Family Matters (#126)

Two weeks ago, I wrote a Friday Forward called Fighting Words about lessons I learned from engaging with toxic people. Although the situations I shared were related to people who were strangers, I received many heartfelt responses from readers who experienced the same septic characteristics in people they knew well: their family members.

Many shared that they had come to realize they needed to move away from – or even completely sever— the relationship with a member (or members) of their family. Here are a few examples.

“I recently had to face the fact that my Dad is a hammer (everything else is a nail).  At 70, that’s not going to change. I’ve had to completely disengage with him. Which means he’s also lost regular contact with his granddaughters. It’s sad, but I do not miss the toxic energy.”

This is a lesson I learned 5 years ago and keep re-learning to some degree. When the toxic people in your life are family, it’s hard to disengage, but walking away was the best decision I ever made.”

Well, my dad is one such person. Having had a very tough childhood from his hands, I grew up hating him, then matured to not contest. He is 76, and exactly the same.”

For most of us, including me, family is one of the most important things in our life. I feel very fortunate to have healthy family relationships and not be faced with these incredibly difficult decisions. However, that doesn’t mean I think family should be an absolute.

Yes, family is important. That said, if someone in your family makes you miserable, and cannot or will not change, then I am of the belief that the only real choices are:

  1. Change your reaction to their behavior or
  2. Walk away from the relationship

Ironically, when you take the “walk away” option off the table because they are “family,” you are essentially giving the person permission to continue their behavior without consequences. What’s more is that this behavior – and your permission of it – will be recognized (consciously and unconsciously) by others, including your children.

What kind of message do you think that sends? And is it one you feel good about?

One of the biggest frustrations I hear repeatedly from people is that they consistently receive unsolicited feedback and opinions from their family members. From my perspective, what constitutes a valuable opinion should ideally meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • It was requested
  • It has relevance or a direct impact on the giver
  • It’s given out of genuine concern for the receiver

If these criteria are not met, chances are that such feedback falls into the unsolicited advice or judgment category. Often, the true intention behind this “advice” is to make the giver feel better about themselves and their own decisions or to make the receiver feel worse.

Just as it’s unhealthy to stay in an emotionally or physically abusive romantic relationship, toxic family relationships can cause a great deal of harm. The key to a happy, healthy life, according to a 75-year Harvard Study of Adult Development, is good relationships. And that may mean making some hard decisions.

In the end, who we consider family should be determined more by behavior than by our genes.


Quote of The Week  

“Family is supposed to be our safe haven. Very often, it’s the place where we find the deepest heartache.”

Iyanla Vanzant

The post Family Matters (#126) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Gaining Perspective – Part Two (#123)

Last week, I wrote about my family’s recent service trip to Puerto Rico for April break and shared some key learnings from the experience, including the importance of community and getting out of our comfort zone.

I wanted to follow-up this week with a few more thoughts and takeaways.

Giving to Get

When giving, you often gain something unexpected. In my case, while cutting thousands of vegetables for World Central Kitchen, I saw one of the chef’s doing a rock and cut motion that has alluded me for over a decade. After a few lessons and hours of practice, I now have it down and acquired a new life skill. Similarly, my daughter never felt comfortable around knives in the kitchen. She too got some instruction and, by the end, was comfortable cutting anything. She took that confidence with her into our own kitchen at home.

Perspective & Adaptation  

Even before an all-day power outage, many of the traffic lights were not functioning, often at large three-lane intersections. While you would expect this to result in chaos, people cooperated and adapted to keep their driving situation safe. A few cars would go from one side and then let cars from the other side go; everyone was civil and respectful. This situation gave me a better perspective for how we can work together when faced with a challenge. I was also reminded that we tend to adapt to changes faster and better than we believe.

Bursting the Bubble

The best-selling book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance depicts the deepening divide between different cultures and classes in the United States –  particularly from a “city versus country” perspective.

I saw this same dynamic in Puerto Rico. For example, at first glance, you would not know that there had been a devastating Hurricane in downtown San Juan less than a year prior. But travel 30 minutes outside the city and the havoc and destruction that Maria wreaked is pervasive.

When the power went out countrywide, almost every building we could see in San Juan had power thanks to generators. In the rural areas? It was dark.

We also saw the same discrepancy visiting the private children’s hospital downtown and the public hospital outside of the city. The former looked very similar to what I would except to see in Boston, with lots of glass, bright colors and modern infrastructure. The latter felt more third-world, with few windows, metal-barred cribs and heavy doors that kept patients isolated in their rooms.

Our worlds become very small when we stay within our own bubble. Sometimes, even a short drive minutes away can burst that bubble, significantly altering our perceptions and perspectives.

Asking Questions

While volunteering with Lola, I asked her what she needed most besides food and money. Her response was “beds.” She explained that several people in the community did not have a clean bed to sleep on since the storm, including one who recently had a stroke and heart attack.

Our company just so happens to work with a lot of mattress companies. So, upon returning home, we reached out to them. As of right now, we are in motion with a few partners on an initiative to get clean, comfortable beds to those who need them most – and it all started with a question.

The best advice I can give you is to experience something different this year. It could be a trip, a new way to get to work or just changing your routine. You will be surprised by the impact.

If you haven’t yet, I’d also encourage you to read the Esquire article that spotlights the work organizations like World Central Kitchen and people like Lola are doing to bring light and hope back into the lives of Puerto Ricans.

If you missed Part One,  you can read it here.


Quote of the Week

“Sometimes the only reason for us to be somewhere else is to see things from a different perspective.”

Leila Summers

The post Gaining Perspective – Part Two (#123) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Gaining Perspective – Part One (#122)

Two weeks ago, I completed one of my five-year goals. It wasn’t a race, financial achievement or a book; it was a service trip with my family.

Inspired by a similar trip that The Points Guy and his team took, we headed Puerto Rico over the kids’ spring break and donated our time to help the community recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

We split our four days working at two food banks and two children’s hospitals. As part of his Mitzvah project, my son was also able to raise $2,000 to purchase gifts for each of the children we visited as well as diapers and water for the hospitals.

On this incredibly rewarding trip, we each gained far more than we gave, especially in terms of stepping outside of our comfort zones and appreciation for the roles community and relationships play in our lives.

Expanding Our Comfort Zones

On our second day in PR, we volunteered for World Central Kitchen (WCK) a wonderful organization started by chef José Andrés. Since the storm, WCK has served more meals than the U.S. government. We cut, prepped and cooked food for hours alongside volunteer and paid chefs, despite the entire island losing power a short time into our work. No one blinked an eye, we just kept going.

While there, we were offered the opportunity to join a dedicated community organizer named Lola to deliver the food we just cooked.  With the power still out and no GPS, we followed our liaison, Griselle (Ñaña), to Lola’s house. When we arrived, Ñaña explained we were heading into some “rough” neighborhoods and put a sticker on our rental car to identify us as part of WCF. She explained that Lola would take us to the places she knew the food was needed, we’d follow them in our car and serve it out of the back of her hatchback. When we asked if where we were going was “safe,” she replied that most people knew and respected Lola, but there were a few places we should not get out right away and to follow her lead.

At this moment, my wife and I looked at each other with a bit of fear in our eyes. We were going to be following Ñaña’s car in our bright blue Jeep rental car without any way to know where we were if we got lost. On top of that, we were already in areas that made us feel uncomfortable. Honestly, we thought about turning back. Then we realized that this is where the rubber met the road.

That next hour was by far the most impactful of our trip. We weaved through some of the poorest neighborhoods I’d ever seen, even before the devastating effects of the storm. Most of the houses still standing had blue tarps for roofs and were open to the elements; power lines were down everywhere.

At the first stop, we tentatively got out to help and I locked the car for the first and last time. After a few stops, my kids were leading the way. They connected with the men, women and children coming to the car for a hot meal served by Lola. On several occasions, we heard and saw people thank god after they received their food, which was heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time.

Seeing everyone so thankful and respectful shifted our comfort zones and perspectives. Nowhere was this more evident than during our ride back to the hotel; we now felt comfortable in areas that just a few hours earlier had made us very nervous.

Community & Relationships Matter

Study after study has shown that money doesn’t make us happier or live longer. The one thing that has proven to do both is having quality relationships in our lives.

Community runs deep in Puerto Rico. As my kids delivered toys to the children in the hospital, we noticed how many of them were surrounded by multi-generational families. Most of the successful initiatives in Puerto Rico have been driven by the community or had significant community components, such as WCK.

Additionally, the majority of the community leaders and organizers we encountered were women, something that was not lost on my daughter. These women led not by positions of authority, but through earned respect and deference. Lola was an amazing example.

We did not take many pictures in the communities we visited as it did not feel right, but we were glad to learn that one of the volunteers working with us at WCK was also a reporter and documented our entire day with WCK for Esquire magazine.

There’s more to share from our trip, which I’ll continue next week. In the meantime, I encourage you to read the Esquire article. I think you’ll be as moved by the incredible work that these people, communities and organization are doing as my family and I were.

Quote of the Week

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Mahatma Gandhi

The post Gaining Perspective – Part One (#122) appeared first on Friday Forward.

Thankful Reflection (#99)

As we head into the last few weeks of the year, it’s a good time to reflect, celebrate and make connections. Two weeks ago, the Acceleration Partners team did just this. We gathered our employees from around the world for our sixth annual AP Summit, our most impactful one to date.

I thought I would share a few themes that I took away from our week together that have both personal and professional applications this holiday season.

Connecting in Person: These days, we have a lot of ways to communicate with each other. And while video calls are a big upgrade over voice alone, in-person face time matters. People connect differently in person. They tend to open up and share more vulnerably. For example, one of the highlights of the week was our employee TED talks. Team members spoke on topics that were important to them and shared ideas they felt would add value to others.

With this in mind, let’s make the time this holiday season to cultivate our most important personal and professional relationships. Let’s spend quality time together, face-to-face, talking about things that matter; not on our phones.

Demonstrate Gratitude: Throughout the entire week of our AP Summit, there was a lot of gratitude given, formally and informally. Everyone likes to be appreciated, but I think we often underestimate the impact showing gratitude to others has on our own outlook. When we take the time to recognize and appreciate others, it often feels better to see the impact it has on someone than to receive it ourselves.

Celebrate Humbly: Historically, empires fall from within. There’s no faster way to ensure your demise than by believing you are great and have nowhere to improve. Sure, it’s important to reflect on what went well and celebrate successes – both individual and as a team. But, especially at the end of the year, it’s also important to keep a level head and acknowledge that future success is never guaranteed.

In my opening AP Summit presentation, I shared what I believe to be one of the best speeches of 2017, delivered by Dino Babers, head football coach at Syracuse University. Just after his team defeated the number one-ranked team in the country in a major upset, Dino displayed some key leadership themes, which members of our organization took notice of.  He:

  • Did not take credit
  • Was humble
  • Showed respect for the competition
  • Was emotional and vulnerable
  • Reminded his team to take care of each and get back to work the next day

Before you rush to the store for a Black Friday shopping spree, take a few minutes to watch Dino’s Barber’s powerful speech. This is what great leadership looks like.

Quote of the Week

“If a fellow isn’t thankful for what he’s got, he isn’t likely to be thankful for what he’s going to get.”

Frank Clark

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The Human Element (#91)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a hot term these days. Slowly but surely, it’s being introduced into all aspects of our lives and big bets are being made by investors that it’ll have an even greater impact on our future.

AI may hold great promise, but I already have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love that I can see my kids on FaceTime when I am travelling, work remotely and get real-time updates on family and friends around the world.

But I also hate that it makes us more materialistic, distracted and less likely talk to each other, even when we are in the same room. In a Friday Forward I wrote last May, I included a provocative video that shows how social media is already making us less social; AI will not improve this trajectory.

Just last week, I read an article about a business traveler who had the frustrating experience of getting stuck in a never-ending loop with KLM airlines’ customer service chatbot. I also recently heard a story about a couple who programmed their phones to check in with one another each day via text.

With all this automation, I can’t help but wonder if we are improving our quality of life and happiness or making our lives more lonely and insular and less meaningful. We are facing some very serious societal challenges that automation and technology alone cannot solve. I anticipate many of these issues getting worse as our ability to communicate and relate to one another declines. This is seen in the “nationalism” trend that seems to be growing around the world

In our quest for efficiency and progress, are we losing our human elements and ability to live in the present? I’d think we might be and astute words by Bob Moorehead about the importance of the little things explain why.

“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things.

We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.

Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.”

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18 Summers (#84)

Shortly, I will be headed out on an RV trip with my family that has been years in the making. I am excited to unplug, get outdoors and spend quality time with my kids.

Last week, I had two reminders of how special and fleeting this time really is. It started with getting this “out of office” reply from the PR consultant of my friend Alex Yastrebenetsky:

“Alex Yastrebenetsky encouraged me to make a sign that says “18 Summers” and put it on my refrigerator so you can see it every day. A year feels like a long time while a summer comes and goes and 18 summers is all you get with your kids, so you need to make all of them count. As you are reading this, I am spending time with my family in an RV headed across the country and will be back on Monday, August 21st.”

Just a few days later, another good friend sent me a compelling post written by Tim Urban on his blog “Wait Buy Why” that lays out a 90-year-olds lifespan visually in years, weeks and days.

Tim calculated that, by the time he graduated high school, he had already used up 93 percent of his lifetime’s in-person parent time. He also shows other visual examples of how much time remains – if he lives to 90 – to enjoy some of his favorite activities.

A powerful, impactful exercise that is sure to create a sense of urgency is to print out Tim’s chart and fill in the circles. As Tim notes, you might realize that, despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.

Here are three key takeaways that Tim shares upon reflection of his own experience with the exercise.

  1. Living in the same place as the people you love matters.
  2. Priorities matter.
  3. Quality time matters.

They are great tips to keep in mind as summer winds down and we head back into the fall routine.

There are many things in life that require deferred gratification, but in many cases, it’s not a matter of our means; it’s a matter of making the time and changing our priorities. Sometimes it also means disregarding societal norms, stepping outside of our comfort zone and saying “yes,” even when opportunities require us to find ways to creatively make them happen.

One of my best memories of 2017 is how my son and I ended up at Super Bowl LI together. As I wrote about in a much commented on Friday Forward post, it was a moment that I almost passed up multiple times because I thought there would be another opportunity down the road – an opportunity that, in reality, might never come.

“Tomorrow.” “Next week.” “Next year.” These are often the answers we give when presented with both personal and professional opportunities. It’s easy to think that there will always be a better time to live our life and enjoy time with others. Let’s not take for granted that that time will come.

Quote of the Week

“Lost time is never found again.”

Benjamin Franklin

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