Careers, Communication, Jobs, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Let’s Talk About Resilience —

Years ago, a client told me that if companies don’t evolve they will go extinct just like the dinosaurs. At the time I thought it was a much better way to explain restructuring within organizations or what is now called intrapreneurship when a company is responsive to the market . I understand that all species must adapt or, through evolution, will disappear.

Fast forward to a couple years ago when I was speaking on a panel at Georgetown Biomedical Graduate School with a panel of deans and administrators. The topic was geared to make educators think about their role in the economic ecosystem. We were asked to discuss how to better prepare students for the workplace. It brought the conversation around to what is often called career pathways, highlighting adaptation to changing economies as critical in the quest to stay relevant. Relevance, as it turns out, goes hand in hand with becoming resilient.

One of my favorite researchers and authors, Brené Brown shared in her book “Rising Leaders” that a key trait of people who are resilient is emotional intelligence (EQ). Yup! It’s worth repeating, emotional intelligence.  In her interview with Abby Wambach, US Women’s National Soccer Player star, she shared insights from her book, “Wolfpack” that stress the importance of change, “Old ways of thinking will never help us build a new world. Out with the Old. In with the New.”

“It’s all about a tolerance for discomfort”, Brené shares and sums it up:”Resilience is more available to people curious about their own line of thinking and behaving,”

Here I would like to delve into what makes people resilient; and focus-in on actions you can take to fortify resilience in your career journey, continuously and enjoyably.

The Definition of Resilience is: 

re·sil·ience /rəˈzilyəns/ (Oxford) noun

    1. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; “the often remarkable resilience of … institutions
    2. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity, “nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience.”

SET THE STAGE

There are arguments over nature versus nurture all the time. Is someone born with existing traits or skills, or does the environment shape and influence them? As we have learned from researchers, it’s never just one thing which delivers us to any particular point in our lives: but rather, a conglomeration of characteristics, experiences and our environment.

As a recruiter, career coach and parent/partner, I believe we have the ability to take inventory of who we are and where we are. We can recalibrate to make healthy decisions that have a holistic impact on the outcome of lives.

Let’s focus on traits we have – or tools we can learn – to empower a rewarding life journey.

The Pandemic has pushed the limit of almost every imaginable boundary – for everyone.  We realized that things we thought were important, might not be. Companies that thought remote work or telecommuting would destabilize them, have experienced a smooth transition with a remote workforce and improved productivity – and sometimes happier employees.  Technology tools for collaboration, CRM and workstream management already existed, and others are being created. Zoom is efficient and effective, but also exhausting. Personally, I found boundary setting to be an important tactic to avoid burnout as the days/weeks began to blur into each other. Even without a commute, the workday has grown longer for professionals and parents alike. In the midst of juggling work alongside personal lives, children and homeschooling, a new context for “resilience” has begun to emerge.

We know that emotional IQ allows us to be reflective and more self-aware, and that it is a first step to improve the dexterity we have in adapting to change. EQ is a great trait that helps us drive and become confident decision makers, instead of passengers affected by the course of time and life.

SELF REFLECTION- TAKING INVENTORY

A self-reflective audit of your career roadmap – skills, goals and strategy – is a technique available at any point on the journey. My kids, at different points in their lives, have approached me with this philosophical conversation starter: “what if you don’t know what you want to be or where you want to go?

In creating this feedback loop, you consider the things you are good at doing, what kinds of jobs are available in the world right now, and in the future; and then we make a decision about which skill areas to develop. Occasionally when you try out a new strategy, you learn that your skills don’t match up the way you thought they would for your goals. In that case you can go back to an EQ-based audit of your profession and adapt your toolkit to meet those needs.

Education and professional training are consistently in development – not just for the teachers or medical professionals who need to meet recertification requirements each year. We should all push ourselves (and encourage others) to be continuous learners. In coaching sessions with clients, we take inventory and create a mission statement or pitch to clarify what an individual is good at doing and where they would like to head. We discuss the skillset needed and how to apply a strengths-based strategy for success. Informational Interviews are a great way to test existing capabilities in the professional arena – and get feedback on options that could improve your professional profile.

In times of discomfort, we must lean into the suck, bounce back, regroup and adapt to build a resilient career.

ACCOUNTABILITY-GOAL SETTING

A main source of joy for me in the past year has been cooking.  Cooking goes with eating and this, combined with months of quarantine, has found its way to my hips, belly and bottom. I’m a firm believer in modifying my behavior and I prefer to know why I’m doing something – rather than doing it because I was told so. For this reason, I started the behavior modification program, NOOM,  on Feb 13th. There is science, there is a plan, there is action and accountability. The steps and the process are important to me and should be important to any person or organization wanting to achieve a major objective.

In NOOM, I’m asked to write my goals down and share them with my cohort. This semi-public broadcasting of my objectives is not always comfortable, but as an accountability tool it exponentially boosts my chances of achieving them. The format you use to share doesn’t matter – some members paste pictures into a collage for motivation, others create lists of New Year’s resolutions.  I prefer to journal, so I have something I can look back on, reminding me of where I was and where I wanted to go or what I wanted to change.

Goals that you can form habits around will increase the chance of getting sustainable results. People with a high EQ pause periodically for a mind-body scan of what’s working, what’s not, take accountability and pivot when necessary.

Goals are often malleable – firm but flexible – commitments that adapt to changes in the environment in which they are developed. Becoming resilient is a process of adapting strategies to meet goals informed by a personal and environmental EQ. Nothing like a global pandemic to demonstrate how EQ and adaptation are components of resilience.

HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN – ROADMAP FOR RESILIENCE

I want to be clear about the steps in building a roadmap for resilience – goal setting comes after a personal assessment, information gathering and before you set milestones and goals. I’m not saying that this plan is going to be engraved in stone, but an outline with high-level details is a rough-draft guideline that has led my clients to happy lives and sustainable careers.

I like to travel this way also. I pick a location, do my research and make the reservations for important stuff like where I sleep, hard-to-get tickets and hard to book restaurant reservations. These are the “need to haves”. The “nice to haves” depend on energy levels, impulses and the weather. This flexible-but-firm strategy has led to some great adventures over the years. I apply this outline to coaching too – but with value-added goal setting and accountability tools to provide momentum.

Resilience can save a trip or a career with the ability to lean into the disruption with an attitude of problem-solving in order to salvage it – or cut your losses.

ACHIEVEMENT- GETTING RESULTS

The lifespan of a human being is actually pretty short. We hope for long and healthy lives, but in the grand scheme of the universe, we are only here on earth for a little bit of time. The past year has seen the loss of loved ones for many and been a catalyst for deep reflection in almost everyone I know. I find myself thinking more about each moment with the people I love (and those I miss) and what is actually important in the context of a lifetime.

The way I like to plan and apply myself to personal and career goals paid off as I pivoted toward coaching in the past year. My passion for community and volunteerism came to life as I poured energy into non-profit work to help home-bound kids access sports, or make sure newly unemployed people could still get healthy and respectful food. I wanted to help and in the face of many traumatic changes, I needed to feel like I was doing something.

My business has grown organically this year as the result of being grounded, genuine, and demonstrating a tolerance for discomfort. Through inquiry and continuous improvement, I have built the career I want, I continue to visualize where I want to go and adapt based on what I want to accomplish. With a rough plan and an attitude of agility, I am able to influence my life and contribute more wholly to my community and the world.

Your career, just like your happiness, is an individual journey; and with a loose plan and a few well-refined skills (plus a good coach) we become resilient as we adapt to change. It’s all about the ability to bounce back!

 

 

Abstract art with "regain control of your career" as text
Careers, Communication, Growing up, Working Professionals

Regain Control of Your Career

I attended a talk some time ago by Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson who recently published a book called The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives. The authors, a clinical neuropsychologist and a motivational coach/test-taking company CEO, both agreed that there are ways to reduce anxiety, depression, isolation, and lack of motivation in today’s children. I thought about that tagline, “Giving your kids more control over their lives.” Then I thought, “Doesn’t everyone want more control?”

Throughout our lives, we struggle to be independent and self-directed. When a baby learns those first words, “No!” the baby is looking for autonomy. As we do battle with our teenagers over technology use or homework, they are trying to command their own way of doing things. Later in life, we fight to keep our driver’s license even after it’s unsafe for us or others, but losing that right curtails our freedom. This can be a huge blow that some people don’t recover from, that loss of independence. The ideas about control and being self-directed can also be applied in the workforce and when it comes to managing your career.

There are critical moments in the development of our brain, according to Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson. We as parents can help our children develop into healthy “self-driven” people, by not hovering, rescuing, or solving all our children’s challenges. If we can give them the tools to take “more control over their lives” they can become healthier human beings throughout their lives. If we translate the parent-child role to the workplace, we can also see how this plays out in a manager-subordinate role. We are faced with several challenges in the workplace with multiple generations who have different styles trying to work together. If we teach our children to make healthy choices that give them back their sense of control early on in life, then later on they will be more successful in the workplace. With more confidence, an individual can be more self-directed and this results in greater success throughout the life cycle.

Raising self-motivated children and building a more motivated workforce, are just two aspects of a healthier society or economy. In the arc of our working life, we can learn to be more proactive with managing our careers too. We aren’t all going to be entrepreneurs or the CEO, but we can be proactive or be our own advocates in the workplace. Again, these are skills we need to teach our children while they are young or as they grow up, so they can be healthier members of society. What this looks like in the workplace could take several forms.

When you start your first job, you are often just thrilled to have a paycheck. If you’re more focused, maybe you land a role at your target company or doing exactly what you wanted to do. Regardless, what your title is, what you do on the job is key. Plus, you can influence your career pathway. Here are several important tasks to do as you get oriented to a new job and beyond.

  • Learn the corporate culture and the spoken and unspoken rules of the organization.
  • Build clear communication with your immediate supervisor and don’t forget your peers.
  • Master your tasks and gain new skills that will allow you to progress within your firm.
  • Find a mentor in the firm or outside the firm, someone who can give you sage advice or perspective on any given situation.
  • Identify what you need to do to progress as a professional, and set goals to achieve these skills, experiences, or abilities.
  • Learn how to self advocate for yourself and the organization promoting change, growth, or new ways to do things.
  • Notice a way you can positively impact the organization, pitch your idea!

All of these tasks allow one to take back control and have a say in your own future. It feels better to have control of all ages when we are a kid, a young adult, middle-aged, and aging. How do we retain it in the workplace professionally?

In Teddy Roosevelt’s stirring speech, about the lazy critics in our lives, he said,

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…”

Like Stixrud and Johnson, Roosevelt felt strongly that by acting or participating we are already taking back our control. If we silence the critics who are not in the arena with us and focus on the experience of being there, then we are already ahead of the game. How this plays out for each person can vary, but it is clear that by regaining our control we lessen our anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, or sense of isolation. As we replace these destructive feelings, we now have room for confidence, positive energy, possibilities, connection, and the ability to map our own future. We can’t all be in charge of the company, but we can be in charge of our own lives.

Quotes from Brene Brown and Stacey Abrams
Communication, Uncategorized, Work Strategies, Working Professionals

Let’s Talk About A New Set of Rules

In light of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, it seemed time to really think about how we will live, work, or govern as we go forward.  The existing systems have been shown to lack equality for all and over the past four years have definitely not worked for the vast number of people.  What I’ve read in Abby Wambach’s “Wolfpack”, listened to on Brené Brown’s podcast Dare to Lead with Joe Biden, and watched Resmaa Menakem’s interview with Tara Brach, all reinforced the idea that we must create new rules that protect and support all people. 

wheel of power and privilege

Let’s start with the basics and better understand how the present system works.  Marginalized populations shift and morph depending on the situation.  If you examine the “Wheel of Privilege,” it demonstrates how we may be part of white privilege at one moment but for example, in an all-male environment, then white women become the marginalized population.  This hierarchy includes many complexities that include gender, race, orientation, religion, and more.  It’s important to know this is fluid depending on the situation and is a man-made creation that can be changed.

WOMEN CHANGE RULES

To change things, we must act collectively, support each other, and have champions from the privileged groups. The women’s soccer team has been fighting to receive equal pay in the workplace for several years now.  They play more, win more, and have revenues that exceed the men’s national team but still earn substantially less.  Abby Wambach, US Olympic champion, and her team have not given up.  

With a daughter of immigrants and a woman of color being elected to the most senior office in our country, we have an opportunity to create a new set of rules for all women.  Abby shared a look at the history of women’s roles and how stories demonstrate the inculcation of these norms into our society.  Her example of “Little Red Riding Hood,” a story read to many little kids, describes how if we leave the “acceptable path” we will get eaten by the wolf.  Abby says, “We must wander off the path and blaze a new one: together”.  This is what Kamala Harris has done, and in her acceptance speech on Sunday, she did what so many other Black women have been done by blazing a new way, like Jada Pinkett Smith during her Red Table Talks, or Michelle Obama when she wrote, “Becoming.  It’s what Abby calls women to do, create “New rules”, while reminding us to  “Champion each other” by recognizing that it took 100s of trailblazing Black and white women for Kamala to achieve this accomplishment. 

COALITION BUILDING

We can’t make change alone, and the rise of the #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter, and the support of marriage equality laws, demonstrate how as a nation we can evolve.  What stood out, for me in Biden’s acceptance speech, was his acknowledgment of the marginalized populations that came together to win the election and the focus on building and healing.  He was very specific in recognizing the Black women that mobilized the vote and truly made a difference in the outcome, people like Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and LaTosha Brown who founded Black Votes Matter registered voters and brought the Black vote to support the Democratic ticket.  The popular vote shows that 71,492,918 people supported Trump and 76,402,525 supported Biden.  This means quite a number of Americans now feel disenfranchised and with the rhetoric from Trump continuing on conspiracy social networks, how do we bridge this gap? If you look at history and the successful results of these popular movements, it’s the coalition of all types of Americans that forces change. It’s the recognition that power-sharing, as described by Brené Brown is healthier, that it’s infinite and a more cohesive way to lead.

HEAL THE TRAUMA

Resmaa Menekem, an MSW, was interviewed by Krista Tipper (On Being) for NPR, by Tara Brach (yoga/meditation leader), and many others.  We are reading his book, “My Grandmother’s Hands,” for my anti-racism seminar with LGW.  After hearing the interview and reading the first four chapters with my study pod, I felt like this is it! Resmaa created a guide to healing trauma so we can heal as human beings and build communities of diversity and strength. These last 11 months of COVID have left much more space to be contemplative.  I’ve received more requests for career coaching than ever before.  We, as a human race, are thinking about what’s really important as the death toll in this country alone exceeds 250K.  

Resmaa interview with Tara Brach

I’ve listened/learned, I’ve protested, I’ve written letters to encourage voting, but how do we change the rules?  How do we make real change happen?  Menekem talks about trauma in white bodies, black bodies, and blue bodies.  He has worked extensively with all three groups and while our trauma may be different, the ways to heal are similar.  His book is revelational, in each chapter he asked you to pause, digest, do some exercises and really think.  I’ve found that often even after I’ve completed an exercise, I go back and add more details that I remember.  We all have trauma, some are personal, some is intergenerational, some we don’t even know exists.  If we don’t identify and heal it, we can’t truly come together and cause positive lasting change for all.  

RULES TO LIVE BY

Let’s make a new set of rules that are inclusive, that support respect, decency, and don’t cause harm.  There are several quotes from Brené that have resonated lately, I’ve pasted them on my wall. They inspire me. I intended to do my best to not just break the rules, but come together with others who don’t look like me.  Together, we can create a new set of expectations on how our workplaces, communities, and country can look.

Resources

Melissa Reitkopp blog image with soccer team in the background,
Careers, Communication, Uncategorized

Let’s Talk About Engagement

I’ve been immersed in a six-month anti-racism seminar through Leadership Greater Washington DC.  Because of the insights, information, and tough conversations it has motivated me to strive to be a better person and in the workplace to strive to be a better recruiter.  With my new awareness, I am more aware of my unconscious bias, seeing racism everywhere and gaining a better understanding of where and how to be an ally or “bias interrupter” as Professor Lisa Nishii describes it from Cornell’s ILR school.  I just finished my second of four courses toward my Cornell DEI certificate program.  Today I want to focus on engagement as a key ingredient to retaining talented staff and how this plays a role in diversifying our workplaces.  Both engagement and diversity strengthen organizations and yield higher performance for individuals and companies.  

Engagement – what it looks like

You can recognize an engaged person easily.  As a coach on the soccer field, I’d take an engaged, motivated person over a superstar any day of the week.  Engaged people care about what they are doing, they do more than is expected of them, and their genuine enthusiasm builds a stronger team spirit.  It’s motivational to the individual and to the group. Abby Wambach, Olympian, US Women’s Soccer leading goal soccer, writes in her book, “Wolfpack” about the necessity for women especially, to compete together rather than with each other for the good of the team.  This can be on the field, in the workplace, or on the board of an organization. 

Engagement – what we need to maintain it or get it

We can see when someone is engaged. Understanding why they’re engaged, how to maintain engagement, and how to get others engaged is crucial.  I often thought motivation came from inside a person and you can’t give it to people who don’t have it.  After learning more about the motivators, I think I will approach leading or coaching others to become engaged in a different way.  It’s so important for a manager to understand what motivates each person on their team to become engaged, remain engaged, and thus have great success for everyone.  

Psychological meaningfulness is what you get from the task at hand.  Does the job or responsibility have challenge?  Is it important if you complete the task or do it well?  Do you feel rewarded or get positive feedback from your actions?  Is there a match between interest, skills, and task?  When I take on the planning of our board/staff retreat, it’s because I want to help set the agenda.  I have strong feelings about what we need to work on and where we need to improve.  I also enjoy getting the details right, from making sure each person attending has some special swag and tasty food to make them feel loved to the content of the gathering.  I pay attention to what matters to each person to create a meaningful experience.  If leaders, managers, or coaches can align goals and needs that match a person’s skills/interests, we achieve psychological meaningfulness for all.

Psychological safety is when each person feels valued, trusted, and has equal respect.  A leader can set up an environment where there is transparency that enables each person to bring their genuine self to work.  When I’m feeling safe and not vulnerable I am able to act differently, share ideas more readily, and even fail.  I remember vividly a moment with my leadership cohort when I threw out a random idea for a class name.  It was really out there but came to me during an improv activity with the group.  I not only blurted out the idea but made a graphic and explained why it was a good idea.  The group definitely had mixed responses and there were some laughs about the silliness of the idea.  Yes, I was disappointed, but I didn’t retreat, and I didn’t withdraw or stop contributing.  This was a result of feeling safe and respected by my classmates and not made to feel like I had three heads and a tail.  When we create an environment where each member of the team, the organization, or the board feels truly safe, then we will retain their engagement and have better outcomes.  We can even learn from our failures.

Psychological availability describes physical and emotional resources to get a job done.  I didn’t think much about this before, but having more life experiences, I now understand.  During COVID with so many working parents juggling jobs and kids doing virtual school, there is a mental weariness.  If we don’t recognize the impact, even though we have found a “new normal,” we will lose engagement.   Consider scheduling a typical morning meeting.  Some employees will just not be available for those early morning meetings when they have to get their kids set up for school.  If we don’t think about our planning or demands from the job in a different way, we are not providing people with the physical resources they need to juggle work and a pandemic.  

Without the physical space, we traditionally have to go to an office or return home, we no longer have natural buffers or places to renew.  It’s super important to build different work schedules so that employees can find time to exercise or meditate during these trying times so we can be focused and productive when we are “at work.”  

The second part of psychological availability is investing in our teams with professional development, ongoing support, or feedback.  By giving someone tools to do their job well, it increases their ability to successfully complete any given task.  When I work with candidates for a job, I always help them prep for an interview.  This calms people, makes them realize they have a lot of valuable skills to share, and gives them more confidence when they are in the actual meeting. I enjoy setting someone up for success.

Engagement = Positive Performance

My daughter’s high school soccer coach played varsity baseball in college and won 5 straight state championships.  He was also a guidance counselor at a rival high school.  He didn’t win because of his knowledge of the game (and yes, he knew more than the basics).  He won because he recruited/attracted/retained elite travel players to his program.  He focused on team building, he built a system of seniors and juniors adopting the freshman and sophomores.  He had a “secret psych” program where the kids would make or buy small gifts for each other before each match.  Often my daughter would spend more time on decorating a t-shirt for a teammate than her homework.  He built a dynasty that every female soccer player wanted to be part of because there was meaningfulness, safety, and availability.  Each person played a vital role, on or off the field, their voices were heard, their mental and physical well being was cared for.  They weren’t always the most talented, but their engagement was light years beyond other teams and that made all the difference in the outcome.  Invest in engagement, it will bring huge success to any organization.

abstract art
Careers, Communication, Jobs, Uncategorized, Work Strategies

Let’s Talk About Power

Yesterday I decided I was going to bite the bullet and start listening to podcasts and TedTalks while I walk the dog or clean up the kitchen on my breaks. Normally, I leave these times for my mind to go blank and relax. There’s just not enough time in the day to sit and read all the materials I need to for my online classes, or for my own intellectual curiosity. The podcasts I’ve been gravitating to lately are Michelle Obama and Brené Brown. Both are favorites. I noticed Brené had recently interviewed Joe Biden on leadership so I downloaded that one.  

Brené opened the conversation with a discussion about her leadership research over the past 10 years and she spent about ten minutes giving us a foundation on what types of power leaders wield. It made me stop and pause while walking the dog when I heard the descriptions of power and totally became a conversation about leadership and power dynamics.

Here’s my take on leadership, the responsibility it carries, and how power is not a negative word when wielded responsibly.

Leadership and Power Go Hand in Hand

We learn about different forms of leadership and government when we are in school— authoritarian, dictatorships, socialism, democracies, etc.  Depending on where you grew up, you may have experienced different types of leadership in your home within a society governed by a president, a dictator, or a supreme leader.  Leaders are not just political but head companies, care for families, and coach athletic teams. They have many different styles, forms, and effectiveness. 

Different Types of Power

I actually listened to this part of the UnLocking Us podcast twice to make sure I got this right.  Brown used a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. to define how power is used during a speech he delivered in ’68 Memphis, TN. “Power is the ability to achieve purpose and affect change,” King said. In this definition, there is no judgment of whether power is good or bad or if using ‘power’ is positive or negative.  

Power Over

Is a form of power where the holder believes that power is finite, needs to be hoarded, and retained by any means. To do this, those in power instill fear, divide, isolate, marginalize, and dehumanize groups of people to destabilize and weaken any resistance. Decency or self-respect is absent or seen as being for “suckers” and definitely a sign of weakness. They value being right over truth and blame others for problems or challenges, the scapegoat mentality.

Power With or To or Within

Are forms of power where the holder understands that when shared it expands exponentially.  The holders of power recognize their role is to serve others.  This ability to empathize and connect allows the power holders to be transparent, accountable, and open to hearing different perspectives and voices.  Rights and freedoms go hand in hand with the willingness to value cultural differences and know they enrich outcomes as well as all-important consensus.  Those that share power are transformative leaders who are human-centric.

WOW.

Brené was not discussing our current political race.  Although I couldn’t fail to see the parallels.  Because I know we all have our political opinions, I don’t need to go there, you can go to the polls to make your opinion heard.  What I do want to discuss is how power in the workplace, the boardroom, or on the field can be used responsibly.

Down Side of Power Over Us

A dictator or authoritarian leader will say that their decisions are final and they like to rule with a firm grip.  That governing or leading this way is much cleaner, smoother, and gets things done.  It also breeds environments that in the long run can be detrimental to employees and the financial well-being of the organization.  

Recently I interviewed someone that was very well-loved by their current manager.  So much so that when they were promoted, they didn’t leave their old responsibilities behind because their manager couldn’t let go.  The inability of this manager to appreciate, be a sponsor, and push their talented subordinate forward is an example of “power over.”  There’s fear of losing talent, of letting go of power, and of keeping control through not letting go of authority.  This is detrimental to the professional, the organization, and the leader in the long run because the person will probably have to leave the company to continue to progress in their career.

Power over us can also be used to divide and build unhealthy competition in the workplace.  On the Zoom call or when we used to have team meetings in the conference room when an employee is talked over or their comment is ignored and then later repeated with a positive reception, this causes division and marginalizes members of any organization. The people in power or with privilege must recognize this and use their power to break the cycle of privilege or unconscious bias.  If not, this lack of awareness or the destructive use of power will continue to perpetuate unhealthy environments where employees will disengage and there will be turnover.  Both cost an organization on an institutional level and on a financial level. 

Upside of Power With/To/Within

When power is wielded with an inclusive lens it takes more effort to hear all voices.  By building an environment of trust, mutual respect, and a place that allows for shared power, there are also shared responsibilities. As individuals and as a group, we have a responsibility to make decisions and carve out road maps that are beneficial to the majority. Building consensus is not easy and when power is seen as a finite resource, it can become impossible.  

By dividing people we focus on ourselves only and this prevents us from thinking about what’s important and necessary for the benefits of all.  If we allow people to be heard, we can strengthen our workplaces/communities/groups with innovative ideas, see solutions from different perspectives, and learn from our mistakes. To move the spectrum of power from “Over” to “With” will require that those in the privileged groups recognize the benefits of strength we gain by sharing the power with the marginalized groups.  If we think about this with scarcity and fear, we will stay divided and weaken our workplaces and our communities. Too much of anything can be bad for us is something I’ve heard, even good things. Let’s remember that power is neutral only humans have the ability to make it good or bad. There’s no “I” in the word “Team.”

What are your thoughts on power in leadership? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you’re on LinkedIn, let’s connect!

Abstract art with words that read "Let's Talk About Bias"
Careers, Communication, relationships, Uncategorized, Working Professionals

Let’s Talk About Bias

We each are born with filters, some innate and others learned.  How we see and how we react are based on the schema that we use to evaluate each and every situation.  We look for patterns, commonalities, things we recognize, and filter it through that primitive pattern of triggers to tell us to run or stay.  Bias is in all of us.  It’s not bad until it is.  Shaming and blaming doesn’t get anyone anywhere.  I’ve been learning a lot about bias lately between the six-month series sponsored by Leadership Greater Washington and is co-led by Howard Ross and Dr. Karyn Trader-Leigh an executive coach.  I’m also a student with an eCornell Certificate program on DEI, it’s made me do a lot of deep thinking and led to hard conversations across diverse groups of people.  Howard recently re-released his book about “Every Day Bias” and shared his insights from over 30+ years as a diversity trainer and his firm is Udarta.  Here’s what I learned when I looked inward to my past experiences and examined them with a new lens for bias.  

EMPATHY CAN REDUCE BIAS

First, let me preface my experience by saying, I recognize that I have many privileges and I can only speak about my intermittent experiences of being part of subgroups based on gender or religion.  By sharing this example, I want you to understand that it was through this experience that I recognized, on a micro-level what I couldn’t possibly comprehend when you have to experience racism or bias each and every moment of your life.  When I was 8 my parents moved us around the world to Bangkok, Thailand.  I wore a school uniform, learned to play soccer, and stuck out like a sore thumb.  Worse things could happen.  Eventually, we returned to the USA.  I was the only girl playing soccer and so my mom put me on a boys team because Title IX said so.  I had to prove myself and gain acceptance from the boys.  Both things had to happen for us to be a team. This experience shaped how I viewed the sexes in the workplace and how I experienced life from the non-dominant group.  I still need and want to listen and learn more about what it’s like to be discriminated against so I can be a better ally. Here’s what I learned that helped me start to make sense of it.

Being an outsider some of the time (we are part of different subsets of the population), or not part of the privileged group actually has pluses.  Howard Ross explained in his presentation to Google, how those outside the mainstream group have more mirror neurons.  Mirror neurons allow an individual to be more empathic and thus better able to relate to others. This ability to be more empathic actually means life hurts a lot more, but it also allows me to relate to others better.  If we think about how empathy and bias interact we can see that by being able to relate to how others feel we are able to remove some innate bias that we may not have known existed. When we see others as humans just like us, that can break down barriers and bias at the same time.  As a person who often looked in from the outside, I gained empathy, could relate to different kinds of people more readily and this has led me to a career working with people and helping them find the best professional pathways.

DEFINING BIAS

Let’s look more closely at bias, and let’s remove the negative connotations to the word.  Bias is normal and where we come from and our life experiences shape how we see the world.  We can even inherit bias from trauma and multi-generational traditions. What is negative about bias is ignoring it or remaining unaware.  If we lean into the discomfort and look at the different biases in each of us, we can actually learn from them.  The ability to become conscious and aware of our blind spots enables us to do something about them.  In the workplace, this can mean examining our system for hiring, retaining staff, or promoting talent.  It’s important to dig deep and consider our childhood experiences and how they impact us as adults in our personal lives and in our professional lives.  

WHY CONSIDER BIAS

According to Howard’s book and presentation, diversity is a great goal, but unless we are inclusive, not much will change for the long run.  We can decide to diversify an all-male workplace or an all-white workplace, but if the team does not see the value or buy into it, we are not creating an inclusive environment.  During the eCornell course I recently took on DEI topics, we learned that companies with engaged diverse workplaces are more successful-meaning they are healthier with less turnover and increased profits.  If the majority of an organization doesn’t learn about bias and how it can be detrimental to the organization, no matter how many people are hired that look different from the existing workforce, their ability to be included directly impacts the success of the company.  We can educate our workforce and make people aware of unconscious bias and that’s how we can start to change the systems.  It’s only part of an on-going process.

One example I learned about that really struck me was fascinating and something that happens daily.  While at home or at work, we have to make millions of decisions, to shower or not, what to feed the kids or what to eat ourselves, what we wear, how we say hello to our co-workers, and the list goes on to bigger and more complex decisions.  For most of these decisions, we aren’t even aware of how or why we make them.  Instead of acting from our “Fast Brain” or on an instinctual level where Howard says we make determinations (quick decisions) and then rationalize the outcomes.  

Some of the decisions are fine, but others are not and they are all filled with our own bias. We can be making small or large mistakes that impact how we are perceived or interact with other people. Microaggressions fall into this category. Who we chose to ask for directions or get into the elevator with and where we stand also are “Fast Brain” decisions. Some are negative and some are positive, it’s the awareness that we are looking for or consciously thinking about our decisions that matter.

We want to build in more “Slow Brain thinking” where we build in a pause, see the bias, and make a choice that is based on rational thought.  Daniel Kahneman coined these terms and discusses them further in “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.  Next time you go to a business function (in person or virtually) pause before you decide who to approach and pick someone that doesn’t look like you or who you didn’t initially gravitate towards.  I was at a Career Summit for AAAS and was part of a panel discussion for STEM Fellows.  They had lunch beforehand and gave me the option to eat in the speaker’s room or join the 150+ professionals who were attending the meeting.  The room was full and there was a strong buzz of conversation. I took a deep breath and decided to meet some of the participants.  With a pause, I looked around me, and decided to join a partially filled table that was a mix of young and gray-haired, and a mix of white and people of color, and sat down to introduce myself.  That’s how you start to change things.

STRIVE TO BE BETTER

I’ve been recruiting for over 25 years now.  In the past two years, I have made new friendships across the D/M/V region during my time with LGW.  I’ve continued to take seminars and the Anti-Racism series with LGW continually opens my eyes to what I know and what I don’t know.  The course at Cornell, while basic, touches on topics that are evergreen and need attention.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Change doesn’t happen overnight.  To make systemic long-reaching change we must examine our basic bias, see it, and work to overcome it. An organization is handicapping itself if it cannot attract, retain, and grow a diverse workforce.  

The only way to do this is to create an inclusive mindset where we periodically refresh ourselves over the course of this journey.  We gravitate to what we know and we have filters built-in from our life experiences which we can’t control.  What we can control is not focusing on the shame of bias, but we must embrace it, be aware of it, and continue to fight to overcome it.  Read more about these ideas and for a guidebook to building diverse and inclusive workplaces check out Howard Ross’ book, “Everyday Bias, Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgement in our Daily Lives.”  Dolly Chugh’s book on “The Person You Mean to Be” is also a wonderful resource full of great examples and exercises to practice.  To build some empathy and understanding I’d recommend Ta Nehise Coates letter to his son in his book, “Between the World and Me,” he was able to allow me to walk in his shoes and gain a taste of what it’s like to be a Black man in the USA.

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Team putting fists together to show teamwork
Careers, Communication, Interviews, Jobs, Resumes, Uncategorized

What Can You Do for a Company?

Paraphrasing from JFK, I suggest during any job hunt or interview, don’t focus on what you want to do, but what you can do for a company.  These are indeed interesting times.  Many sectors are seeing an increase in unemployment, while other sectors have job openings and a lack of talent to fill those roles.  Many of my career coaching clients are coming to me not because they don’t have a good job, but more often now because they are really thinking long and hard about what they want to do.  I discussed in another blog, “Mortality Smacks Many in the Face,” how a brush with death (209K dead from COVID in the US alone) can wake up anyone.  We only have a limited time on this earth, so what do we want to do with our waking hours since most of us still have to pay the bills?

First, we have to do an assessment of our skills.  Often I find clients telling me I’m a good communicator, or I’ve got great project management skills.  These are what I consider soft skills that anyone can develop.  They are necessary to be successful but what differentiates you from others are the hard skills.  Do you have mad computer skills and can do a data migration?  Are you a talented health economist who can improve quality and reduce costs? Are you extremely knowledgeable about education systems and training?

There are plenty of assessment tests out there, you can do a formal one or you can do an inventory of your skills.  What I have found is that the things you love to do, tend to be the things you are best at doing.  Part of the assessment process is figuring out which of the skills or tasks you do you would like to continue doing in your next role.  Once you’ve done this, you can craft a resume to highlight these areas and a LinkedIn profile that complements the resume.   Sometimes a traditional resume can accomplish this, and sometimes a different format, one that is a mix of functional and chronological is better.  There are so many free tools available these days that anyone can create a very professional-looking resume. If you’re looking for resume templates, check Google docs or Canva.  The key ingredient to a strong marketing presentation of yourself is a strong pitch.  See my blog on pitches for more details on how to create one.  

A pitch highlights and shares your best skills and in what environments you have used them.  But, what a pitch really does is translate for a company what you do, how you do it, and what that means to them.  It’s one thing to list all your accomplishments, it’s another thing to translate them into what you can do for an organization.  They want to know how you will impact the bottom line and what you bring to the table.

The purpose of a resume or a LinkedIn profile is to capture someone’s attention so they want to learn more.  Ideally, a profile will gain you entry to an informational or formal interview.  What you do with that time is key.  Preparation matters.  Ask good questions and demonstrate you have done your homework and know how to listen.  A client and friend shared how much she values the STAR approach when responding to interview questions.  If you aren’t familiar with behavioral interviews it’s simple, S=Situation, T=Task, A=Action, and R=Results.  If you can share short concise powerful stories in this format that illustrate your capabilities and demonstrate the results, this is incredible.  It leads you to the final punch, translating the results into how a company benefits from bringing you into their team. A good match results in a satisfying career and a successful company.

Image of plate with steak and fries from Medium Rare Restaurant in Washington, DC
Careers, Uncategorized, Working Professionals

Filling the Fridge, Feeding Our Friends

Care to take the challenge?!

I believe in Mark Bucher’s program, We Care, so much, that all my coaching fees for the next four months (till the end of the year) will be going to his GoFundMe campaign.  His fund was originally started to feed the elderly and first responders but has been expanded to feed the kids and their families too.  

The setting

On Thursday, I had my final session of three with Henry, a talented education researcher. He, like millions of Americans, was downsized as a result of the slowdown in our economy from COVID19.  For 23+ years I have been successfully placing really smart people with talented companies across the STEM professions, data scientists, economists, statisticians, and survey researchers.  People who know me have also enjoyed my career strategy sessions that focus on pitching, networking, and interviewing to identify opportunities.  These are really important skills for these unusual times when everything is in constant change and getting downsized or laid off can happen to anyone!

The players

This is not about my career strategy coaching, but about three recent experiences I have had with; an educator, a non-profit consultant, and a socially conscious restaurateur.  Sounds like the start of an interesting anecdote, right? These talented individuals motivated me to think about how I could support my neighbors more during these extremely stressful times.  (Believe me, there are many others out there that have motivated me too!) Let me introduce you.

Howard Ross, an author/trainer of diversity and inclusion, has led discussions about racial bias and the need for systemic change in recent seminars with Leadership Greater Washington.  Our discussions have pushed me to have tough conversations and listen to what people need and want.  Check out his book, “Every Day Bias.” 

Jeannie Engel, a long time non-profit consultant, founder of Neighbors Rising that gets requests from three non-profits for their clients they serve, LAYC, Identity, and Rodham Institute.  With the rising hatred in our country, Jeannie founded the organization to build bridges between communities and to let our immigrant neighbors know we care and we will support them. 

Mark Bucher, founder of Medium Rare Restaurant, who in his spare time has been working to address nutritious school meals, and is currently focused on respectfully meeting the hunger needs in our region for; children, families, and the elderly.  He inspires me.  Through mutual connections, we were drawn into a brainstorming session and I was able to connect him to ideas on how to obtain further funding so he can keep feeding our communities. 

Eureka

My eureka moment came around 4:17 am on Friday… not ideal but I jotted it down for when I could think more clearly in the morning.  After several sessions of feedback from friends and family, here are my thoughts. Because of what I learned from Howard, and the model Jeannie created of neighbors helping neighbors, I was able to see Mark’s efforts as an ideal way to help on a more impactful level.  Mark believes in meeting the need across our region for food security as an imperative one that is growing each day as more and more people lose their livelihood.

Mark’s idea that I support

Mark Bucher has established a GoFundMe page and all donations are tax-deductible.  He has two plans, one to organize local mom & pop restaurants to feed the local communities in need.  He gets lots of requests and feels with the funding he can keep the entire local ecosystem more intact by supporting local restaurants to help with feeding communities so no one is hungry.  Part two of his plan is to place refrigerators across the region that will be filled daily with balanced lunches for all those kids who are not in school and who are now missing meals.  To date, he already has partnerships with DC Recreation Centers and DC Fire and EMS to place fridges with them. 

What I will do. Care to join me?

Between now and the end of the year, if you need career coaching, I am your person. Together, you will acquire career strategies that will make your professional life more rewarding, and all the proceeds of my coaching will go to Mark’s GoFundMe campaign. 

These funds will help fill the gap until Mark can bring in some foundation money or more individual donations.  By doing this together as a community we can help people retain their dignity, keep small businesses alive, and survive this challenge together.

  • Refer clients to me
  • Make donations to Mark’s We Care
  • Organize your neighbors, friends, work colleagues to contribute or buy meals from Medium Rare…but wait, there’s more!  

Adapt this idea for your business, double impact

Do you have a trade, a skill, a service that you can give a portion of to the relief effort?  Sometimes we have time to give and sometimes we have treasure. Even if we aren’t rich like Bezos, Musk, or Gates, we, as comfortable middle and upper-class people can give more…here’s how!

  • Entrepreneurs out there, companies out there, can you increase your giving?  
  • Can you reroute your service fees directly to charitable giving?  
  • Do it and tag several friends to take on the challenge as well
  • Instead of charging every client, maybe ask every 3rd one to support Mark’s GoFundMe or contribute to a charity of your choice that is having an impact. 
  • Instead of investing in your retirement today, give that extra bit to a neighbor who needs it now.  
  • Talk to your family and see what you can forgo today, so you can help our neighbors.  

We never know when we will be the ones who will need help.  

My daughter reminded me we have to do more, there needs to be action, we need to become “co-conspirators.”  Remember Henry?  Well, at the end of our third session he asked me where to send my payment and I was able to say, “Don’t send it to me, please give it to Mark Bucher’s GoFundMe page.  I want to support his efforts feeding people, and you get a tax write off!”  He was a little confused at first, but then became my first client to do this…hopefully it will start a trend and make a difference!

Let’s bring this home, because I know we all want to help.  Here’s a great article, written by Howard Ross’s sibling with “Five Bold Ways White Male Allies Can Step Up to Racism”, even though it’s addressed to “White Men” it’s meant for all of us. 

 

Tattoo on Melissa's arm
Careers, Jobs, Working Professionals

Mortality Smacks Many in the Face

My coaching clients grew exponentially as the pandemic continued to take its toll. People are taking a step back and thinking about who they are, what they do all day, and what really matters. There are also a lot of people getting laid off, not just from minimum wage jobs now, but from the “white color jobs” or more properly described office jobs. Now that unemployment is trickling upward, you would think it would get more attention. Congress failed to find a compromise to address this and now we have some executive orders that may or may not be binding. For me, our inability to respond to this crisis of unemployment on a moral level gives me great concern about social equity. This is a vulnerable time for many, and when we are vulnerable, we are more open to change.  How can we take advantage of this opportunity to make more meaningful career choices, think about more inclusive employment, and a healthier society?

Since the pandemic started our lives have shifted weekly. Just as we got used to one pattern, something would change, it feels like we are living inside a kaleidoscope, the same pieces just mixed around in different ways.

Fear not, because there’s a method to the madness.

Embrace Change

Pema Chödrön says that grasping for permanence will always leave us wanting more because it’s not possible. We have to learn to live with the natural cycle of things, coming together and falling apart.  It made such an impression on me that I have it tattooed on my body, “Embrace change.” It’s an important idea but really hard to hold onto each and every day, especially during a time of social upheaval. This idea has been percolating in my mind for years, what’s really important? How do I feel valued, needed, relevant? I hear pieces of this in my conversations with clients, and as we weather COVID and see the ugly face of racial injustice, I’m hearing/seeing people shaken to their core and talking about it more.  

Lean Into the Suck

It’s much easier to not have these difficult conversations. It would be easier to turn off the news. For some reason, I have always leaned into them. It’s another premise that Pema Chödrön writes about often, and my husband paraphrases as “Lean into the suck.” As I speak with my coaching clients, they are having more emotional conversations these days. Maybe I’m imagining it, but the issue of meaning on the job and in their careers seems to be a more powerful motivator. Also, balance in their work/life and the ability to make a difference in the world is another topic I hear more about. As most of us work from home, because kids are also home or entire families are trying to work from home, we are seeing places where we have gaps and places where we thrive. Think education, health, access.

The Stress of Life Compressed at Home

While we are at home and don’t have a daily commute to decompress, other things in life become more stressful: juggling children, working remotely, no school or camp, fear of eviction, lights turned out, or how we feed our kids. Typically we don’t have time for this kind of contemplation when we are super busy or in survival mode. But if you aren’t working, or working less, you do. You have too much time on your hands. And too many things to worry about. Some are “champagne problems,” others are life and death matters. My social equity study group met today via Zoom and we came to the conclusion that the most important thing is that we need to talk about race, equity, gender, and more. That by not discussing the tough stuff, we are actually contributing to the problem and being racist/sexist/biased. This goes for career satisfaction and personal fulfillment too. We must move the conversation to action.

Identifying Skills & Feeding Our Souls

After teaching my clients how to cut through the noise and identify their true talents, the next step is to describe where they want to contribute their skills. To think about the environment where you will thrive, the corporate culture really matters. The last step in creating a person’s “30 Second Elevator Pitch” or sometimes it’s a manifesto/mission statement, is talking about how you add value to an organization. These are the mechanics of creating a strong starting point, but now we can take this even further.  We can be more aware of what makes a company socially responsible, which makes a company diverse and inclusive, and how we really want to contribute our abilities to our next opportunity. Plus, we don’t have to find all our fulfillment at work, we can turn to volunteerism as a truly healthy outlet for ourselves and something we can do with loved ones. Sometimes, when we are shaken up from our beliefs and our regular routines, it can be a good thing. We can press the restart and make major changes in our lives, our careers, and divert energy to build more inclusive stronger communities as well.

Image includes image of political donkey and elephant combined into one animal with the text "small businesses - the backbone of America"
Communication

Collaboration Is No Joking Matter

With more than 50 million Americans out of work, something needs to be done. The other day I was watching a segment on MSNBC where Senators Michael Bennet (CO-D) and Todd Young (IN-R) shared their plan, the “Restart Act,” to help small business owners like myself. During difficult times like these, collaboration is a driving force that can bring about change.

Here’s how I think collaboration can help:

Politicians from both sides of the aisle

A Democrat and a Republican met in the Senate and forgot that they were from different political parties. They realized that the American people were struggling, and they also realized that those same Americans operate small businesses. While the first bipartisan PPP bill was passed quickly, unfortunately, there wasn’t enough oversight (see Trump refusing oversight of funds disclosure). Working together when opposing political ideologies are at play can be tough. Senators Bennet and Young are prime examples of how our politicians can work together to help small businesses.

Consumers and small business

Consumers are becoming more aware that they can select where they spend their money, and they are choosing minority-owned small businesses. Specifically, there has been a collective effort to support Black-owned businesses with campaigns like Blackout Day and websites like My Black Receipt. By supporting diverse businesses, we are building more diverse, healthy communities.  Each of us has a choice on where we do business and how we spend money.  Have you supported a local business? If so, which one(s)?

Small business and big business

I think of businesses as part of an ecosystem. Just like the Democrats and Republicans make up our political ecosystem that can be healthy or unhealthy. Presently, our country is dysfunctional, and until the two parties can collaborate it will continue this way. When a large business anchors a community or attracts more commerce, there is actually room for the small businesses around them to flourish.  Large businesses and small businesses are necessary parts of a healthy ecosystem. This is how communities become stronger. Young and Bennet know that we need to turn the tide and we can only do this by having the two political parties work together. Small and large businesses, women, Black, and Latino-owned small businesses, all of the businesses are important, you know like Lion King, the Circle of Life.  

For example, the courageous women I worked with at Empowered Women International were focused on launching micro-businesses. The entrepreneurial training we shared was aimed at giving each woman economic stability, growing self-confidence, and building strong communities for them and their families. Many of these women came from other countries or under-resourced communities and wanted something more for their families. If they gain economic strength, they become strong consumers and are all part of a healthier ecosystem we call home. If we don’t support the “Restart Act” or something similar all of these mom and pop shops will disappear…

Large businesses and social responsibility (CSR)

I listened to the two senators talk about their bill and what they had learned from other stimulus packages. I’ve also read about the ripple effect of giving stimulus to a small business that pays their people to come back to work (off unemployment), can pay their rent and vendors, thus putting the money right back into the economy. We need large businesses to think about the greater good, not just their shareholders.

ShakeShack announced they were returning the money they got from PPP, and then other socially responsible big businesses followed suit. This was another moment like senators Bennet and Young collaborating across the aisle. There are socially responsible businesses that realize that large businesses with reserves can weather this storm and the importance of supporting the small businesses (the intended program recipients) that desperately need the funds to survive. Again, it’s an ecosystem and we know that if the chain is broken all of us will suffer.

There was a point when business continued to be slow that I thought about applying for the small business relief programs, but they were no longer taking applications because the money was all gone. In a way it allowed me to retain my integrity and not take funds from another small business that was truly in need.

By putting new rules/regs in place, there’s a greater chance the money will actually get to the people who need it. If we want Americans to have a place to go back to work, we need those who have enough to share the pie.  Don’t apply for the loans/grants if you have a reserve of cashDon’t take the money from someone who needs it. There’s enough to go around if you act with compassion and respect your community.  Do the right thing, and reach across the aisle or the driveway to communicate with your neighbors even if they have different opinions or a different political party than you. And let’s all stop acting from a point of scarcity!

Have you seen any other examples of collaboration during a pandemic? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

A classroom on a ferry in New York City, circa 1915.
Education

Education Al Fresco… An Alternative?

My daughter, who is a preschool teacher in Brooklyn, called me last night. With the recent debate surrounding the opening of schools, it’s only natural that I’m concerned about her safety and the safety of the children she teaches. 

While I’m not an educator, I have immense respect for the field, and I’m concerned about how everything will (or will not) work. I read in the New York Times the other day which suggested outdoor schooling during a time when an aggressive contagion is present.  This seems like a simple innovative way to keep teachers, students, and their families healthier.  While it may seem a bit outside the box, outdoor education has other benefits as well. Families juggling work and childcare have probably been relying more than normal on screen time.  Kids have been learning less and retaining less with virtual classes as well.  The opportunity to regain their attention, pull them from their handheld devices, and getting them moving outdoors is huge.  Plus, we know that COVID spreads less readily outside.   

We have no comprehensive national plan to stop the spread of this disease; we can’t even get everyone to agree to wear a mask, let alone keep people safe.  The brunt of this disease is falling on communities of color and essential workers (grocery store employees, pharmacy technicians, medical professionals, firemen, teachers) who are on the front lines, and to be honest, earning the lowest wages.  Both my adult daughter (in Brooklyn) and my adult son (a geriatric social worker in Harlem) fall into this category.  They are underpaid and doing essential work. 

It’s a mess.

In underserved communities with limited access to technology or the means to embrace alternatives like “pod schools”, what happens to them? Add to this picture 4 million people who are currently in uncertain circumstances – unemployed, worried they can’t feed their kids, or if they will be evicted.  

Congress went home for a week. They won’t be worried about where their next meal comes from or if they have a roof over their heads. They earn a good living.  What does the rest of the country do while they play around with the decision to extend unemployment support?  We will have to come up with local solutions. This article reminds us there are reasonable alternatives and while not perfect, they may bring some true positives to the field of education.  Fresh air is good for kids, and maybe we can actually improve learning by giving young kids the space they need to move around outside while learning about the natural world.  

We have been collecting a body of information around COVID that is full of confusion.  We have to sort through scientific facts to separate them from the falsehoods that are Tweeted on social media.  One of the facts is that the disease rarely spreads outside.  Instead of sending teachers and students back to school so the parents can keep their sanity and the kids don’t lose out on their education, let’s mobilize the great outdoors.  Let’s shift to a summer camp model with some learning sprinkled in.  We might just end up with better adjusted, healthier student bodies, keep our teachers from getting sick, and slow the spread of the disease to our families.