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.
In the New Year …
I want to learn new dinner recipes, especially vegetarian ones.
I want to go on relaxing vacations.
I want to do more writing.
I want to improve my morning routine(s).
I want to read more books.
I want to imagine new ways to advance Path Forward’s mission.
I want to try planning great weekends.
I want to be more patient.
I want to keep a daily diary.
I am going to continue exercising (almost) every day.