Potential and Contribution (and Books)

What things—books, movies, songs, mementos, prayers—do you return to often?  Why?

Here at the end of another shockingly abnormal year, what calls you to return, beseeches you to center, to ground, to focus, and prepare to engage hereafter from a deeper, more authentic place?

When you look back at 2021, how do you assess intensity, complexity, and relationships?  It’s a bit mind-bending for me!  For so long now the learning feels as if from a fire hose, and I’m grateful beyond measure for it all.  This week I made a feeble effort at assessing my net experience of 2021—positive or negative?  How does one even go about measuring this?  I quickly settled with satisfaction that it has simply been a year of challenge, learning, and growth.  Good enough.

Four blog posts left for the year.  I’ll include books consumed below, rather than as a separate post, and I offer the titles without comment.  This year I also include content in other media that resonated, in case you want to check them out.  Reviewing the list brings me back to the places and times where I consumed the works, and I’m a little surprised to feel comfort, more than anything else.  Huh.  What story do I tell about that?  Maybe learning is my safe and happy place?  Maybe as long as I feel like I’m gaining something—information, knowledge, connection, expertise, wisdom—then I can feel secure and confident to handle whatever comes next?

After outputting for 31 days in a row, and then a 6 day GI illness that knocked me down in a big way (be careful out there, friends, there are some nasty bugs going around!), this weekend I felt a deep longing for familiar voices and lessons.  I listened again to The Art of Possibility, and I’m halfway through Start With Why.  How funny, after all these years, I still manage to come back to the same books annually.  They refill my tank, somehow; they comfort me, inspire me.  They welcome me like a big, warm, floofy arm chair.  With and in them, I relax and breathe easier.  Then I feel refreshed, ready to tackle challenges, learning, and growth with renewed enthusiasm.

In my copy of AoP, a picture of me with Ben Zander marks the page that describes Giving the A:

(This practice) is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them.  It is a shift in attitude that makes it possible for you to speak freely about your own thoughts and feelings while, at the same time, you support others to be all they dream of being.  The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility.

An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life—to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team, and to other drivers in traffic.  When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves.  Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.

An A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

A photo of Hubs and me marks the page that lists the distinctions of a vision that frames possibility:

  • A vision articulates a possibility
  • A vision fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind, a desire with which any human being can resonate.  It is an idea to which no one could logically respond, “What about me?”
  • A vision makes no reference to morality or ethics, it is not about a right way of doing things.  It cannot imply that anyone is wrong.
  • A vision is stated as a picture for all time, using no numbers, measures or comparatives.  It contains no specifics of time, place, audience, or product.
  • A vision is free-standing—it points to neither a rosier future, nor to a past in need of improvement.  It gives over its bounty now.  If the vision is “peace on earth,” peace comes with its utterance.  When “the possibility of ideas making a difference” is spoken, at that moment ideas do make a difference.
  • A vision is a long line of possibility radiating outward.  It invites infinite expression, development, and proliferation within its definitional framework.
  • Speaking a vision transforms the speaker.  For that moment the “real world” becomes a universe of possibility and the barriers to realization of the vision disappear.

Listening to these passages prompted me to wonder about my own vision.  What shining light do I see on and beyond the horizon, toward which I march with conviction and joy?  It took no time.  For my patients, my children, my trainees, people I work with—for everybody—my vision is for us all/each to realize our potential and make our best contribution.  We get to define these words and their meaning for ourselves, whenever and however we want—they are intersecting, metamorphosing.  The vision’s expression is fluid, and certainly evolves over time.  And like a Why and a Just Cause, this vision grounds me in core values, while inspiring me to reach with cheerful, optimistic audacity for possibility.  I think it fulfills the vision criteria, and anyway it’s mine and I’m keeping it—for now, at least.

My favorite books always bring me back to my center, my raison d’etre, my Why—to optimize relationships between all people.

What a fantastic time of year to revel in them yet again, to refuel and recharge for the long winter ahead.

Books and Media 2021

Books [Titles in brackets have yet to be finished]

  1. Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson
  2. Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
  3. [Own Your Present by Candace Good, MD]
  4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  5. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  6. Think Again by Adam Grant
  7. Change by Damon Centola
  8. Who You Are by Michael Spivey
  9. Persist by Elizabeth Warren
  10. Managing Transitions by William Bridges and Susan Bridges
  11. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
  12. [Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam]
  13. [The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw]
  14. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
  15. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
  16. The Culture Puzzle by Mario Moussa, Derek Newberry, and Greg Urban
  17. Tribes by Seth Godin
  18. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
  19. Together by Vivek Murthy
  20. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
  21. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman
  22. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
  23. Eat a Peach by David Chang
  24. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  25. [A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell]
  26. A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
  27. [Navigating Polarities by Brian Emerson and Kelly Lewis]
  28. Cooked by Michael Pollan
  29. Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
  30. How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
  31. Caffeine by Michael Pollan (Audible exclusive)
  32. This Is Your Mind On Plants by Michael Pollan
  33. The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderson (Audible exclusive)
  34. Men’s Health by Daniel Goldfarb (Audible exclusive)
  35. The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, In Conversation with Michael Toms
  36. [Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker]
  37. Stop Walking On Eggshells by Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger
  38. This Is Not the End by Tabetha Martin, ed (Audible exclusive)
  39. In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor
  40. The Power of Us by Jay J. Van Bavel PhD, and Dominic J. Packer PhD
  41. Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
  42. The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
  43. Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Podcasts

Hidden Brain

  1. Not at the Dinner Table
  2. The Easiest Person to Fool
  3. How They See Us
  4. The Snowball Effect
  5. Useful Delusions
  6. In the Heat of the Moment
  7. Group Think

WorkLife

  1. The Real Reason You Procrastinate
  2. Relationships at Work with Esther Perel
  3. Building an Anti-Racist Workplace

A Bit of Optimism

  1. Extreme Listening with Deeyah Khan
  2. Quiet Service with General Stanley McChrystal
  3. Enchantment with Chloe Valdary

The Knowledge Project

  1. Jeff Immelt:  Leadership in a Crisis
  2. Danny Meyer:  Hospitality and Humanity
  3. Adam Grant:  Rethinking Your Position
  4. Bill Ackman: Getting Back Up
  5. Jim Collins: Relationships vs. Transactions
  6. Angela Duckworth:  Grit and Human Behavior
  7. Sendhil Mullainathan:  The Chaos Inside Us
  8. Randall Stutman:  The Essence of Leadership
  9. Lisa Feldman Barrett:  Balancing the Brain Budget

Netflix

Ugly Delicious

  1. Pizza
  2. Tacos
  3. Fried Chicken
  4. Fried Rice
  5. Stuffed
  6. Don’t Call It Curry

Chef’s Table

  1. Massimo Bottura
  2. Dan Barber
  3. Niki Nakayama
  4. Grant Achatz
  5. Dominique Crenn
  6. Gaggan Anand
  7. Ivan Orkin

Street Food: Asia

  1. Bangkok, Thailand
  2. Osaka, Japan
  3. Chiayi, Taiwan
  4. Seoul, South Korea

Cooked:  all 4 episodes

Halt and Catch Fire

TED Talk: Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong

YouTube: Eugene Lee Yang:  My First Met Gala (And How I Almost Didn’t Make It)

Letter to Self, November 4, 2020

Dear Cathy,

HOLY COW what a year, amIright?  How are you?  What was yesterday like?  I know you wanted to sign up to work the polls, and decided to be at work with your team instead.  Maybe they didn’t need you, but you thought it was right.  What was the vibe, could you feel the pulse? 

How have you observed people holding their own stuff together, and helping others do the same?  How have you done this… and not?  What do you need right now?  What does the family need?  And your teams?  Friends?  Leaders?

Today is your friend’s birthday, make sure you call her. 

And maybe keep the calendar clear this weekend (except for that alphabet workout on Sunday, of course).  Give yourself and the family time and space to breathe and settle down.  There may not be an outcome for a while—it’s anybody’s guess at this point!  It’s all so nuts.  Whatever happens, we must find a way to recover and reconnect; this is imperative.

How will you conduct yourself in the coming months, regardless of the outcome? 

Looking back, you have learned and matured much in the past 4 years—STRONG WORK, MAMA!  Haha, finally, I get to say this to myself. 😉  Remember when you could not help but RAGE and YELL on Facebook, when you succumbed to impulsive ad hominem, then felt helpless and exhausted?  The exhaustion feels different this time, no?  It has more meaning, more purpose.  Because you have done the inner work to show up as your better self.  You have reflected, consulted, read, challenged, practiced, rejected, regulated, and engaged.  You’ve also basked in the nourishing light and warmth of mentors and role models, showing you the value and fruits of magnanimity and grace.

You participated better this time.  You wrote and mailed postcards.  You phone banked to fellow Chinese Americans.  You focused more on what you’re for than what you’re against.  Most of all, you did your best to elevate conversations.  You seek the Strong Middle, where people can have heartfelt, empathic, and often uncomfortable conversations, in service of connection.  You compromised none of your core values, and held certain ones in front, like curiosity, kindness, respect, and generosity.  Often such attitudes were not returned, from either ‘the opposition’ or ‘your own side’. 

But you got enough to keep going, and now you’re stronger.  And it’s all stoked the embers of positive change—the rock circle around your inner campfire enlarges.   You’ve found friends who also seek connection across difference.  Together you will create wider space and build a beautiful bonfire—visible from afar, inviting, welcoming, warming, and inspiring.  There’s a knock you can no longer ignore; you are called to do more.

Let this letter serve as your ethos manifesto—a first draft, at least.  When you feel frustrated and hopeless, when all you encounter tell you it’s a lost cause; when you feel attacked and diminished, and tempted to behave badly or give up, read this.

It’s an Infinite Game.  The goal in an infinite game is not to ‘win’; it’s to stay in the game.  Others may play to vanquish you, your cause, or one another.  This will never happen—there will always be new players; the issues, conflicts, and polarities will never go away.  Your job is to modify the game, to make it more humane for all players, while you advance your finite goals.  The costs of playing should not outweigh the rewards as they do today.  You know you can help rebalance, to give voice, strength, and power to those whose Why is connection.  That is how you will leave the game better for having played.

Center.  Ground.  Focus.  Engage.  This mantra served you well for years.  You know your own core values.  Their roots run deep and strong; they hold you up; trust them.  You know the truth of your message, no matter how it gets assailed.  You also draw strength and light from your amazing friends. They will stand by you—and you them—you hold each other up high.  Trust that, too.

No ad hominem.  Your mantra for the past few years:  Present. Open. Grounded. Kind. Loving. Smart.  You can be strong and flexible—strong back, soft front, wild heart, as Joan Halifax and Brené Brown write.  It serves no one for you to engage with negativity.  Firmness, directness, and steadfastness, however, along with fairness, humility, and accountability, will get you far.  Standing in these practices, I am confident you will regret less in the end. 

One Day, One Moment, One Breath at a time.  Everywhere you go, in every challenge, mindfulness emerges as a universal sustaining practice.  You always have your breath.  You can always use it, this quintessential polarity that teaches us about simplicity and infinity.  Lean in to it.  Draw in strength, respire peace.

Finally:  Dance.  Less news.  More music.

You’ got this.

November 29:  Reflection Makes Me Better

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NaBloPoMo 2019

How was 2019 for you, friends?

Looking back, what stands out?  What gives you pride and joy?  Guilt and regret?  What’s the best thing you learned?  What do you look forward to the most in 2020?

In the first post of this month, I described my last role play experience, one marked by intensity around domestic violence and dense communication skills practice.  Dr. Orit Kalnieri-Miller led the workshop, and I will forever be grateful for her groundbreaking work incorporating reflective practice in medical education.

Wikipedia says reflective practice is

 the ability to reflect on one’s actions so as to engage in a process of continuous learning.[1] According to one definition it involves “paying critical attention to the practical values and theories which inform everyday actions, by examining practice reflectively and reflexively. This leads to developmental insight”.[2]A key rationale for reflective practice is that experience alone does not necessarily lead to learning; deliberate reflection on experience is essential.[3][4]

Regular reflective practice, I think, is mindfulness in action.

This whole month I have been reflecting.  Looking back, seeking patterns.  What really does make me better?  Better for whom?  For What?  How does it all help me going forward?  I have probed my habits, my relationships, roles, activities, ideals and attitudes.  Writing the reflections every night as a blogging challenge probably does not give each idea much time to sink in.  But now they are recorded.  They are a collection that I can review over time; I can revise, rewrite, and continue the reflection-learning-practice cycle of self-improvement.  Reading past posts reminds me of where I was then, which allows comparison and contrast to today.

I am, still and always, me.  I’m also always learning and changing.  Reflection helps me to know myself better and more deeply, to claim and exercise my authentic agency in service of the causes that matter to me.  Reflection keeps me focused on my Why.  In the coming year, it will help me identify, refine, and enact my next Just Cause.  Very exciting!

But maybe the best part is that reflective practice is not a solitary activity.  When I have any opportunity to get feedback from those whose perspectives I respect, the learning is that much deeper and more meaningful, even (especially) if it challenges and agitates me.  People mirrors do not always show the reflection I want, or the self-delusions I believe–they call me out.  But sometimes they show that I’m living exactly and fully in my integrity and values.  Both are equally valuable.

So I will continue looking for reflections everywhere.  They keep me honest, and that makes me better.