Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet LXXIII

Here's an excerpt from a book I recently read, "But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past," by Chuck Klosterman:

As part of their investigation, the Radiolab staff contacted a cross-section of youth football coaches and asked why this is happening. The producers mildly scoffed at the coaches’ answers, all of which were eerily similar: video games. “The bottom line is that—today—if the kid doesn’t like the score, he just hits restart. He starts the game over.” This is a quote from a youth coach in Louisiana, but it was mirrored by almost every coach Radiolab encountered. On the surface, it seemed like the reactionary complaint of a Luddite. But sometimes the reactionaries are right. It’s wholly possible that the nature of electronic gaming has instilled an expectation of success in young people that makes physical sports less desirable. There’s also the possibility that video games are more inclusive, that they give the child more control, and that they’re simply easier for kids who lack natural physical gifts. All of which point to an incontestable conclusion: Compared to traditional athletics, video game culture is much closer to the (allegedly) enlightened world we (supposedly) want to inhabit. 

Should physical differences matter more than intellectual differences? Should the ability to intimidate another person be rewarded? Is it acceptable to scream at a person in order to shape his behavior? Should masculinity, in any context, be prioritized? The growing consensus regarding all of these questions is no. Yet these are ingrained aspects of competitive sports, all the way back to Sparta. A key reason college football came into existence in the late nineteenth century was that veterans who’d fought in the Civil War feared the next generation of men would be soft and ill prepared for the building of a republic (“We gotta give these boys something to do,” these veterans believed. “Hell, they’ll probably go through life without killing anyone!”). We inject sports with meaning because they are supposed to mean something. So what happens when the things they signify are no longer desirable traits? It would mean the only value sports offer is their value as an aerobic entertainment commodity. And that would make it the equivalent of a fad, with the inherently finite life span all fads possess.


High-Leverage Activities

Because I am ambitious at work and devoted at home, I am highly motivated to make the most of my scarce time.   This is why there are certain things I tend to gravitate towards, which I will call high-leverage activities in that they are a good use of time because they accomplish many important things at once.  Six come to mind, three of which are more externally and work focused, and three of which are more internally and me focused.  In no particular order:

Sitting on boards.  It is something I encourage my staff to do, and it is something I max out on.  I am spread too thin to be a great board member but I think I am good enough to be a benefit to each organization I serve, and that is one important reason I do this, is to give back to causes and organizations I believe in.  But there is so much more I gain from this time, including time spent with great people who energize me, invaluable intel on what’s going on in a slice of the world, and an affiliation that I can use as an ice breaker when reaching out to others.

Speaking at conferences.  Similarly, I welcome every opportunity I have to present at various events.  I enjoy public speaking (although that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous doing it!).  And the prep is a great way to dive deeper into a topic.  Of course, it’s a great business development tool, to be seen as a thought leader on a subject.  And, as with board participation, it’s a great on-ramp to understanding what is the state of the state in a particular field.  Plus I often get the chance to attend other sessions and learn from great speakers.

Using LinkedIn.  I was once told by someone who hadn’t responded to my LinkedIn message that “I don’t check it that often because I’m currently in a job I like.”  But using LinkedIn only when you’re on the job hunt misses out on the great resource it can be all the time.  It’s my job to sell my business, and the only I can do that is if people think of me when something comes up that I can help them with.  So staying in touch with people on LinkedIn, celebrating with them the achievements they proudly post on their pages, and using those profiles to have a deeper and better connection to them is time well spent.  Plus I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used the search function to identify people I know about something I didn’t know about them.  (Example: right after my mom’s car accident several years back, I was able to find a handful of colleagues who had expertise with spinal cord injury.)

Reading.  Ah, reading, my oasis as an introvert amidst a life that doesn’t have much room for solitude.  There is something calming about reading, because after so much social interaction and outside noise, being quiet with myself and a book is just what I need to recharge.  Plus reading feeds my innate curiosity about a wide range of topics and perspectives.  Indeed, many effective leaders have sung the praises of reading, describing it as being able to absorb in just a few hours several years of someone else’s wisdom. 

Exercise.  What reading is for my mind, exercise is for my body.  I hope to live a long life, and taking care of my body through exercise will help make sure I am in reasonable physical shape for that life.  But it is not just a chore to do to get a good outcome; it is itself pleasurable to use your body, to push it to its limits, to see yourself getting stronger or lasting longer.  My morning exercise is a sliver of self-care in the calm of the early hours before the chaos of my day starts.  And my weekend exercise is an opportunity to schlep Asher to the kid watch room at a local Y, where he is beloved, and in doing so give Amy a little bit of a break. (Running or biking there is also the only leisure screen time I have during the week.)

Sleep.  Ah, a newly discovered high-leverage activity.  I was never a sleep-cheater – kind of a wimp when it came to short or bad nights of sleep – but I am now aware of the incredible importance of getting a good night’s sleep.  It is a healthy check on my innate drivenness to cram as much into every day as possible.  It is also itself an important time for my body and mind to rest, repair itself, and make mental connections.  I love that my body and mind are multi-tasking like that, even and especially when I sleep.


Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet LXXII

Here's an excerpt from a book I recently read, "Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir," by Charles Blow:

On a previous trip to the cemetery I’d learned that Chester had been a twin, but that his brother was stillborn. The dead baby had been buried in an unmarked grave in our family’s area, somewhere to the left of Mam’Grace and Papa Joe, near the trunk of a large tree. But by the time I learned of Chester’s twin, the grave had disappeared.

On this day I walked around that tree, looking for some evidence that the ground had once been turned—a slight indentation, the remains of a tiny mound, anything. I wanted to find that boy. My young mind couldn’t help but imagine that he was dead because of Chester. How could Chester have lived and the other boy died? It was simple: Chester had killed him before they made it out into the world. He was another boy whose life Chester had taken. I figured that if I could find him, he could help me to survive, tell me some secret that he had learned too late to save himself. 

I never found the grave. But, standing there under that tree, I imagined that Chester’s twin could hear me, that we understood each other, and that there in that shaded spot we cried together. 

His spirit was present there, as were the spirits of Papa Joe and Mam’Grace. Like the boy’s grave, I was lost too. But there, surrounded by them, I found the remnants of myself. There my soul could again be quiet, still and untroubled. 

It was like the way I’d felt at the skating rink before I’d reached for the aspirin, except then it had felt more like surrendering to weakness. This felt more like gathering strength. In that moment in the graveyard I saw my own life and trials through the prism of past lives. In that moment the weight of my shame and separation was lifted. 

There, among the sleeping souls of old folks and in the company of a dead boy, I came back to life. But a boy still walking can’t stay in a graveyard, even a boy so recently broken and dead on the inside. I had to find a place to heal myself among the living.


Living Large

Because of where I grew up (Silicon Valley) and where I went to school (Penn), I know a lot of people who live in the most expensive parts of the country (Bay Area, Seattle, SoCal, Boston, NYC, DC).  I left home to come to Philly for undergrad in the early 1990’s, and most of the people I went to school with didn’t stay in Philly after graduation, so I have a lot of high school and college friends whose impressions of Philly are about 25 years out of date.  The ascendance of Philadelphia and especially of my neighborhood is no longer a secret, but up until just a few years ago I got a lot of inquisitive (and sometimes patronizing) remarks about maybe someday I’ll be successful enough to move up in the world and live somewhere else nice.

Philly in general and University City in specific was quite nice even in the early 1990’s, and has gotten even better, even and especially for families with young kids like us.  The secret is out, and accordingly things have gotten more expensive, especially in hot neighborhoods like University City.

But, because of when we bought (2000, baby!) and because of life choices (i.e. we have no life!), we pay very little for this incredibly stacked quality of life package.  And let me remind you what is in this package (which, again, by the way, most of this was already in place 20+ years ago).  A huge, turn-of-the-century house in a historic and diverse neighborhood, well-served by transit, great K-8 neighborhood public schools, parks and playgrounds everywhere, and lots of great retail and restaurants to choose from.  World-class institutions nearby to provide job opportunities, medical resources, and public amenities.  (I love that I walked to the hospital the morning of my heart surgery 2 years ago, and that teaching my class at Penn involves walking down the street.  If God forbid any of my kids were to require really complicated surgery, even in a snowstorm I could schlep them about a mile away to one of the best children’s hospitals in the world.)

Here’s a math exercise for you.  Take your monthly mortgage.  Add in HOI and property tax.  Factor in all house and telecom utilities (i.e. water, electric, gas, phone, Internet, cable).  Throw in transportation costs: car payment, gas, insurance, maintenance.  Divide all of that by your household income.  For most of America, that works out to about 40 percent, although I suspect that in more expensive parts of the country where many of my friends and family live, it is 50 or even 60 percent.

I recently calculated this for our household and it is 9.9 percent. 

Now, we probably spend a lot more than others on child care and health care, given the extra needs of our kids.  Still, all of that savings on housing, utilities, and transportation means we can either save more (which we do), spend more (which we don’t), or give more (which we do but we ought to do much more of). 

In other words, I’m not slumming it at all.  I’m living large, and loving it.  Life’s good here in Philly.


Lazy Linking, 187th in an Occasional Series

Stuff I liked lately on the Internets:

187.1 Wage tax cuts will help Philly prosper bit.ly/2pYCl7y @davidthornburgh @joshsevin

187.2 Mortgage interest deduction advantages coastal wealthy, exacerbates inequality nyti.ms/2pZEeBj @just_shelter ‏

187.3 How to tax businesses in the least distorting and most productive
way nyti.ms/2qOoPVf @gregmankiw

187.4 Health care's cost/complication is due in part to it being exempt from income & payroll taxes lat.ms/2q2WhUZ @myronmagnet

187.5 While Trump's pro-coal, Canada leads on carbon pollution pricing bit.ly/2pw0Wxz @thehill

187.6 By slamming the door on Walmart, is Mayor DeBlasio taking NYC’s best anti-poverty yool away?  bit.ly/2oG3xHd @cityjournal

187.7 Most dangerous thing re Trump late-night tweeting: foreign intel officers can profile him bit.ly/2q9Ghk8 @fdrlst

187.8 Africa urbanizing, not globalizing (Kinshasa more ppl than London, 1/100th of the intl flights) bit.ly/2qxlslO @ swarajyamag

187.9 New Amazon HQ will include homeless shelter bit.ly/2pD6KVq @nextcityorg

187.10 When more bike lanes = more dangerous for cyclists bit.ly/2r55Xxs @davemabe