Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sunday haiku for Spring – 3 verses

 

Spring time beckons, Love.

Rain storms instead of snow storms.

But Winter persists…

 

***

Vikings

 

Minnesota, yeah.

Land of five months of winter.

Spring likes to tease us.

 

***

Still, like a lover.

We fall for her charms again.

And embrace her warmth.

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Inside Out

What if everything you thought you knew was wrong? 

What if you woke up tomorrow and you saw the world in a completely different way? For example, what if you learned that reality is in your imagination, that you generate your world. It is not some objective truth “out there” but rather constructed by your inner world, and projected outward.

Kind of a radical idea, no?

And yet, what cognitive scientists and linguists like George Lakoff tell us, human beings use mental frames to explain their reality. We can observe facts or circumstances in the world, and when they do not fit our frameworks, our way of explaining the world, we simply dismiss them as exceptions. We cling very strongly to our beliefs about how the world works, and this helps us to live and make decisions.

Sometimes our beliefs are actually wrong. Beliefs are really just thoughts we keep thinking over and over again. They may come from what we were taught growing up. They may be reinforced by societal programming. They begin to seem like reality because maybe everyone around us holds the same beliefs.

It can feel very threatening when we begin to question our beliefs. There is a biological reason for this. Our brains like to be efficient and avoid pain. So we develop neural pathways that serve as “shortcuts” that help us make choices and decisions about the world. This way we don’t have to evaluate all of our more automated activities, like driving to work, or walking down the hallway. These are automatic skills we develop and practice all the time.

It is a healthy to question our beliefs now and then, and it has radically changed my own life. When I realized that beliefs are a choice, and I can consciously choose new beliefs, my head kind of exploded.

First you have to be conscious of your beliefs. I will use food as an example, because it is easy to understand. I spent most of my adult life, until about 3 years ago in fact, believing that consuming fat in my diet would make me fat or keep me fat. It is easy to understand how I would form such a belief: nearly all the dietary guidelines recommend a low fat diet. The food industry has perpetuated the idea that sugar is fine for us, but we should consume “x” as part of a low-fat heart-healthy diet.

Imagine my amazement when instead of battling my body and brain’s natural inclination to consume fat, I began to add much more of it to my diet. I switched from skim milk to whole milk (gradually of course, going to 1%, 2% and then whole). I started using butter and olive oil liberally in my cooking. I went bananas for avocados (which I have always loved, but thought I should limit because of fat content).

As it turns out, over the past 18 months, I have lost 20 pounds on a high-fat diet. The loss has been sustainable and easy to maintain. At the same time, I cut way back on sugar and flour, because those powdered substances did not make my body feel good, when I started paying close attention. I defied all the conventional wisdom on eating three meals and several snacks a day to avoid low blood sugar.

Snacks really are an emotional event, they are not required for survival. They are not necessary for people in places where food is abundant and obesity runs rampant. Our bodies are well-adapted to periods without food, and our ancestors fasted regularly. Once we add back natural fats to our diet and ditch the foods that give us unnatural insulin spikes (flour, sugar and processed foods) we actually start becoming fat-adapted. Our bodies use ketosis to burn fat stores for energy, rather than just blood sugars.

Imagine my amazement, and my anger, when I realized there is a belief perpetuated that keeps so many people struggling with their weight. Sadly, there are public policies that perpetuate this incorrect belief and help perpetuate obesity and illness in our population. It is not about calories in and out, it is about insulin resistance.

But back to beliefs: what if I had not questioned this conventional wisdom, and had just accepted it as truth? The belief did not serve me. It actually was causing harm to my body and brain health. When I listened to my body, and paid attention to what made me feel more vital and energetic, I began to understand.

So lately I have been exploring other beliefs: what if money is not hard to earn? What if I am capable of certain things I never imagined? What if the ideas I learned by example in my culture were just plain misguided? Do these beliefs serve me? What if I adopted a new belief on that particular front?

Wow. It nearly makes my head explode, to consider about the possibilities. I am working right now on questioning my beliefs about money. I am sure to share what I learn in future posts.

But I challenge you also: What do you accept as true in your life that may not be serving you? Are there some beliefs that need cleaning out in your life? Consider the possibilities. I dare you.

 

 

 

Going All In

I am about to embark on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group. There is quite a bit of homework due before the first session which is next Wednesday, and I am both excited and a little scared.

My coach assures me this is a good place to be. We are going to get truthful about some areas in my life where I want to make change, and it will require a commitment to doing the work, and taking action. I will be writing up a biography and evaluating 12 areas of my life, and also dreaming big about where I want things to be.

When I talked with my husband about this endeavor, I explained what it was, and why I wanted to commit some resources to it. I told him that I believe this can get me “unstuck” about where I am now, and that it is great timing because of the changes I plan to make in the next 6 months career-wise. He was understanding, and he said he thought it would be a good use of time and money, but only if I am “all in.”

As someone who likes to do a lot of personal development reading, experiments, habit change and self-help types of efforts, this is my jam. The challenge can come when I am pursuing a few too many different types of efforts, and dabbling a little in each. Then my efforts get diluted over a number of challenges, and no one effort gets real traction.

I recognize that my a.d.d. can contribute to this tendency to bounce around, doing a little of this, a little of that, but never fully committing to one or two BIG projects, or BIG change efforts. Why is this? I am trying to be honest with myself about why I find that hard, but also want to give myself the challenge of being ALL IN with this one.

One of my fears that I have had since being young is that of being bored. I was the kid who *always* had a book on hand, just in case I was stuck somewhere, having to wait and having nothing to do. Whether it was long road trips with the family, or having to spend time in a waiting room, I never wanted to feel like I had nothing to do.

In fact I almost never leave the house without a journal to write in or a book to read, in case I am caught in a place where I will have time with nothing to do. Now that I meditate every day, I do not worry as much about having nothing to do. In fact, I look for opportunities to practice mindfulness, in airports, in grocery stores (though that one is still harder for me).

But I still like to “toggle” in my life, between several different projects, in case I get stuck in one of them and then can switch to another one. That in itself is not bad. In fact, I think it is one reason I have thrived in my current department: we are always juggling a lot of different projects, and while it would overwhelm most people, I enjoyed it for many years, knowing I was sure never to get bored.

But there is a kind of Deep Work (Cal Newport writes about this) that I am missing right now in my work and life. When I have so many different “windows” open, like a computer running a lot of different applications at once, it exhausts me after a while. Sure, I never get bored. There is always something new coming my way. But it seems I sometimes use that to distract me from bigger, more important goals that deserve deeper and more consistent focus.

Do you ever struggle with that problem?

I think this tendency may be endemic to the distraction-filled lives we live today. With technology providing these many gateways to rich content: books, classes, podcasts, blogs, social media sites, YouTube videos and the like, we have a plethora of choices.

Some of it can be nourishing for the brain and the psyche, and I love learning. But that can be a distraction from practicing skills, and really truly embracing change efforts in our lives. I recognize that I am sometimes so intent to fill my brain with concepts, that I do not always put things into practice. At least as a clinical researcher, I have a skeptical eye about claims in books. I tend not to believe things unless I have tried them, or I have some good data to back up what the author claims.

So this time around, I am going all in on this coaching process. The investment is not insignificant, but it fits into my budget. I commit to doing the homework, and maybe even to share some of what I learn on this blog. At the very least, it will help me figure out my next move career-wise. But I think it has the potential to change and improve many other areas of my life also. I am ALL IN.

Happy weekend, friends.

 

 

 

Re-learning to Play

Work is hard and play is easy, right?

Well… when you are young that is certainly true. Or if you are a cat or a dog. They pretty much have play and napping down pat. They have mastered it, and I probably ought to pay attention to these furry, wise teachers a bit more.

As an adult, I have not always valued PLAY enough. Brene Brown refers to her discovery of play when she was looking for the keys to living a wholehearted life. She was explaining to a friend this discovery and described it this way: “these people seem to fool around a lot” and she did not even know how to describe it.

Caught in a culture of always doing, striving, working, she could not even identify what these wholehearted people were doing, but it was PLAY.  It was engaging in something for the pure fun of it, for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Huh? Do people get to do that?!?

It turns out that it is quite healthy to do that, and those of us who have forgotten the art of play may want to spend some time joyfully re-educating ourselves. It is not just for kids! And it can involve some snuggle time with your honey, but that’s not a requirement.

For me, the best part of play, when I really do lose myself in it, is that I come back to my “grown up life” refreshed and relaxed. Vacation can be a great place to play and try new things just for the fun of it. I have a harder time getting into play mode during the work week, I admit. But I am willing to learn. Hey, if the science tells us it’s healthy, I am ON BOARD!

Occasionally, when I am on a really fun project or I am designing a workshop with my “partner in crime” at my job, work can actually feel like play. I love that. Some part of me strives toward that in terms of longer term career aspirations. I will get there. It is all about intention.

As we head toward the weekend, I am considering how hubby and I can get some play time. He has worked long hours this week after the snowfall and I know he will need extra rest. But I am using my creativity to brainstorm a few options. I am sure he will have some ideas as well.

How will you play this weekend? How will you take joy in this act of living and celebrate it in a way that is fun? Do you feel less guilt about it knowing it is part of living and healthy and fulfilling life to play?

 

Bias in human evolution

project implicitA friend of mine recently posted a very personal story of his pain at the discovery of his own implicit bias despite having married a woman of color. The Implicit Bias Test is something you can take if you want to explore bias in yourself. I was touched by his admission but it made me realize that people still have a lot of unnecessary guilt about bias. I wanted to write about it because I realize so many probably suffer shame on this front.

Dr. Heidi Grant, a psychologist who presented to our Women’s Leadership annual conference last August, explained to us that bias is human. It is a part of our brains that is wired for us to be able to make decisions quickly and have shortcuts to protect our safety. So to feel guilty about it not necessary. Neuroscience has showed that there is a biological basis for bias.

So the idea that we can somehow get rid of bias is not practical. What we need to do is develop awareness of the biases that we have, so we can take action making decisions more fairly. One method that worked for orchestras, that traditionally hired men due to implicit bias, was to put up a screen so that the performer could not be seen during the audition. This played a role in getting many more women into competitive orchestras.

As a manager, one way to reduce bias is in hiring from a pool of candidates, and have only one candidate of a diverse origin, and say three other candidates you are interviewing, you are very unlikely to hire the diverse candidate. If you have just one other person of that minority (be in gender, race, etc) the likelihood that you will give everyone a fair shot increases substantially. Another way to reduce bias is to have a structured list of questions, and to ask the same questions to all candidates.

A number of studies have shown us how diversity drives innovation. And innovation is what drives economic growth. From a perspective of someone who has lost their job due to increased automation, that may not provide much comfort. Indeed, part of our problem is that our “free market” rewards the innovators much more than workers. That unfortunately leads to further polarization of resources, and exacerbates the distance between “haves” and have-nots” in our country.

While there is a systemic good arising from a more diverse society, recognized at many levels of corporate and government leadership (though not by the U.S. President, unfortunately), there are challenges as well. In order to address these challenges, we are required to evolve our own consciousness, as humans, to be able to fully use all the talents and capabilities we have. This is no easy task.

I often worry if the behavior in this country will degrade substantially while we have rhetoric that devalues whole categories or nations of people. We have seen some evidence that this may be true. But it also forces us to have some honest discussions about our future, and about what kind of society we want to build. I am reminded that a majority of the country does not agree with the President, and is working for positive change.

I am reminded that those of us who have privilege in this very digital economy need to pay attention to the people who have been left out since the 1980’s when the gap in the middle class began to widen substantially. We have many examples in history when this has led to disaster. This has led to scapegoating and devaluation of human life at many points in human history.

This awareness and consciousness of bias and privilege must be at the forefront of our thinking about solutions to this “great divide.” We can no longer ignore the suffering of so many people, and build ourselves into little cul-de-sacs of isolated individuals and families. Our well-being depends on a social fabric which must hold us together.

We must talk with people with whom we do not agree, learn from them, strive to understand their perspectives. I believe this is the only way to repair the rifts that have grown in our political life. We cannot afford to remain in our little echo chambers, in dialogue only with people with whom we agree.

I am beginning to look for those opportunities to engage with people that may hold different opinions from mine. Not just online, but in person and face to face. They are not easy to find, but I am fairly certain our survival as a species on this earth depends on realizing we are in this together.

 

 

 

Whispers to Shouts

The New York times recently published an article on 42 men in prominent positions accused of sexual misconduct that have been fired or resigned since Harvey Weinstein was fired in early October, and it made my jaw drop. But not as much as my original shock, when friends began posting their “Me Too” stories on social media.

For years, women have used whisper networks “back-channel” ways to protect themselves and others from predatory men in positions of authority. We know that these claims usually end up hurting the victim as much (or more, sadly) than the perpetrator. I grew up at the time when Anita Hill was being grilled for her experiences during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. I realized then that we speak up at our own peril. And since we know about certain men, but we want to protect other women, we develop ways to try to report informally to one another, without calling too much attention to our own experiences.

Time Cover Silence Breakers.JPG

When many brave women came forward and found the courage to speak publicly about the harassment and degradation they have faced in work settings, a tide was set loose that has been building. Our president’s brash and openly defiant position as “Harasser in Chief” has been shocking to some of us, but in light of all the abuses so many have experienced, it is high time our whispers turned to shouts. 

Time magazine’s cover for December 18, 2017 chose “Person of the Year” to be the Silence Breakers, women who had come forward to talk about their experiences of harassment in the workplace. I applaud them for acknowledging the courage it takes to come forward especially in light of the power dynamics that are so tipped against women in nearly every domain: politics, business, economics, academia, etc.

My own story is one of a rare few, with only subtle forms of harassment, what I would call “everyday sexism” of the workplace. I have been fortunate in that way, and I realize that in conversations about the Anita Hill situation while I was in high school, my parents reinforced the idea that I should never tolerate that kind of behavior. At a different place in my career, and in a culture that still devalues and objectifies women, I can see how so many women would not feel empowered to fight back.

When it is your boss or a person in a position of authority, can you really afford to risk your livelihood to complain? Isn’t it easier just to go along and get along? 

Perhaps, and I would never judge a woman who is subjected to this behavior for not coming forward. Many women have regrets that they did not say something sooner, that maybe they could have prevented other women from going through the same pain.

As a manager, I recently completed a set of online training modules addressing harassment and policies at our company. I am sure it is no coincidence that the daily news stories reveal a much deeper and wider scope of the problem. The training was surprisingly good, and emphasized not only the policy portion for HR, but also the importance of building an inclusive culture where this behavior cannot thrive.

Rosie We Can Do It

Fortunately I work at a company where we have policies that allow for good-faith reporting of problems, and ones that do not retaliate against employees who make complaints. That’s not to say it does not happen. I am sure it does. I view my role as helping to support a culture where disrespectful behavior is not the norm. I have had to stand up occasionally against sexism, especially on behalf of my team, which historically was made up of mostly women in front line positions and men in leadership.

Often I am the only woman in a group of 4-6, because I am in a lot of meetings with leadership, and the medical device field is overwhelming male. We work with cardiologists and electro-physiologists, a group that is probably 80% men. I make sure my female employees understand that under no circumstances are they expected to tolerate inappropriate behavior from any employee or customer/physician with whom they interact.

A few years ago, a female colleague in Mexico sheepishly told my boss at the time that she preferred not to visit a certain clinical research site. Apparently the physician had become interested in her, and was texting her inappropriate things, trying to get her to “go out” with him. She was exasperated and explained: he doesn’t even care that I’m married and wouldn’t be interested! Nope. He does not care. It is about power. That is the point.

 

Fortunately my boss at the time and my current boss (I was not yet the manager) told her: you never have to tolerate that behavior. Always be sure if you do visit the site, you do not go alone. Also, if you want us to find someone else to deal with that individual, you never have to go back there. We will never place you in a situation where you do not feel safe or respected, no matter how “important” the customer. I was grateful this was their advice, and now that I am the operational leader for my team, I continue to help my team to understand they will have my support if they ever encounter this behavior.

Particularly as Latinas, we work in settings where machismo is still very much alive. I shall write about that in a future post. The point I hope to make here is that it is ALL of our responsibility to make sure this culture is not tolerated in our workplaces. 

Men, women and leaders especially need to take steps to make sure that we allow people to speak their truth, and that we hear people out. If there are complaints, we need to work with HR to make sure these are investigated without retaliation. We need to confront the perpetrators and explain what behavior will not be tolerated. Further follow up needs to happen when more serious behaviors are brought to light. Culture change does not happen overnight. But the message is LOUD and CLEAR: we will not tolerate this behavior and we will join together to ask you to STOP!