do have resources to spare and do want to travel across the world – that is good too.
Before you go, read something (objective/academic) about where you are going. This will help you a great deal in appreciating the “going and doing.” This means you look outside of the popular news media to gain understanding.
Tell people about it! You never know who may want to help you get there, go with you, or have experience in that culture. Share what your going and doing goals are so we can support you!
Meet someone while there and exchange information with them. Follow up with them on a regular basis. Wanna know how to lead and follow in diverse environments? Build relationships with people different from yourself – you’ll be forever changed:)
Write about it. Don’t let the feelings, the ah-ha’s, the anxieties escape you. John Maxwell said that reflection is like the crock pot of the mind – let the thoughts simmer until they are ready. You have to capture those moments if you are ever to make meaning of them.
Now share this with people you care about, and set out to do it!