One of my favorite books 2018 was How to Be a Happier Parent by KJ Dell’Antonia. One reason I loved it so much was her gentle reminder that, for most of us, the stress and strain we are feeling are part of a life we chose. Her advice is to stop what you are doing from time to time to notice a moment — and ordinary, not-perfect-but-good-enough moment — and remind yourself “Oh yeah, this is it. This is what it’s all about.”
It can be a random Sunday night — sitting at the dining room table, reading the paper, listening to your daughter work out math problems with your husband, helping your son wipe up the juice he spilled on the table. Yup, this is it. It’s not even close to perfect, but it’s pretty darned good.
I am a huge fan of The New Yorker Radio Hour on WNYC. If you love the New Yorker and you love public radio, this show is ear candy. This week’s episode featured a clip from Chris Hayes speaking at the New Yorker Festival. I’m also a huge fan of Chris Hayes — I’ve watched his show since it debuted and love the podcast he recently launched, Why Is This Happening?
The interviewer asked Hayes how long he’ll keep doing his nightly MSNBC show, All In With Chris Hayes. He began by saying “definitely not forever” because there are other things he wants to do in his career, but also noted that he’ll for sure do it through 2020. But his explanation for how he’d know when to stop was so interesting to me. He said it was basically “a learning curve question.” It would depend, essentially, on how long he felt he was still getting better at it.
There are lots of ways to know when it’s time to quit a job. But lack of personal growth is probably one of the most important to recognize. When you stop getting better at what you are doing it’s time to go try something different. If you want to do big things, stay on the steep side of the learning curve.
My friend Charlie O’Donnell writes a weekly newsletter for tech that I highly recommend subscribing to. An issue from a few week’s ago told the story of a man who wanted to buy a restaurant. A very specific restaurant that was not, as it happens, for sale. When he finally persuaded the owner to sell it to him the offer was insane. As he agonized over what to do his girlfriend told him “Buy it with your heart and then run it with your head.”
It’s such a great line. I get asked, pretty frequently, what made me quit my corporate marketing job at Return Path and start Path Forward. It was, without question, a “buy with your heart” decision. It wasn’t a completely illogical — it was a staff position that still afforded me the income and benefits I needed for my family. Matt, my Board chair, had secured a significant level of funding to get us started. (The guy buying the restaurant was simultaneously wrestling with the meaningless of all the stuff — including a Ferrari — he owned. Let’s be clear that it’s a lot easier to make a decision with your heart when you are starting in a place of material security.)
But it was a decision with a lot of risk, both generally (many new businesses, both for profit and nonprofit, fail) and specifically (I’d never run any kind of business and never even worked in a nonprofit).
And yet. I can’t explain fully why I was so convinced it was the right move, but it was one that was driven almost purely by heart.
But I’ve run it with my head. I’ve focused on building a great team, including finding an amazing VP who is good at all the things I suck at. I’ve focused on building our partnerships with employers as the engine of both short term revenue and long term growth. I’ve talked to literally hundreds of people seeking wisdom and advice so I can make good decisions and avoid obvious pitfalls. That isn’t to say I haven’t made mistakes. I’ve made PLENTY and I’ve made some really, really big ones. But I can honestly say that I haven’t made mistakes that were the result of running with my heart. The passion I have for our cause runs deep in me and it drives me in an intrinsic way. But the day-to-day decisions I make are driven by a clear-eyed sense of what I think will make our organization successful so that it can continue to fulfill its mission for years to come.
One of my resolutions this year is to read more books. Not just read more — specifically book. I had children and acquired a smartphone around the same time roughly 10 years ago and the two combined to decimate my attention span and substantially wreck my book habit. I want to get it back.
So, with that, I’m actually investing in technology to help me, odd as that sounds. Everyone I admire who reads a lot of books points to their Kindle, along with the Kindle app on their devices, as the secret to reading more books and reading books more often.
Ordered one yesterday, should have it on Saturday. First book I’m downloading is “Winners Take All” which is one I’ve been looking forward to.
One of the media organizations that was impacted by #MeToo was WNYC — New York City’s public radio station. Three men were accused of harassment — Jonathan Schwartz, Leonard Lopate and John Hockenberry. Two of them — Lopate and Schwartz — were fired as a result (Hockenberry had left when his contract expired before the incidents were made public).
One result of these changes is more women on the radio. The lineup used to be:
10am Brian Lehrer
Noon Leonard Lopate
2pm Teri Gross
3pm John Hockenberry
And now it’s:
10am Brian Lehrer
2pm Teri Gross
Noon Alison Stewart
3pm Tanzina Vega and Amy Walter
In terms of hours it’s now 4 hours of women’s voices and 2 hours of a man vs. 1 hour of a woman and 5 hours of men. Also significantly, the one hour of a woman in the past was Teri Gross with a nationally syndicated show broadcast out of WHYY in Philadelphia. I love Fresh Air, but sort of shocking to consider that it was not very long ago that WNYC didn’t have a single female voice represented in it’s weekday line-up.
While we are all on the subject of voting, let’s talk instilling the habit of voting in kids.
My parents always took my sister and I with them when they went voting. It made a big impression on me. (And Fred Wilson wrote a great post about taking his son voting.)
I’ve voted in every election I’ve been eligible for since I was 18. When I was in college I used absentee ballots. When I moved to NYC at 26 registering to vote, and figuring out where to do so, was one of the first things I did.
I’m such a dork about voting that I recently showed up at my local polling place (the JHS in our neighborhood) to discover that the day’s primary wasn’t being held in our district because there weren’t any contested races.
It’s a habit I got into because of my parents.
If young people and Democrats voted at the same rates as older people and Republicans we’d live in a very different country. Take your kids to vote!
I’m pretty obsessed with how it can be that decades after women have reached and even exceeded parity with men in academia they haven’t come close to parity where it really matters — in the halls of power.
And the thought I find myself having lately is this: Has women gaining parity in attaining higher education and consequent lack of parity beyond school led to a situation where a smaller number of elite men rule the world? Has power ultimately been concentrated in an even small number of hands?
I think about the famous Warren Buffet quote — “I was so successful because I was only competing with half the population.” Is it possible that today’s Warren Buffets are competing with even fewer people?
It’s one of the more depressing stats I’ve come across: The S&P 1500 has more CEOs named John than women CEOs. Across the broader landscape of the C-Suite women make up about 16%. And we are now, in 2018, 30 years since women began to outnumber men in college.
One answer that is often offered is that women just don’t want to be CEOs. And one reason given for this lack of desire is the punishing schedule of a CEO. This is seen as untenable with motherhood — either because men don’t do their fair share at home or because mothers just aren’t as wiling as fathers to spend so much time way from their families.
That’s a pretty big “or” in the middle of that sentence. But let’s take the second part. Women, mothers, just want to spend more time with their kids than fathers do. (Wow, when you write it like that it kind of makes those CEO dads sound like monsters, right? Hmm. Funny how a quick a little change in the POV of a sentence can totally change the frame.)
Is a CEO job really so all-consuming? This HBR study suggests yes … and also no. The study, which examined time diaries of 27 large-company CEOs found they worked an average of 62.5 hours per week. That’s not a small amount, to be sure. But it still leaves plenty of time, in a 168-hour week, for sleep and family. In fact the study found the CEOs averaged nearly 7 hours of sleep per night. That leaves them with about 58 hours a week of time spent awake and not working. In one sense there lives are perfectly balanced between work and life. And the diaries show they spend a good portion of that nonwork time with family — about 3 hours per day. They also spend about 45 minutes per day exercising and a little more than 2 hours on leisure activities like reading, TV or hobbies. Yes, they did work on weekends and vacations. How much? About 4 hours on a weekend day, about 80% of the time and about 2.5 hours on 70% of vacation days. Importantly that leaves roughly 12 hours on a weekend and 13 to 14 hours on a vacation day.
Here’s my point: Does everyone want to work this way? No way! Plenty of people would find this absolutely grueling. But there’s no specific reason why women should be uniquely unsuited.
I also think it’s worth reminding ourselves that we don’t question whether or not the CEOs who keep these hours can be good dads. Why do we assume — both of ourselves and of others — that you can’t be a good mom and work this way?